|Color Me White: A Qualitative Analysis of Asian Americans Women’s
Experiences at a Predominately White College
Saint Mary’s College
December 15, 2007
Advisor: Susan Alexander
Color Me White: A Qualitative Analysis of Asian Americans Women’s
Experiences at a Predominately White College
For most students, attending college is a time of growth in knowledge acquisition, self discovery, autonomy, and new social relationships. However, for Asian Americans on a predominantly white campus, college may also include facing the challenge of either assimilating to the norms set by their white cohorts or maintaining their parents traditional, cultural ideologies. This research consisted of six interviews with both 1.5 and second generation Asian American women at a predominately white college, Saint Mary’s College located in Notre Dame, IN, to assess their experiences at a predominantly white institution as shaped by family relationships and cultural traditions.
Color Me White: A Qualitative Analysis of Asian Americans Women’s
Experiences at a Predominately White College
The Asian American presence in the United States largely began in the mid-1800’s. Despite this long presence in the United States, studies about this ethnically diverse group have been limited. Events of the 1960’s such as the civil right movement, antiwar protests, and women’s equality finally encouraged Asian Americans to overturn oppressive roles, and Asian American studies was born. However, extensive literature on Asian Americans is not available in the quantity of research on other ethnic groups such as African Americans or Latino-Americans. Additionally, because Asian Americans are often labeled by the dominant group as the “model minority,” the focus has been upon accomplishment and achievements, giving brief attention to the difficulties and challenges faced by Asian Americans.
One of the many dilemmas’ confronting today’s Asian Americans is the tension between defining one’s values according to the standards of the dominant culture or by the values of their ethnic culture. For minority students attending a predominantly white college, the pressure to assimilate is further exacerbated this tension because of their new found autonomy and because whites setting the cultural norms. As a result, when Asian American college students attend a predominantly white institution many may feel they have to compromise their cultural values and traditions in order to fit in with the dominant culture. The purpose of this paper is to examine the experiences and feelings of Asian American college students at a predominantly white institution in order to understand the struggles they may face in upholding their parent’s traditional or cultural ideologies.
According to the 2000 census, approximately 10.2 million Asian Americans live in the United States, making them the fastest growing population in this country (Fong, 2002). However, in comparison to other minority groups, particularly Hispanics and Blacks, there is relatively less research available about Asian Americans. According to Fong (2002), Asian Americans may be an understudied group because they are a small population known for their image of not being a “problem” group, their ability to preserve their “positive” traditions and values, and/or that they are an extremely heterogeneous pan-ethnic group.
Kane (1994) defines the term “Asian American” to include anyone whose ethnicity is Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Filipino, Samoan, Guamanian, Hawaiian, Vietnamese, Thai, Cambodian, Laotian, Indonesian, Indian, Pakistani, and Ceylon. Although each national group has its own history, cultural heritage, and reasons for immigrating to America, Kane (1994) claims they also share similar values including self-discipline, sexual conservatism, achievement orientation, thrift, as well as a high level of respect for authority and self control (Fong, 2002).
Asian Culture, Traditions, Values, and Family Life
One facet of Asian culture that differentiates Asian Americans from Western culture is the greater importance placed on collective family values rather than individualism. Fong (2002) argues that for second and third generations placing importance on the family structure “works to enhance Asian American self/ethnic identity and group cohesion in the United States.” According to Kane (1994), family honor and reputation are highly valued, children are encouraged to remain dependent on the family, obedience to parents is expected, hierarchy is important, and communication among Asian American family members is generalized by deference and respect.
In a study that focused on the relationship between people of Asian decent and their sense of personal control, Sastry and Ross (1998) found that Asians and Asian Americans report lower levels of perceived control than non-Asians. In comparison to individualistic Western cultures, Asian cultures emphasize selfless subordination to family and community (Sastry and Ross 1998: 101-102).
1.5 and Second Generation
The term 1.5 generation describes members who were born abroad but brought at an early age to the United States (Portes and Rumbaut, 2001). Zhou (1997) characterizes these children as straddling the old and new worlds yet are not fully integrated in either. According to Zhou (1997), second generation refers to children of contemporary immigrants. Gordon (1964) claims that ethnic minorities will eventually lose all their distinctive characteristics and cease to exist as ethnic groups as they pass through the stages of assimilation. However, complete assimilation into the dominant culture does not guarantee full social participation to the host society. He argues that immigrants free themselves from their traditional cultures in order to begin rise from marginal positions.
According to Fong (2002), the “Model Minority” stereotype developed as people noticed Asian Americans accomplishments, especially in terms of educational achievements and economic upward mobility. Wong and Halgin (2006) defined “model minority” as “successful minorities who have quietly moved to the pinnacle of success in various contexts through hard work and determination” (p.34). This stereotype has influenced Asian American students who “are expected to attend school faithfully, work hard at their studies, and stay out of trouble” (Wong 1980:236). Wong’s (1980) study examined the various components of the “model minority” student stereotypes and the teachers’ perceptions of their Asian and white elementary and secondary students. He found that Asian elementary and secondary students were more emotionally stable and academically competent than white elementary students. Wong found that Asian students were perceived as kinder, more obedient, more disciplined, more cooperative, more patient, and less prone to anger than the white elementary students. Academically, Asian Americans were perceived as quicker, more able to concentrate, more organized, more persevering, and as having a better memory than white students (Wong 1980).
Goyette and Xie’s (1999) analyses of Asian American youths found that “ the higher educational expectations of Asian American groups that are well assimilated into society are principally influenced by socioeconomic and demographic factors.” In a study on the assimilation orientation and social perception of 336 Chinese college students, Fong (1965) found that as Chinese are increasingly removed from their ancestral culture and come into greater contact with the dominant American culture, they show a concurrent increase in their assimilation orientation and in their internalization of American perceptual norms. Assimilation orientation is the extent to which minority members are favorable disposed toward accepting a style of life that is conducive to all aspects of assimilation (Fong, 1965:265). Embedded into their assimilation are attitudinal and behavioral changes (Fong, 1965:265). The American culture becomes a reference group whose norms and values begin to guide and modify the perspective and behaviors of the Chinese (Fong, 1965:271).
The manifest purpose of college is to receive a higher education, but what happens outside of the classroom is also important. Kelley (1958) claims that college is a culture with a set of “customs, prescriptive usage, social roles, and instruments” which elicits or restrains behaviors. In an attempt to understand the youth culture outside of the classroom, known as “college life,” Moffatt (1991) observed student behaviors at Rutgers University and found that modern college life consisted of a certain set of mentalities and behaviors present to students only outside of the classroom. According to Moffatt (1991), several factors create college life: including extracurricular experiences, autonomy, pleasures of friendship and sexuality, and youth and collegiate culture.
According to Kelley (1958), adolescence occurs during the ages of 14 to 22 years of age, and for many this is a time for social expansion and development. For example, Putney and Middleton (1961) find that college populations are presumed to have a large number of rebels from their parental’s views. Moffatt (1991:46) notes that “college is about being on your own, about autonomy, about freedom from the authority of adults.” Moffatt (1991) claims that fun with peers is the “bread-and-butter” of college life and includes: hanging out, gossiping, wrestling and fooling around, thinking up of pranks, going to dinner, going to the bar, etc.
Minorities Assimilating into College Life
Fong (2002) argues that Anglo-conformity continues to serve as the foundation for many academic and popular beliefs about minority group status, upward mobility, and family values. Loo and Rolison (1986) found that minority students faced greater sociocultural difficulties on campus than white students because “the cultural dominance of white, middle-class values on campus [pressures] minority students to acquire white, middle-class values and to reject their own, and second, ethnic isolation resulting from being a small proportion of the student body” (Pp.64-65).
In a study to learn about the experiences of black students on a predominantly white campus, Cureton (2003:296) found that many African American college students have difficulty adjusting to college because they are being “asked to assimilate into an unfamiliar environment composed of bureaucratic organizations and policies, entertainment organizations, sports programs.” Lewis and et al. ( 2000), conducted 15 group interviews with ethnic minorities at a large predominantly white public university and found themes of direct or indirect insults targeted at students of color, request from, pressures upon, or sometimes even demands (i.e. for conformity, assimilation, and/or information) presented to these students by their white peers. Some of their findings included students experiencing pressures to assimilate into the dominant white culture. In particular, an Asian American student expressed how she felt she was expected to be different from Whites in certain ways while at the same time pursue sameness with whites. For Asian American students attending a predominately white college, two identities may develop that allows them to assimilate into the dominant culture yet maintain the values of their Asian heritage.
ANZALDÚA’S BORDERLAND IDENTITY THEORY
As a result of racial and ethnic groups intermarrying, Anzaldúa (1987) believes the United States is moving towards a new racial, ideological, cultural and biological consciousness known as the “consciousness of the Borderlands.” This concept can be used to understand the experiences of various ethnic groups, including Asian Americans. Anzaldúa (1987) describes this new border identity as,
Cradles in one culture, sandwiched between two cultures, straddling all three cultures and their value systems, la mestiza undergoes a struggle of flesh, a struggle of borders, an inner war. Like all people, we perceive the version of reality that our culture communicates (p. 78).
Anzaldúa (1987) focuses specifically on the border identity of Mexican-Americans which she calls the “New Mestiza.” Although Anzaldúa uses the word “Mexican” to describe herself, she also uses it to describe one’s state of soul. Ramlow (2006:178) suggests that the word “‘Mexican’ functions less as a physical entity and more as an abstract principle of sexual, physical, and cultural otherness objected from a normate America.” The border, as described by Wright (1998:115), is not a place of division but is a unified seam where different manifestations of a unified culture meet. According to Ramlow (2006:178), the mestiza affects all individuals who share a common marking as the “other:” who are kicked out, disavowed, and disallowed. Anzaldúa (1987) believes this includes “the squint-eyed, the perverse, the queer, the troublesome, the mongrel, the mulatto, the half-breed, and the half-dead” (p. 3).
Anzaldúa describes her various identities as examples of the struggle she faces as the beliefs of her Mexican culture conflict with her identity in the dominant White culture. In the United States, she found that common beliefs held in each culture tended to contradict the other. Anzaldúa (1987) says that on one side, Mexicans are exposed to the Spanish of the Mexicans, and on the other side they hear the Anglos’ incessant clamoring. Anzaldúa believes that people who inhabit two cultures also inhabit two realities. Bicultural individuals, who live in the interface between the two, grow adept at switching modes. When two consistent but incompatible frames of reference come together, a cultural collision occurs which may occur for Asian American students on predominately white campuses. As a result for Anzaldúa, subconsciously these attacks on herself and her beliefs are a threat to the psyche.
Such ambivalence can affect one’s mental and emotional states. Internal conflicts regarding identity can result in insecurity and indecisiveness. Consequently, one may not hold concepts or ideas according to rigid boundaries. For Anzaldúa, the enemy has become “borders and walls that are supposed to keep the undesirable ideas out” (p. 79). A border identity shifts ideas out of the customary formations of convergent thinking--based on analytical reasoning-- towards divergent thinking characterized by a wholistic perspective. A border identity accepts contradictions and ambiguity. For example, Anzaldúa is “Indian” in Mexican culture and “Mexican” from an Anglo American point of view.
Anzaldúa argues that when attacks on the psyche occur, a counterstance is called for. A counterstance allows an individual to view the world from the position of the oppressor and to understand the psyche of the oppressed. A counterstance may refute the dominant culture’s views and beliefs, thus making a step towards liberation from cultural domination. Anzaldúa illustrates this using the example of a police officer and criminal. Both individuals can be reduced to the common denominator of violence. But a police officer may come to understand why a person commits a crime. For individuals who are of two identities, for example being American and of Asian descent, a counterstance would give them the ability to respect the views and beliefs of each of their cultures rather than sacrificing one for the other. Referring particularly to cultures, Anzaldúa believes bicultural individuals have developed a new consciousness that will metaphorically allow them to be in both cultures simultaneously. No longer does one decide to disengage from the one culture and cross the border into a wholly new and separate territory, to be assimilated into another group.
One can be forced from contradictory identities through an intense or painful emotional event during which the ambivalence is resolved subconsciously and creates the new border identity. For Anzaldúa, rather than merging separate pieces together or balancing opposing powers in an attempt to work out a synthesis the self creates an original third element, a new form of consciousness which for Anzaldúa is “the mestiza.” Though this new consciousness is at first a source of intense pain, eventually the continual creative motion it creates breaks down the unitary aspect of any emerging paradigm.
Hames-Garcia (2000) interprets Anzaldúa as arguing for hybridity of identity as an alternative to racial purity of white American practices. Hames-Garcia (2000) says that according to the mestiza consciousness, individuals draw from various cultural traditions “as each culture simultaneously enriches other cultures and is enriched by them” (p. 109). For Anzaldúa, the future of identity formation in a global environment depends on the breaking down of paradigms and being able to straddle two or more cultures. Hames-Garcia (2000) notes that the juggling of cultures and the blurring of cultural boundaries resembles practices of “the new mestiza”. Anzaldúa says,
The answer to the problem between the white race and the colored, lies in healing the split that originates in the very foundation of our lives, our culture, our language, our thoughts. A massive uprooting of dualistic thinking in the individual and collective consciousness is the beginning of a long struggle, but one that could, in our best hopes, bring us to the end of rape, of violence, of war (p. 80).
Asian Americans are one of many ethnic groups to which Anzaldúa’s theory may be applied. For Asian Americans, their ethnic values, traditions, and culture may oppose the beliefs of the dominant culture, thus causing cultural collisions to occur. My study examines how Asian Americans address their own border identity while at a predominately white college.
Approximately 1,500 students currently attend Saint Mary’s College, a predominantly white institution located in South Bend, Indiana. Eight to ten percent of the student population identified themselves as racial/ethnic minorities, of which three to four percent are Asian Americans. To gain an understanding of the experiences faced by female Asian American college students on a predominantly white campus, this study collected information during face-to-face interviews in the fall 2007.
Six Asian American students currently attending Saint Mary’s College, two first years, two second years, one third year, and one fourth year, were interviewed. Four students identified themselves as second generation, meaning that one or both parents immigrated to the United States as adults. The other two students were part of the 1.5 generation which meant that they were born in another country but immigrated to the United States before the age of twelve. The youngest participant was eighteen years old and the eldest participant was twenty two years old. Ethnically, two were Filipino, three were Chinese, and one was Vietnamese.
A list containing the names of the Asian American students, their class years, and email addresses was provided by the Director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs. Students who were biracial, international, or adopted were eliminated as potential participants, leaving a total of fifteen students. Six were randomly selected for this study. All participants identified as Asian Americans, were between the ages of 18 to 22, were students at Saint Mary’s College in the fall 2007, and were either 1.5 or second generation.
Interviews were conducted during late October and early November 2007. Each face-to-face interview was between forty minutes to two hours in length. Forty open-ended questions were asked [see Appendix A]. The questions pertained to the participants’ beliefs, parents’ beliefs, cultural background, experiences, college life and behavior. Interviews were conducted in participant’s dorm room, library study room, practice room, or a dorm lounge. The interviews were voice recorded and later transcribed for accuracy. To protect confidentiality, each participant chose a pseudonym for this study.
Strength and Weakness of Face-to-Face Interview
Face-to-face interviews allows a researcher to ask intimate questions of the participant’s experiences, thus the data reveal the perspectives of the participants on a variety of issues. Another advantage is that interviews permit the researcher to ask follow-up questions to responses for further elaborations or explanations. Lastly, as an Asian American researcher, the participants may have identified with me and thus felt comfortable answering sensitive questions. Four of the six participants, with who I was friends with prior to the interviews, shared intimate stories from their life. Many of them also had extensive responses to several of my questions, giving depth and insight to my study.
However, being an Asian American may also have been a disadvantage in this study because of interviewer bias. At times it was difficult to remain neutral and objective to the responses. Many of their stories and experiences, especially the rules many of them grew up with, were very similar to mines. Two of the participants asked me throughout the interview whether I knew what they meant; they seemed to be looking for reassurance to their responses. Since, four of the participants were friends of mines prior to this study, there was some who deviated from the questions as participants talked to me about irrelevant topics. In addition, because I interviewed two students unknown to me, I first had to build rapport with the participants in order to obtain their cooperation. At first, both participants appeared shy. One spoke very softly, held her hands together for the first fifteen minutes of the interview, and laughed nervously throughout the interview. The other participant, also soft spoken, avoided making eye contact with me.
Being a Minority on Campus
When asked if they could be given the option to attend another college or university, responses varied by class year. Both seniors report a positive experience at Saint Mary’s. The three underclass participants were undecided about re-attending Saint Mary’s. However, only one participant related this to her ethnicity; she would not reattend Saint Mary’s due to the lack of diversity and resources available for minority groups.
Participants were asked whether being a minority at Saint Mary’s College was easy or difficult. One upperclass participant said it was easy but she attributed this to her personality claiming she never had a hard time fitting in or making friends and to being Asian which allowed her to assimilate easily.
I being Asian, it’s easy for me to assimilate or it’s me personally being able to adjust well, you know, but then, their’s that whole token minority like since theirs so few of us, we have to represent every single Asian ethnic group… I guess you’re suppose to relate and know everything about them, so I think for me, it’s pretty easy, but I can definitely see the challenges that minorities face on this campus especially because the dominant group is so dominant, you know, their presence is so strong, the upper class, upper middle class, white group, so if you’re different, you automatically stand out.
The other upperclass participant also did not have a problem being a minority on a predominately white campus. However, she said minority women should be made aware that Saint Mary’s is a white school before deciding to attend here. The four underclass participants expressed mixed feelings about being a minority on campus. One participant noted that some of the majority students underestimate the minority student’s intellect because they are quiet in class. Another participant felt that from an educational perspective, it is easy being a minority but socially it is difficult.
If you were to look at it on the education side… it would be an advantage because professors like that and they enjoy extending to other populations as opposed to… socially, it’s a little harder because you always have to explain yourself, and your morals and values.
All six participants acknowledged that Asian Americans are the least represented minority on campus. Two of the participants reported this as the reason why Asians did not always know other Asians on campus. One participant reported that because there are few Asians on campus, she mingles with people outside of her ethnic group. All six participants said that their closest friends at Saint Mary’s are white. Three participants reported that they have only one other Asian American friend at Saint Mary’s. Another respondent labeled Asian Americans as the “minority of the minorities” because there are so few in comparison with blacks and Hispanics. One participant noted how ethnically different Asian American’s are in comparison to Latino’s, who socialize with one another because they share a common language.
With the exception of one participant who was homeschooled her entire life, all participants attended a high school with a small number of Asian Americans. Two participants attended high schools that were ethnically diverse but whites were the majority. For one participant, African Americans were the most dominant ethnic group in high school. To illustrate the lack of Asian Americans in her high school, one participant referred to her high school pie chart illustrating the school’s racial distribution: African Americans (40%), Whites (30%), Hispanics (28%), while Asian Americans were not present on the chart.
Five participants said that the white girls attending Saint Mary’s are generally nice. However, one participant said that there are two groups of white students: the “snobby rich bitches” that think of themselves highly and the “decent ones” who are friendly and nice.
Proud to be Asian… sometimes
When participants were asked if they ever felt uncomfortable with their ethnicity while in the presence of white people, five of the six participants immediately said “no.” Three respondents expressed how proud they were to be of Asian descent. Two participants said that when someone learns they are Chinese, they are asked if they speak Chinese or whether they know particular aspects of Chinese culture. However, two of the six participants did note that as a child they wanted blond hair and blue eyes because this represented ideal beauty.
When asked whether there was a time that they desired to be white, three participants hesitated in their response. One participant reported that she’s never been ashamed but she has felt like an oddball. Another participant mentioned her childhood when her mother packed an “ethnic” lunch that always included rice while the other kids had peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. She said that as a kid, the worst thing to know was that you were different. One respondent did express a desire to be white.
It definitely wasn’t when I was younger. I think a lot of it had to do with, not necessarily coming to Saint Mary’s, but the spot between August of high school and, I guess college. You, I don’t know, it’s hard for you to identify yourself not only like… as like the obvious, but like I guess inside as well. And it always seemed like whites had it easier.
Participants made direct or indirect references to being the “model minority” stereotype. One participant stated Asians got lucky having a good stereotype like “Asians are so smart.”
One person told me that Asian Americans had, although they were discriminated against, I forgot how she put it, but it wasn’t a bad discrimination, like Asian’s are known to be really good at piano, violin or other musical instruments. They’re good at math and stuff like that, whereas African American are like associated with some negative things like with crime or something and that’s not true. For some reason Asian American’s don’t really have that negative stereotype.
All six participants reported living with both parents. When describing the relationship between themselves and each of their parents, four of the six participants immediately said they were close to their mothers. Four of the participants, expressed a closeness with their fathers. The six participants did not identify specific gender roles played by each parent. However, when asked about parents’ roles, four participants indicated that their mother was the disciplinarian.
Rules that Asian American parents set included, as one participant reported, “common sense stuff” like no smoking, no sex till marriage, no drugs. Another respondent said she was not allowed to wear makeup, go out with boys, and attend sleep overs. Four participants were not allowed to have a boyfriend during high school, and for two, also during college. Participants noted that when they go home for breaks, they are expected to abide by parents’ rule like “curfew.” Two participants said they did not have specific rules, rather it was more understood that they act appropriately.
Participants noted that punishments for not following their parent’s rules differed from their white friends. According to one participant, if her white friends broke a parent’s rule “they were grounded. That was their biggest discipline action, I don’t think I was ever grounded.” Another participant said they would lose privileges like going to a party or talking on the phone. Another respondent expressed how her white friends seemed to have more freedom from rules.
As children, three participants said they were spanked when they broke a rule. However, as high school and college students, their punishment became lectures, lost of privileges, or dealing with the guilt they felt after realizing their parent’s disappointment in them. All six participants said that facing their parents’ disappointment was their worst punishment. Two participants said that now that their older, their parents trust they know right from wrong. When rules were broken, all participants reported feeling guilty. For two participants, the reaction also depended on which rule was broken. Five participants feared disappointing their parents when they broke a rule, so two said that they would eventually admit what they done to their parents. Participants admitted to lying to their parents when they broke rules.
When I have to tell them stuff, I have to tweek it. No like, okay, well I guess it’s lying but kinda’ like oh, when you go out, “what time did you get home last night?” “Um, 12” but, you know, it was 2. You know, you add a one. It’s for their own good. I don’t want them to worry, you know. I feel bad.
American Values vs. Asian Values
When asked what their definitions of “American values” were, participants included: individualism, freedom, pursuit of happiness, materialism, getting ahead, patriotism, being self-centered, socializing, having lots of friends, openness with others, educational attainment, and living for the moment. When asked what Asian values included, participants mentioned respecting authority and putting others before yourself, which referred to putting the family before the individual. For example, one respondent always wanted to be a doctor, but is willing to give up this dream and instead become a Physician’s Assistant.
It’s more meaningful to make something out of myself and make [my parents] happy than to fulfill my dream of being a doctor… I wouldn’t mind sacrificing myself. It’s not even sacrificing, cause I feel like doing what I do, but it allows me to make money ‘cause I go to PA (Physician Assistant) school two years, and get a job and start making money. I would like to send my parents back to Hong Kong at least once in their life time, and that’s something I wouldn’t be able to do if I become a doctor.
She said that her parents sacrificed living in Hong Kong so that the children could have an education without the stifling pressures of a Hong Kong’s education. She considers her parents sacrifice to be selfless and she would like to start earning money to repay them. One participant provided a brief scenario to convey how important the family unit is.
If I had to choose between my best friends birthday party and like some like random cousin’s birthday, I’d probably have to go to the random cousin’s birthday, you know what I mean, cause family always comes first.
Other Asian values mentioned were: hard work, subduing personal feelings, performing well at school, looking towards the future and education coming first. One participant also mentioned that her priorities are to do homework and go to classes instead of socializing. Another participant said that her sister was spanked as a child because she did not study as often as her parents expected.
For most of the participants being on a predominantly white campus has caused them to face situations that went against their parents traditional ideologies and to assimilate into the dominant culture. Due to a scarcity of Asian Americans on Saint Mary’s campus, Asian students will associate with white students. Some participants expressed difficulty in explaining their morals and values to their white friends and a ignorance of their ethnic identity by their white friends. However, due to the way they were raised and fearing their parents’ disappointment, many of them were able to uphold their parent’s ideologies in the face of pressure. When they did go against their parents beliefs, most participants said that they would eventually admit their faults to them, otherwise they would bury it deep inside or lie to cover it up.
Previous research has shown that when minorities enter a predominantly white campus, they experience pressures to assimilate into the dominant white culture causing a rejection of their ethnic identity, morals, and values. However, data from this study found that Asian American women at Saint Mary’s College maintain a responsibility to honor their family, ethnic heritage, and the associated values and traditions. For example, most participants of this study listed “family-center” as an Asian value. Many of the participants were raised in tight-knit families where they were encouraged to be honest and open. Although a few did admit to “breaking their parent’s rules,” generally a fear of bringing disappointment to their parents deterred them from behaviors they were socialized to believe were wrong.
A majority of Asian parents either did not believe in or understand the concept of “grounding” or allowance but reared their children in traditional ways using corporal punishment and lectures for transgressions. These practices may have been used as a way for parents to instill and stress the importance of abiding to Asian values such as obedience to family and hierarchy. The socialization these students received as children varied greatly from their white friend’s upbringing. Based on the Asian’s students understanding of their white friends, whites did not receive corporal punishment but were grounded or lost certain privileges.
The experiences of these Asian American college students at a predominately white college reveal a “border identity.” In her Borderland Identity Theory, Anzaldua explained the struggles she faced when her beliefs as a Mexican American tended to conflict with her identity in the dominant white culture. Individuals, who inhabit two cultures, also inhabit two realities. As a result, they are forced to live in the interface between two cultures, and they grow proficient at switching modes. For the Asian American females in this study, they often face the dilemma of either honoring the rules set for them by their immigrant parents or adapting the values of the white dominant culture. At college they have the freedom to do whatever they please, but their parent’s values continue to shape their decisions. As the Asian child grew up and eventually left for college, their parents beliefs became a significant influence on many of their decisions. For example, two participants dealt with the pressures of smoking based upon parents values; one did not try it because she did not want to lie to her parents and the other student did try smoking but she later felt compelled to reveal her offense to her parent. Even as adults returning home from school, they switch modes of behavior and act in accordance to their parents’ rules.
The idea of a model minority stereotype appears to be most perpetuated in the rules many of the parents set for their children. Rules such as no boyfriends, be home at a certain time, do well in school, respect your elders, were established to deter distractions from educational achievement. Even in college, some of the participants felt an obligation to excel in their academics. As a result, the Asian American students studied during the weekends as a “hobby” or form of entertainment.
Asian Americans appeared to have struggled with their dual identities at a predominately white campus. A lack of Asian American representation leaves the participants no choice but to assimilate into the dominate culture, thus at times forcing them to compromise or ignore their Asian values. In such circumstances, the dominant culture may tend to overlook their identity as Asians therefore causing further perpetuation of dominant cultural norms and a lack of understanding or integration of other cultures. As society moves toward becoming a multicultural society, Asian Americans will be able to respect both cultures without compromising one for the other.
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Appendix A. Asian American Interview Questions
How old are you?
How do you describe your ethnicity?
What is your generational status? (Explain: first generation- immigrant, second generation- children of immigrants, third generation and beyond- children of children who were immigrants)
What are a few of your hobbies?
What do you often do during the weekends? For entertainment?
Are most of the people where you graduated from high school white or do they belong to other ethnic groups?
St. Mary’s Experience
Have you been attending Saint Mary’s since your first year of college? If not, from what school did you transfer from?
Please tell me how you heard about Saint Mary’s during your college search?
Why did you pick Saint Mary’s College?
What are some of the things you like about Saint Mary’s College?
What are some of the things that you don’t like about Saint Mary’s College?
If you had the option to attend another college now, would you stay here or would you leave? Explain.
Based on your observations on campus, describe the ethnic dynamics here at Saint Mary’s?
Generally speaking, describe what you think of the white students attending Saint Mary’s?
What are the ethnicities of your closest friends at home (while attending high school)? Here at Saint Mary’s?
How many Asian American friends do you have at Saint Mary’s?
Are you involved with any of the ethnic groups/clubs at Saint Mary’s? If so, which ones? If not, why aren’t you involved with the ethnic groups/clubs at Saint Mary’s?
Do you think being a minority at Saint Mary’s College is easy or difficult? Explain.
Are their differences faced by the Notre Dame Asian Students as opposed to the Saint Mary’s Asian students? Explain.
Do you think the curriculum at Saint Mary’s provides enough opportunities for non minorities to learn about other cultures?
Do black students interact only with black student at Saint Mary’s College? Do Hispanic students interact only with Hispanic students at Saint Mary’s College? Do Asian student interact only with Asian students at Saint Mary’s College?
Family Life and Relationships
How many people live in your household? Who are these members?
Describe the dynamic of your relationship with your mom and with your dad?
What are some of the rules your parents set for you when you were growing up?
What are some of the rules your white friend’s parents set for them growing up?
Growing up, did your parents believe in corporal punishment (spanking)?
Do your parents drink? If so, how many drinks would they have in one night? Do your parents swear? If so, how frequently?
How do you feel when you know that you have just broken one of your parents rule?
What would your punishment be if your parents found out you broke a rule?
What would be your white friend’s punishment from their parents if they knew they broke a rule?
Have you ever been ashamed of your ethnicity in the presence of white people? Explain.
Please give some examples of your definition of American values? Please give some examples of your definition of Asian values?
Was their ever a time you desired to be white because life seemed much more liberating than being an Asian American?
When hanging out with your white friends, have you ever done anything that you knew was wrong but did it anyway because you felt like that was the only way you could fit in with them?
Is there anything else about being Asian American that you would like to share with me?