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I'm Not Part of What They Call the Model Minority

Excellent example of paper 1 by Alyssa Phimmasone - Spring 2009

I've always grown up with people (by "people" I mean people of a non Asian ethnic background) assuming I was part of the "model minority. " In elementary I seemed to have somewhat of an advantage, I excelled academically; but who doesn't in elementary. The majority of students don't have a hard time getting through elementary. I grew up in Milwaukie, Oregon; we probably had a handful of Lao and Cambodian - American students in our neighborhood. There weren't many Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese or Filipinos; the few Asians that we did have were Lao and Cambodian.

I can honestly say we all did well in school at that time. We even participated in extra curricular activities together, we had no problems getting along with each other and we often shined because we were the minority, and because we were Asian Americans. We were the "smart Asian kids." Something changed along the way by the time high school hit. My family moved from Milwaukie to Happy Valley. By my senior year of high school, I had gone through a major identity crisis. When I moved to the Clackamas area, there were nothing but Koreans, Chinese, Vietnamese and Filipino students. Clackamas high school was incredibly diverse -- Asian American students were labeled as the "smart kids." Although we were labeled that, my grades and attendance didn't match up with my title. The people I was hanging out with were primarily Lao & Cambodian Americans. There were very few of us, maybe around eight all together. I skipped school, rebelled and my parents had no idea. My parents believed everything I told them -- why I was missing school, why my grades were low -- I had an excuse for everything. The friends around me were doing the same thing. We took advantage of our parents' trust for our own selfish reasons.

My parents came from war torn Laos as teenagers during the late 70's. I was born and raised in America. They've worked very hard to be where they are right now and they are definitely living the American dream. They never really talked about it, so I never really took it seriously. Like my friends in high school, we seemed to have come together because our parents didn't understand us, nor did they discipline us for our actions -- it wasn't because they didn't love us -- it was because they didn't really know how to talk to us without upsetting us.

I bring this all up because as I read the first chapter of our text book, one of the "Unsettling Facts," hit a cord with me. I can't say I was exactly shocked, but I was definitely disappointed. At the same time, as I read it over and over again and the more I read it, the more I realized it was a good thing. The bittersweet fact reads, " Despite the idea that Asian Americans are seen as a "model minority,' poverty among Asian American families is higher than that among White American families and has increased in recent years; among certain Asian American groups, namely Lao(tians) and Cambodians, poverty strikes two thirds of all families" (pg. 9).

In a social sense, it automatically clicked in my mind when I read the fact. I know why so many Lao and Cambodian families struggle with education and poverty, I know why we're not as successful as the other Asian nationalities. I know all of this because I have lived it. We're looked down upon in Asian groups, but the society around us has always grouped us with other Asians, when in fact Southeast Asians are so completely different from the typical "Far East" persona. Although I refuse to make excuses for the people who share the same heritage as I, because I feel if I can do it, anyone can, I know that we need extra and focused support. In our communities, we're lacking it and although there is no direct evidence, there's definitely some sort of correlation between support at home affecting students' decisions to pursue higher education.

Sociologists "try to reveal the social factors that shape society and affect the chances of success for different groups," (pg. 9) and I feel by doing this they are exposing the facts. There's something happening right now among SE Asians in Portland, as more of us go to college and learn to think intellectually, we are also learning about how our people aren't doing so hot. But what makes sense is that we understand why it's happening because we've lived it. What's important is that we are finally doing something about it because as our "other Asian" peers succeed, we are often left in the shadows wondering why we don't share their success.

By illuminating the issue with the study of Sociology among groups like Lao and Cambodian Americans we can pin point certain issues. It's not that our culture is so different, its that mainstream America is starting to understand the diverse group of Asian Americans. We cannot continue to be grouped as one big chunk because we are so different from each other. Imagine an entire continent being grouped together as one, that's like saying Mexicans and Canadians are the same. As we become classified as a separate group, messages are easier to convey.

Studying diversity among different Asian ethnicities is so important because it gives light to an unknown variable. In our textbook, the term diversity is defined as, " a broad concept that includes studying group differences in society's opportunities, the shaping of social institutions by different social factors, the formation of group and individual identity , and the process of social change" (pg. 11).

Social change is finally starting to happen more and more in SE Asian societies. As a student at PCC, I have become so inspired to be positive for Lao Americans. I have read facts similar to the one in the book about Lao Americans being among the poorest in Asians in America. In Oregon, we do not have the type of support for Lao American students like we do for, say Chinese Americans. Because we don't have a significant identity, we are less likely to shine. Some of my peers and I have come together to organize a group called "LAAS," which stands for Lao American Alliance for Students. It is our hope, that by creating this group we are able to enrich the lives of American born Lao students who know nothing about their heritage and roots, but struggle in American culture as well. We are also hoping to educate more students about the importance of higher learning and why it is essential to the progression of our peoples in America and lastly, we hope to empower students to do something positive, to change the perspective on Lao Americans by exposing what we know about our beautiful culture to others. We hope to spark an interest, and by doing so we will gain more exposure and become better known. It is also my personal hope and passion to help Lao parents understand their children and to instill the encouragement, love and support needed at home; things that are essential to help a student excel. I really hope that my message will be heard and I don't know if I have conveyed my message properly but I know that sociology has a big part in what we are trying to do to help Lao Americans strive for better lives.

Works Cited

Andersen, Margaret and Howard Taylor. "Sociology in Everyday Life." Andersen, Margaret and Howard Taylor. Mason, Ohio: Cengage Learning, 2008.