Young Lee: Ivy league stew

Wednesday, November 1, 2017 - 5:59pm

In 1966, sociologist William Petersen coined the term “model minority.” Model minorities are minorities who had supposedly overcome discrimination through solid family structure and values of hard work.

Ingredients list: one new 3-year old immigrant from South Korea

Prep time: 17 years

Cook time: four years

Servings: one

Preparation list:

1.     Your child is in elementary school; though they are at the prime age to play and develop social skills, quickly enroll them in private education such as Kumon.

2.     Put them in a foreign language club or school during the weekends, preferably in the mother tongue.

3.     Make sure they play an instrument, preferably violin or clarinet so they are seen to be competitive and able to be in the spotlight to play the melody.

4.     Don’t forget to enroll them in a sport. Asians are stereotypically the best at racquet sports and sports about hand-eye coordination. Recommendation is tennis.

5.     Continue to put them through copious hours of tutoring. 

6.     Take away video games and TV shows, as they are a waste of time that could be used for education.

7.     Force them to take the Math Placement Exam and as many honors and AP courses as possible.

8.     Stuff them into STEM field extracurriculars.

9.     Make sure child is well-fed, but it’s not necessary to ask how they are doing.

10. Surround your child with adults who think they can control their life at whim, and never ask your child what they want.

11. Every moment should be used as a teaching lesson, including car rides and birthdays.

12. Make sure they are only involved in things that can improve résumés.

13. Use fear tactics to motivate your child, teaching them failure is never OK.

14. Buy them an entire classics book set or demand other lofty pursuits.

15. Career professions must be limited to: engineer, business and doctor.

Success Rate: 5 percent (acceptance rate of Harvard)

Warning: Your recipe could go awry. Though it may look fine from the outside, there could be a sudden souring flavor as your recipe may undergo crippling depression or constant anxiety and panic attacks. No need to worry, just continue to go through the recipe and hope things get better.

Notes: Make sure to ask other parents what they do with their children to make sure your recipe will not finish “last.”

“If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid” -Albert Einstein. For many East Asian parents, the ultimate measure of the success of their offspring is based on the mere names of prestigious institutions and Fortune 500 companies, worshipping them as idols and as points to brag about to their social circles. Through this belief, many Asian-American students are pigeonholed into paths that are supposed to lead to these outcomes.

Granted, there are those who do make it down this path and become doctors, bankers and engineers. You often hear of these stories on the news; reflected as “model minorities,” Asian Americans are held as the gold standard for the rest of the country for our work ethic and prized as evidence that the American dream is still vibrant and possible. However, what is less often presented are the statistics on mental health for Asian Americans. Two-point-two million Asian Americans have been diagnosed with mental illnesses, and 18.9 percent of Asian-American high school students have reported considering suicide. Consider also that not all Asian Americans come from the same background. Not every Asian American came over as an immigrant working in the tech industry, and there are those who face financial hardship, with a wealth gap of the richest Asian Americans wealth being 168 times the amount of the poorest ones. 

I am not saying there is something intrinsically wrong with jobs such as doctors or bankers, but when it becomes a one-size-fits-all, there are consequences. When excellence becomes defined in limited and damaging ways, it removes the human aspect of it all. The fact is that humans inherently are all born with different gifts and talents, especially when these jobs are selected for the sole reason that they have high salaries. In addition, Asian Americans do not realize that the very spots at Harvard we strive for have already been given away to donors and wealthy white folks who have legacies at the school — or when admissions officers say they are moving toward more holistic approaches, valuing sports higher than musical ability in priority in admissions because too many Asians are good at music.

Recently, I had a chance to interact with some middle school students. One was Korean and also happened to go to the same middle and elementary schools I had gone to growing up. It was a surreal moment as I realized I was practically talking to a younger version of myself. Doing my best to connect, I asked him what sorts of extracurricular activities he was involved in. Hand poised in the air, his fingers curled downward as he listed off activity after activity. With each activity and resounding thud of finger hitting palm, my mind flashed back to all the summers spent on the tennis courts and all the hours spent at my house being tutored. The moments I questioned myself if this was all there was to life. One big lead-up to get an impressive job, complete with all the right degrees.

I get it. I totally get it. As parents, especially those who have given up so much for even the opportunity to be in this country, it can be unnerving to see people still struggling in a land promised to be anything but despair. So parents focus on white-collar jobs for their children, jobs with esteem and recognition. Jobs that are supposed to be the equivalent of the golden ticket from “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” They ask Susan’s mom down the street what she did to get Susan into Harvard and then go to Mark’s parents to see what they did to get him into Stanford. So, parents concoct a recipe, five-year, 10-year and 15-year plans, certain they have found the formula, the secret recipe. Recipes that lead directly into supporting the typical stereotypes and tropes of Asian Americans. Stereotypes such as the shy, nerdy kids in class who do well; however, what is being lost?

Consider this my plea to current Asian parents and future parents to care about more than just getting into prestigious universities or a reputable job, and to aspire to something higher than being just a role model for professors and teachers; otherwise, we risk continuing to churn out individuals who are of the same grain, with the same goals and the same mental illnesses. Instead, we need more Asian-American writers, teachers and politicians. We need Asian Americans interested in the humanities, expanding Asian culture and those who will reinsert our narratives into national conversations.

To the Asian Americans considering a nontraditional path: This will not be easy. If you choose to become a teacher or writer, then you will on average have a lower income than a computer scientist. There is a reason jobs in the STEM field are emphasized. But if you are OK with that, then I implore you to go for it. You are needed. For all the reasons above and more than you can even imagine. That 18.9 percent statistic of Asian-American high school students considering suicide is 18.9 percent too high. The path will be hard and messy, but then again it has never been easy to be the first one to do anything. Do not settle for narrowly defined boxes given to you by your parents and from society.