Monday, May 09, 2011

Why You Should Never Listen to Asian American "Writers" of Angst

[Note: This post is a reaction to Wesley Yang's article on New York Magazine, titled "Paper Tigers".]

First, I have to clarify and apologize for my use of the term "Writer" in this post. I myself am a writer of sorts. Obviously, I like writing. I would not have spent years writing a blog for a hobby otherwise. I also admire other good writers. I voraciously consume their works and attempt to improve my own writing by emulating them.

But, in my mind, there are writers, and there are "Writers" -- and I hope that the capitalization in the term "Writers" makes clear that the term, as I define it, does not refer to people who write for living or people who enjoy writing. My definition of Writers points to a peculiar breed of writers, frequently encountered in places like New York. The defining characteristic of Writers is their undeserved sense of self-importance. "Writers," for one reason or another, have achieved little or nothing in their lives. But that does not stop them from assuming their air of smug arrogance. In fact, in their little universe, the nothingness of their being is a perverted evidence of their genius, so far ahead of their time that the lowly world does not understand. So they often hate the world, and hate their parents who set the world order. They hack away toward building a masterpiece that, in their minds, even the stupidest of the people with whom they are forced to share the oxygen will not be able to deny. A handful of them do succeed, but most fail. Even those who succeed often leave a trail of misery for themselves and their family and friends in the wake.

I know Writers well because I have a lot of Writer within myself. I read a ton of books as a child, and I have always written well. I received a lot of praise and compliments from my teachers and parents of my friends for my reading and writing habit. As an elementary and middle school student, I was one of those insufferable 12 year olds who thought he got everything in life figured out because the grownups could not answer his clever little questions. Left unchecked, I would have been a Writer too -- the kind that bloviates on the unfair world that fails to recognize my genius, the kind that wonders why the stream of praises and compliments stopped coming just because I am no longer a 12-year-old smart aleck but a 30-year-old college graduate without a job.

Instead, I received enough good education from my parents and my schools to know that the world is full of people who are smarter than I -- and they spend less time bragging about it. I learned that B-students routinely beat the snot out of A-students in life with unrelenting diligence and effort, that nothing in life will be handed to me just because I can put together a set of some pretty sentences. I might yet change my job and make my living by writing things, but I will never become a Writer. In fact, my pen name for this blog -- The Korean -- is a self-mockery of my Writerly tendency that still rears its head from time to time. On this blog, I constantly engage in a third-person speak to remind myself how ridiculous I sound if I started taking myself too seriously.

(More after the jump)

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.




Reading Wesley Yang's "Paper Tigers" makes clear that Yang is a classic example of a Writer. Yang's description of his own "career" speaks for itself:
I wanted what James Baldwin sought as a writer—“a power which outlasts kingdoms.” Anything short of that seemed a humiliating compromise. I would become an aristocrat of the spirit, who prides himself on his incompetence in the middling tasks that are the world’s business. Who does not seek after material gain. Who is his own law.

...

Throughout my twenties, I proudly turned away from one institution of American life after another (for instance, a steady job), though they had already long since turned away from me. Academe seemed another kind of death—but then again, I had a transcript marred by as many F’s as A’s. I had come from a culture that was the middle path incarnate. And yet for some people, there can be no middle path, only transcendence or descent into the abyss.

I was descending into the abyss.

All this was well deserved. No one had any reason to think I was anything or anyone. And yet I felt entitled to demand this recognition. I knew this was wrong and impermissible; therefore I had to double down on it.
(Emphases mine.)

But Yang is not simply a Writer -- he is an Asian American Writer, which means his Writerly narrative takes on a distinctive ethnic twist. And the favorite hobby horse of AAWA -- Asian American "Writers" of Angst -- is to shit on the remarkable success of Asian Americans. Instead of marveling at the magnitude and the improbability of Asian Americans' success, AAWAs sneer at it with a series of "yeah-but"s. "Yeah, Asians are more likely to be college graduates than anyone, but they are test taking machines"; "Yeah, Asians get better grades than everyone, but they lack critical thinking, creativity and social skills"; "Yeah, Asians have the highest median family income among all ethnicities in America, but they are no more than middle management fodder."

In this particular iteration of the sneering, Yang drags out for display all the familiar parade of horribles about Asian Americans: how a bright student named Jefferson Mao (which has to be one of the greatest American names, by the way) is pushed into being a doctorlawyer instead of -- gasp -- a writer; how all the high-achieving Asian American students at Stuyvesant High School are math-solving robots; how Asian Americans have good grades but are bad at job interviews; how Asian Americans are not leaders in business; how Asian American men are neutered sheep, requiring them to take a class on how to speak to girls.

Never mind that these stereotypes are wrong, wrong and wrong some more. Just a glance at this list quickly disproves the stupid idea that Asian Americans are creativity- and charisma-lacking automatons. Yang attempts to get around this by positing that Asian Americans who are successful -- or, to be precise, more successful than America expects them to be -- are so because they struck out their own path and "obviate[d] the need for Asians to meet someone else’s behavioral standard." And that may be true for the individuals listed in Yang's article. But what about all the Asian Americans who succeeded within the system, by not only meeting someone else's behavioral standard but also reshaping it? We are living in an era in which two of the top four characters of the television's number one show are Asian Americans. Our Asian face that Yang so loathes ("I’ve contrived to think of [my] face as the equal in beauty to any other") is in fact a new, highly sought-after addition to the ever-expanding standard of American beauty. And yes, that includes Asian American men too. Just within my blog, the far-and-away most popular question is: "How do I meet Korean guys? Do they like white/black/Latina girls?"

But make no mistake about it -- regardless of what the headline written by the editors of New York Magazine states, Yang's article is ultimately not about how traditional Asian American education is doing a disservice to Asian American children. (It does not, by the way.) Wesley Yang's article is about Wesley Yang -- all else is just mirrors with which to show Wesley Yang's multifaceted glory. The article, quite literally, begins with Wesley Yang and ends with Wesley Yang. So here, it is pointless to give a detailed analysis of why the commonly held stereotypes about Asian Americans are all wrong, because that does not matter to Wesley Yang. What matters to Wesley Yang is: Wesley Yang is better than everyone; people who are like Wesley Yang, like Jefferson Mao, are also better than everyone; and the world, and specifically Asian Americana, is stupid for not recognizing the greatness of Wesley Yang. This message cannot be clearer in this passage:
I see the appeal of getting with the program. But this is not my choice. Striving to meet others’ expectations may be a necessary cost of assimilation, but I am not going to do it.

Often I think my defiance is just delusional, self-glorifying bullshit that artists have always told themselves to compensate for their poverty and powerlessness. But sometimes I think it’s the only thing that has preserved me intact, and that what has been preserved is not just haughty caprice but in fact the meaning of my life. So this is what I told Mao: In lieu of loving the world twice as hard, I care, in the end, about expressing my obdurate singularity at any cost. I love this hard and unyielding part of myself more than any other reward the world has to offer a newly brightened and ingratiating demeanor, and I will bear any costs associated with it.

The first step toward self-reform is to admit your deficiencies. Though my early adulthood has been a protracted education in them, I do not admit mine. I’m fine. It’s the rest of you who have a problem. Fuck all y’all.
(Emphases mine.)

But problem with AAWAs is that no matter how personal of a story they weave, it is invariably taken as some kind of a larger cultural comment. Such is the fate of anything written by an ethnic minority in America. (The maelstrom that followed Amy Chua's autobiography is a good recent example.) Worse, sometimes AAWAs actually believe that they are, in fact, making a larger cultural comment, although all they can do is to offer the story of their own failure (which is always the fault of their parents or their culture) and play the "anecdotes game," dredging up the old stereotypes and find someone who fits the stereotype in order to validate the many excuses of their own failure, knowing full well that their position cannot be defeated because no one can truly win the anecdotes game.

And AAWAs can get away with this self-indulgent bullshit because we Asian Americans who made something out of ourselves, instead of being a Writer, do not feel the need to speak of our victory. We, for the most part, have no angst that compels us to complain about the world. We are content to enjoy the spoils of our triumph. If someone challenges the validity of our success (as many before Yang have done and many after Yang will surely do,) we can politely, but firmly, point to the scoreboard.

*                   *                   *

And here, I will present my own scorecard in the spirit of fairness, since I made this criticism quite personal to Wesley Yang. (I had to do it because his article was about himself, but still.) All the "Asian values" -- filial piety, grade-grubbing, Ivy League mania, deference to authority, humility, hard work, harmonious relations and sacrificing for the future -- that Yang so denounced, I embrace completely. I was not always like that, however. Anyone who knew me through early high school would describe me as a seriously rebellious child, talking smack to the teachers' face and getting beaten up as a result. Then my family moved to America when I was 16, and my immigrant drive kicked in. My acknowledgment of the supreme sacrifice that my parents made in order to bring my brother and me to America (filial piety) finally killed the lazy Writerly habit in me. Relying only on repetition and rote memorization, I learned to speak college-level English in two years.

I studied hard in school (grade-grubbing), because I knew that good grades were the only chance I had. I did not have enough time or resources to engage in any significant extracurricular activity. (I did manage to muscle my way into my school's award-winning newspaper program, however.) I did well enough to give a high school graduation speech that no one listened to. I killed the SATs. I went to UC Berkeley, and had all kinds of fun. I joined the student government, dated girls and got my hearts broken by them, participated in protests, established a service fraternity and worked as a school tour guide. I attended football games and took down some goalposts. And oh, I also got good grades and killed the LSAT again. I went to an Ivy League law school, where a position at a big law firm with six-figure income is all but guaranteed upon graduation. I started at one of the best international law firms in the world. Then the financial crisis hit everyone hard, and I was not an exception -- but I managed to weather the storm by working incredibly hard and being completely loyal to the brilliant but demanding partner that I worked for.

See, not one of the Asian values served me poorly. In fact, the biggest regret that I have right now is that I moved away from what served me well in law school. Caught up in the irrational jubilation of the pre-financial crisis, I slacked off in the second and third years of my law school because I was already sitting on a job offer. I should have studied harder and gotten good grades, which would have served me really well right now.

Having said all this, here is my score. I married a beautiful and talented Korean American violinist. We moved to Washington D.C./Northern Virginia where my wife is from, and I find the region to be quite pleasant. It suits my Californian temperament better than New York, where I had to suffer through the stench of urine in the subways. We live in a nice apartment that has enough space for a practice room for my wife and a home office for myself. (I decorated it with framed pictures of Malcolm X and Seo Taiji.) I kept my beat-up car, but my wife got herself a nice new convertible. (Don't tell her I bought it for her. She gets upset.) I changed the firm as I moved, and I love my new firm. The people are friendly and the hours, while still significant, are much better than New York's. The work is still challenging and intellectually stimulating. But I have concerns that I am not cut out for the business of being a big law firm partner, so I am trying to envision an exit plan that I will execute in four to five years. Maybe working for the government, maybe going into academia. Either way, as long as I keep working hard, I know there are options open for me in every part of the country -- the kinds of options that are not available to the people that do not have my resume. Barring a disaster, my finances will likely be secure for the rest of my life.

My hobbies protect me from the inevitable stress that comes with working for a big law firm. I am away from my New York poker buddies (one of the few things about New York that I miss,) but we still can meet up at Atlantic City or fly out to Las Vegas to catch up. I finally learned to golf properly, and it is much more fun than I ever remembered. And of course, this blog keeps me entertained to no end. I had no idea that anyone, much less the thousands of people a day that this blog attracts now, would be interested in my little scribbles. Yet people keep coming, and I learn so much from the discussion with my readers.

My family is my greatest source of happiness. My wife and I always have a great time together, whether it be my attending her concerts, our trying out together a recipe from a newly acquired cookbook, or reading together in bed while talking about the most emailed articles in the New York Times. For Mother's Day, we took my in-laws on a brunch river cruise on the Potomac River. True to form, despite having lived in the area for more than a decade, my in-laws had never been on a boat on the Potomac. They were very happy, as the weather was perfect. In the summer, my wife and I will be in Korea to finally have my wife formally meet the rest of my family in Korea. As my wife and I bow down to my 95-year-old grandmother, I know I will feel an inordinate amount of joy -- the supreme satisfaction that I made my parents and ancestors proud, that I did not waste any of my God-given talents, that I earned myself the freedom to do whatever I want with my life and career.

*                   *                    *

Forgive me if I was a little too onerous with my life story. As people say, no one wants to sit through your life story. But, you know, Writers do it all the time, as if it is the most important thing in the world. Wesley Yang proudly airs out his own dirty laundry: "I haven’t had health insurance in ten years. I didn’t earn more than $12,000 for eight consecutive years. I went three years in the prime of my adulthood without touching a woman. I did not produce a masterpiece." And he attempts to justify it by positing that Asian American values failed him.

This kind of narrative by the Asian American Writers of Angst does a particular damage to my life. I have never failed to have health insurance at any point in my adult life. I always earned six figures as long as I had a job. My adulthood had more years with girlfriends than without, and I don't particularly regret the years I spent without a girlfriend. I produced a blog visited by thousands of people every day solely on the strength of my ability to analyze and write about what is available to me. All of these are thanks to my Asian American values, and all of these are legitimate points of pride for my life. But not so for AAWAs. They harp and screech about how my life is "middle class servility," as Yang put it; how I will amount to no more than middle management; how all my achievements are attained by robot-like test-taking ability; how I will never be able to attract pretty girls (not that I have a need for one at this point.)

I am sick of hearing it. I am sick of hearing that the life that I worked so hard to achieve is a fraud. I am sick of the AAWAs, the Wesley Yangs of the world who tell America that my Asian American values made me into some kind of dickless slave who has no critical mind of my own, all because they do not have the kind of secure and stable happiness that I have -- the kind of happiness that Yang's parents surely must have wanted their son to enjoy.

And I know I am not alone in this kind of happiness. Overwhelming majority of Asian Americans I have met through my life are quite happy with their lives, precisely because they listened to their parents. The doctors, lawyers, engineers, bankers, and even musicians, artists and writers -- they are all pretty happy. If they are unhappy, their unhappiness is not any different from the kind of unhappiness felt by members of other ethnic groups in similar positions. If they are unhappy with their career, they change it. They do quite well at their new ones because after all, the secret of success is not that different no matter what job you have. Ken Jeong was a doctor before he was a comedian. Joe Wong was an engineer before he was a comedian. Vera Wang was an Olympic level figure skater before she was a fashion designer. Eddie Huang was a lawyer before he was a chef. (And here is one thing to know about these changes -- they do not happen in the reverse direction.) But according to AAWAs, this is all lies, all frauds, and we are supposed to feel empty inside because our parents made us that way.

Enough of this. I present my own story here not because I want to say I am better than anyone; I am not. You don't need six-figure income and an Ivy League diploma to be happy. But you do need a stable income and a college degree to be happy in America today. And that is the point I want to make by talking about my life: we Asian Americans are doing great in America because of the values we inherited from our parents, and there is absolutely no reason why we should apologize for our success or for our parents. There is no reason why we should capitulate to the stupid, self-pitying narrative of the Asian American Writers of Angst. Instead of regurgitating the tripe about how Asian Americans are ill-prepared for the real world, our focus should firmly rest on real Asian American success in the real world. The stories of Eric Shinseki, of Norman Mineta, of Yo-Yo Ma, of I.M. Pei, of Dr. Jim Yong Kim. The stories of success and happiness. The stories of American Dream.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.

67 comments:

  1. It's hard to give up those junky old cars.

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  2. I hear you TK, although I do have to say that you don't even need a stable income to be happy. I'm pretty in love with my not-yet-achieving writer (lowercase) lifestyle and could hardly be said to be achieving a stable income. But, I've applied some good old fashion immigrant miser values and make those dollars stretch so it all works out. The only part of my Asian American upbringing that has led to any regretful decision-making on my part is believing that my parents were always right and doing everything they told me to. Ultimately, I came to realize that their intent might be right even as their actual imperatives failed at achieving their intent. Since their intent was for me to be happy, I ditched my law school track and decided I'd waste no more time doing something I cared nothing about and get into the world of writing for the screen. Best. Decision. Ever. Okay, so part of me had to ditch the tried and true AA methodology, but I still think that it works pretty well for a lot of my friends, who are successful and happy in their jobs. And, true, there are some quite angsty people that also followed the AA professional track and kind of hate their own lives, but I don't think that's the kind of thing you can really blame on the upbringing. After all, those people made their choices and the work ethic imparted by an immigrant upbringing would serve then well in any field they choose. Okay. Now, I ramble. Goodnight. Thanks for ranting. Apologies for merely skimming your (and Wesley's) personal life stories.

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  3. There's a notion generally in American post 1950's literature that the typical upper-middle class lifestyle is somehow sterile and robotic. That's the literature I read when I was young and that's what I believed. Then I grew up and noticed that this lifestyle makes most people happy, and I decided that there was nothing wrong with being happy and content with life.

    This Wesley Yang sounds like every writer who has criticized "suburbia," with the exception that he's putting an ethnic twist on it. If writing like this puts food on his table, I don't really object. Most people will continue to strive for upper-middle class status (at least) for themselves and their children, whatever the belly-aching of these starving artists.

    It's particularly unfortunate that this writer cannot see beyond the stereotypes that the dominant culture has imposed on his own race. One would hope that a person trained in the humanities would be able to see how this game is played. He must be very angry indeed at his parents and everyone else who looks like them to want to perpetuate these stereotypes.

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  4. About two pages into this article, I wanted to vomit. Its really self indulgent and full of "woe is me" sentiment. I myself like Yang is someone who hasnt really conformed to the whole minority Asian stereotype. Instead of majoring in physics I majored in Political Science. But, I really as someone who is adverse to the model minority stereotype, I can sympathize more with TK than Yang.

    Yang laments about how there are so few writers and that too many Asians think outside the box. Well, has he ever heard of the Asian American Writers Workshop, which hosts many famous Asian writers? Has he heard the magnificent story telling of the great Paul J. Kim who not only produces music, but also went to grad school in a liberal art discipline, speaks at retreats and does spoken word poetry?

    I am in the stratosphere that Yang talks about. My parents are more likely than not "Westernized" as in my mother took my father's last name, we cooked things like spaghetti much more than Vietnamese soup in my house and when it came around to language requirements my parents were ok with me picking a language not "useful" in Texas, which was French. I got awful grades in HS and college and yet my parents still loved me and treated me the same. In this case, I would either be really angsty or really happy according to Yang. I mean he really doesnt say that you will be empirically happy if you dont fulfill what your parents instilled in you.

    TK, I enjoyed reading your post, I wish I could have wrote more on it. Yet, alas the melontin is wearing on me. Great rebuttal.

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  5. you're in the DMV (DC-MD-VA) area too? that's awesome! btw, I totally agree with every thing you said here. insecure/miserable people always try to justify their angst without really owning up to their issues.

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  6. I agree with you, however, I also think that second generation (not first or even 1.5 generation) Korean Americans need to diversify away from Doctor/Lawyer/Engineer careers. I would love to see some more representation in politics. You could even strive to be the first Asian American Supreme Court Justice.

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  7. Yang focuses too much on what Asian Americans have YET to achieve in America. He fails to mention all the successes and milestones Asian Americans have ALREADY achieved in America - much of which occurred within 1-2 generations!

    I bet, within 1 more generation - some other super successful Asian American will be able to write a NY mag cover article with a big FUCK Y'all back to Yang - and I'm hoping its an Asian American girl with like 4 Ivy league degrees, a Pulitzer Prize, a super hot Asian husband that didn't need a pick up course, and no health insurance, b/c she could quite possibly pay out of pocket for everything without even flinching.

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  8. I don't think Yang's piece is that bad, but the author is certainly a bit immature, and strikes me as the over-30 artsy/activist type who might not have the clearest perspective on things, or much of a direction in life. If you took out his talk about himself and his urge to be a rebel, and balanced the discussion out with womens' issues, you'd end up with a pretty decent primer on the state of middle class Asian America. But I can certainly see why he annoys people. The photos don't help!

    Some of the quotes you picked also, I think, display a bit of self-aware irony on Yang's part; I don't think he's entirely clueless about his tone.

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  9. I think the truth of the matter rests somewhere in between these two essays. The problem with your response however, is that you do what you falsely accuse Yang of doing. First you paint his essay as being nothing but anecdotal, disregarding any of the statistical evidence he offers which is overwhelming and meaningful. Then you offer the anecdote of your life... And while I agree that Yang's perspective is a bit much, you sound like you would take offense to any attempt to find negative aspects of asian-american culture.

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  10. Okay, so New York Mag lets a self-loathing Korean-Am who brags he has no Korean friends write a cover story about the Asian American experience? Give me a f*ckin' break!

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  11. Randy has a point-- parts of Yang's piece resonated with me as an Asian-American, and he offers solid statistical evidence of the disadvantages Asian Americans face in society today. They're more successful than any other ethnic group, but the piece wasn't written to celebrate the accomplishments, it was written to emphasize how far we still have to go. Asians are disproportionately underrepresented in top management positions but over-represented in specialized schools and colleges. There's a discrepancy, and that's what he was writing about.

    I didn't see any angst. It's distinctly Asian of him to acknowledge how far AA as a group have come, but then to look ahead to see where we have yet to go. he piece is self-indulgent, but that's a distinctly American way of writing and he's decided on that track for his own life. Referring to yourself as "The Korean" is also pretty self-indulgent, and so is labeling a group of "Writers" and setting yourself apart from them. Aren't both these articles just two sides of the same coin? The middle ground, I think, holds the most truth.

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  12. Randy,

    What little "statistical" evidence that Yang presents is meager, out of context and cherry-picked. He spends all of one paragraph to talk about statistics, about Asian Am corporate leaders. It is hardly overwhelming. In fact, it is deeply underwhelming, given that Asian Am only have been meaningfully present in America for a generation.

    As to whether I would take offense at any attempt to find negative aspects of Asian Am culture, you can take a look under "Popular Posts" section and read a number of posts where I blast Korean Americans for their racism and sexism.

    Joann,

    Referring to yourself as "The Korean" is also pretty self-indulgent...

    That, to me, shows that you did not read the post all that carefully. I clearly said that referring to myself as my pen name is a self-mockery.

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  13. The most obnoxious thing about Yang's essay isn't the pity party he's throwing (which is grating), but rather that he takes way too long to say what he needs to say. Did anyone even edit this? I actually couldn't read every word because it was simply too exhausting. Maybe Yang might be an all right writer somewhere in the mess, but I don't think he's a very good editor.

    Mostly, I feel that you can point out all the injustices that Asian Americans still face without being all "whoa is me, whoa are we". And with far fewer words. And HOW did this get on the cover?

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  14. What really bothered me about Yang's article is that he points to the bamboo ceiling and attributes it to an AA upbringing, when really, that so-called ceiling points to the problems within the greater American culture that some of us in America are working hard to change. That "bamboo ceiling" is also known as the glass ceiling for women, African Americans, and other minorities.

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  15. I think that Wesley Yang’s article, though overlong and self-indulgent at times, hits hard b/c he says what a lot of Asian Americans feel, but don’t want to say it b/c they are afraid to “rock the boat.” Which is why I will discuss, in some great detail, what I think is “wrong” with Asian values…

    Everybody likes to tout Asians as the model minority, and even Asians themselves project that image either onto their children or each other. Asian parents want their sons to grow up and become the next great Harvard educated scientist or doctor like their Chinese next door neighbor. However, I feel that Asian values can make Asian Americans narcissistic, entitled, one-dimensional, arrogant, and think that they are better than everybody else. In other words, Asian values make us (Asians) arrogant. And this will ultimately be our downfall…

    What I find disgusting about Asian values is the obsessive pursuit of top test scores and fancy degrees. Asian Americans are obsessed with only getting into Harvard, the Ivy League (or comparable universities, e.g. MIT, Duke, Stanford, Berkeley) NOT b/c they want a great education, but only b/c of the name. I know b/c I went to a very competitive high school in New Jersey and all Asians talk about is that they “must” get into Harvard, they “must” have that brass ring that it an Ivy League degree. Once Asians get into their dream schools and graduate, a lot of them face bitter disappointment b/c their supposed prospects don’t always turn into reality…

    I think that one solution I have for Asian Americans is to quit being obsessed with getting top test scores and getting into Ivy League institutions. Ivy League is not the be-all-end-all. Too many times, I see Asian Americans peak in high school, get into their dream college, and totally crash and burn b/c they can’t figure out what to do next. Sometimes, I find it ridiculous that Asians “feel” like the only way they can get a good job is to go to an Ivy League university. This obsession with Ivy League or elite universities has become a mental disease for Asian Americans...

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  16. aEnigma

    Once Asians get into their dream schools and graduate, a lot of them face bitter disappointment b/c their supposed prospects don’t always turn into reality…

    Whereas overwhelming majority of low-tier college students achieve everything they ever desired, right?

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  17. "Whereas overwhelming majority of low-tier college students achieve everything they ever desired, right?"

    Actually The Korean, a LOT of low-tier college students ARE happy with their lives. B/c they know what they want and are not obsessively compulsively chasing money and "prestige."

    And I love how you Asian elitists think you are superior to us "low tier" college grads b/c you think that prestige buys you happy.

    I finally called you out on it and exposed you as the elitist prick you are.

    Great job, you really are a fraud. You think your shit don't stink b/c you attended some fancy brand name college.

    If the Asian children of "Tiger Moms" are just like you, Asian people are in a lot of trouble.

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  18. Actually The Korean, a LOT of low-tier college students ARE happy with their lives.

    I am sure they are. I said clearly in the post: "You don't need six-figure income and an Ivy League diploma to be happy."

    But here is the thing. For better or worse (and I'd say, for better,) a lot of us ended up at good colleges and with good jobs, and we are happy for it. Don't go around telling us that we are secretly unhappy, because we are not.

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  19. I don't think Yang's point was to criticize Asian culture, really, and his piece is a lot more nuanced than people are making out.

    He recognizes what many Asian Americans want to deny -- that no matter how "American" they think they are, growing up in a white neighborhood, hanging out with friends who are not Asian, only speaking English, not personally adhering to "Asian" values, or fitting into the image of the stereotypical model minority, Asian Americans have a long way to go in terms of becoming integrated because people will look at their face and stereotype them. To me, his message is: Asian Americans who pride themselves on being the model minority, wake up and see the problem.

    More than criticizing Asian culture, what Yang highlights is that the differences between Asian culture and American culture make it easy for white Americans to see Asians as foreign and inaccessible and misunderstand them. So what is perceived as robotic or lacking creativity or leadership may reflect different cultural norms -- not because that's what Asians are actually like or capable of, but because many non-Asians only see the surface and jump to conclusions through their own culturally biased lenses.

    Yang cites the fascinating study recently that showed that whites are perceived as better leaders than Asians even when they do the exact same things. Yang compares the situation with how taller men are perceived to be better leaders than shorter men even though no one will say that they think that a taller person is inherently better than a shorter one. Similarly, probably no one will admit that they think whites are inherently better leaders than Asians, but the study shows this bias is strong.

    It's similar to how women sometimes feel that behavior in a man that people would perceive as charismatic would get a woman called over-aggressive and unlikable, yet softer behavior that might make a man appear sensitive would make a woman appear weak. As a result, women who want to succeed have to be careful about how they present themselves. This is not because it's right for people to stereotype them -- that problem needs to be worked on, too -- but each woman has to do it to survive, and every strong, intelligent woman's challenge to the system helps break down stereotypes.

    This is basically Yang's ugly woman analogy. Every stereotyped group has had to try harder to win begrudging acceptance, and that's part of changing a f-ed up system. President Obama wrote in his memoirs how he learned how to interact with white people in a way that didn't trigger their racial stereotypes. That's what many Asian Americans have had to do as well.

    Dealing with stereotypes is an uphill climb. In the process, many Asian Americans experience alienation, like Yang and the other Asians featured in the article. That doesn't make them self-indulgent whiners. I'm a happy Asian American, but I've gone through my share of identity angst (it's probably why I follow this blog, to change angst to awareness and understanding).

    Bottom line: Sure, there are already many successful, integrated Asian Americans, but as a whole Asians do not have as much of a voice in American society as their educational and economic clout would suggest. The relative success of Asian Americans clouds that disparity. So maybe it's time to rethink what the American dream is for Asian Americans (can we dream bigger and rise above the bamboo ceiling?), and debate how Asian Americans will achieve an equal place at the table.

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  20. Also, since you're a lawyer, you might find this interesting:
    http://jerrykang.net/research/2010-are-ideal-litigators-white/. It's a study about how whites are perceived to be better litigators than Asian Americans. I'm also curious about why you don't feel like you're cut out to be a partner, given that Asians are underrepresented as partners. Is it just that you want out of biglaw or is it difficult becoming a partner as an Asian? Genuinely would like to know. Thanks.

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  21. My biggest problem with this article, as an outsider who knows nothing of the Asian-American experience personally, is his tendency to blame a race for the stereotypes that surround that race. For example, it may be true that there are foreigners in Korea who like to get drunk and party every night, but that doesn't make it right for a Korean to place that banner across all foreigners. There may be Asian-Americans who are timid and socially meek, and that may very well be related to their upbringings in Asian households, but it's not right to then turn around and say that it's a general function of all Asian-Americans to be that way, and that Asian-Americans in general are responsible for that stereotype.

    The truth of the matter is, the bamboo ceiling exists not because of the way Asian-Americans are, but because of the way they are perceived. It's no more right to blame Asian-Americans for that, than it is to say that the glass ceiling is women's fault, because they aren't aggressive enough in the work place.

    Holding the wrong people accountable for the right things. This piece would have been so much more interesting if he would have just admitted it as a personal essay about his personal experience as an Asian-American. In that way, I feel like he could have spoken a large truth for a lot of people. But by trying to drag everyone down with him, he's just done the opposite.

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  22. moon,

    That is a really, really generous reading of Yang's article. If the article was as you described -- with its essential message being: "Asian Ams came far, but there are still ways to go" -- I hardly would have objected. Remember, I cited the very same study about Asian Ams and leadership in this blog also. (On April 21.) I am not blind to those issues. I just cannot agree with your point that Yang's article is "more than criticizing Asian culture" -- not when he leads off his article with "Fuck filial piety" and the like.

    As to the "ideal litigator" study, I would say it is a good one. But that hardly forecloses Asian Ams from becoming really high-level litigators. The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York (i.e. Manhattan,) one of the most important litigators in the country, is Asian Am with an ethnic name to boot -- Preet Bharara. My former firm had two Asian Am litigation partners. When I see those examples, the discrimination does not bother me because I know they can be overcome. Obviously discrimination must stop. But as far as my career is concerned, I am not going to let that be an excuse for me.

    As to partnership, I actually think I have it easier than most people. My new firm is big in Asia but not as much in Korea -- I am sure it is itching to get work out of Korea. I grew up in an affluent neighborhood, so a lot of my childhood friends are already in pretty high positions in Korean business world. That connection alone will probably net me a partnership somewhere, if not my current firm, as long as I know what I'm doing at my job. (I know this is not applicable to everyone.)

    I just don't want partnership because I care so little about business. I like my current job because the law involved is esoteric and challenging. But at the end of the day, I moved money from one company to another. This might be my Writerly tendency, but I find that boring. Where I am right now is good enough, but I don't want to be locked into this path.

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  23. Wow TK, this clearly hit a very personally note for you.

    One thing I will say is something I heard from a friend of mine pursuing a Master's in English.

    That most true artists have much more in common with boardroom workaholics than the twenty-somethings who don't work very hard and whine about the system getting down on them.

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  24. If The Korean was really a Writer, he would have named this blog "Musings of The Korean". He also can't be a Writer because has never used the phrases "it amuses me that", "meh", or "to which I say".

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  25. I have to say I really enjoy reading your posts (last time I was at this site was to read your response to the Chua article) and I feel like you really nailed it again here. The Yang article started out interesting enough. I might not have agreed with everything he said, but at least he was touching on some topics that made me think. But as he went on, it was less and less about Asian Americans and really just about himself. It left a rotten taste in my mouth, like I had been tricked into thinking this was some great or deep piece and instead was just this little whiner's memoirs. Like some of the comments from his article said, he wouldn't be complaining if he was tall and good looking. His plight is really just that of any outcast or loser, and he tries to validate himself by believing he's some kind of misunderstood genius. This really isn't anything new. It's just that he tried to tie it into a bigger picture of AA values that got people to read his article, but I think most people afterwards see it for what it is.

    He really just misses the point when he criticizes AA values and I feel bad for his parents. Asians have only been here for a few generations at most, how are they going to be equally represented at all the top tier positions? Naturally there's going to be favoritism (nepotism?) at work here and it's a problem for any outsider in any group, which is all minorities not just Asians. It's why "networking" is considered such a big deal at that level, which basically means sucking up and other things that don't have anything to do with merit. In what world are any outsiders going to come and "take over" top positions so quickly?

    The AA mindset is the same as the "growth mindset" from Carol Dweck's book that I just happen to be reading right now. That mindset is the belief that you can improve by working hard, which is something that serves you well no matter what you're trying to do. Asian Americans are good test takers because that's what was put in front of them to apply their work and effort. It's really as simple as that. What happens when there's no more tests to take? They'll find new challenges and obstacles to overcome with this mindset instilled in them by their upbringing. To not see that at all just shows what a low awareness person Wesley Yang is; in his entire life, he never thought to see things from another perspective outside of his own? For example other successful Asian Americans with careers in the precious "non-robotics" arts who succeeded due to their AA upbringing and not in spite of it? Or his parents that just wanted him to have a good steady income while not having to work as hard as they did? Or other minority groups that face many of the same problems? What a narrow-minded ungrateful douchebag.

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  26. Holy moly mother of batman, robin and darkseid....

    You are a fantastic writer and thinker.

    Not that I agree or disagree with your thoughts here yet, though I have to say, in quick perusal, I probably agree with most of what you have said, but I recognize (and liberally borrow) good writing when I see it.

    Kudos.

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  27. Hi TK,

    I thoroughly enjoyed your deconstruction of Yang's position, and though I agree with you on many of your points, I think there is some validity to his feelings.

    With that being said, Yang's primary issue seems to be that he refuses to accept that the Asian-American presence in this country is still in a state of flux, or transition. As you noted, Asian-Americans have had only about a generations worth of meaningful presence. I was a bit offended by his betrayal in order to be able to claim a white-American identity.

    If Wesley Yang wants to be a "transcendent" writer, criticizing and displacing portions of his own identity can present glaring voids in his expressive style. And if Jefferson Mao wants to be a writer, he shouldn't be questioning how to go about doing it and actually do it (this may be a characteristic of his cultural upbringing). Write. Write because you have to. And don't forget to write about what concerns you.

    Obviously, "Asian-American-ness" concerns Yang. I have experienced this angst as well, but how can one hope for progress with his defeatist attitude? The problem with Yang, is that he himself also buys into the restrictions of pursuing goals within the paradigms of, sorry for lack of a better word, white-American-standards.

    In the end, his essay really is all about himself. A mental masturbation of his own superior reconstructed, irrational identity. He's a talented writer and if he could just accept, not necessarily embrace, his Asian-ness and meander through the dilemmas that many of us face, he might be able to distill some truth, creatively, for a better future.

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  28. Written by a true Writer... I liked the NY Mag article better.

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  29. "The shock of my piece and the thing that caused people to pile on me for furthering stereotypes is that I attempted to acknowledge this truth while denouncing the extension of that truth to a stereotype. They think the best way to deal with the stereotype that we are robotic, socially inept, and uncreative is to deny that there are any robotic, socially inept, and uncreative people being raised in our midst. I think the best way to deal with the stereotype is denounce the stereotype as racism -- while also denouncing the cultural practices that are producing a share of robotic, socially inept, and uncreative students in our midst."

    -- Wesley Yang
    http://utsun.org/the-asian-value-that-wesley-yang-doesn%E2%80%99t-reject/#comment-203906837

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  30. They think the best way to deal with the stereotype that we are robotic, socially inept, and uncreative is to deny that there are any robotic, socially inept, and uncreative people being raised in our midst.

    I deny the stereotype because it is not true. The robotic, socially inept and uncreative people among Asian Ams are no more robotic, inept or uncreative than the equivalent in any other race. And if the best Wesley Yang could do to support his case is to essentially say, "Everyone knows this to be true," that is not very convincing.

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  31. TK, I think your experience growing up in Korea until 16 makes your heuristic a little different. In Korea, all the kids in the crowded class are forced into interacting with each other, including the super nerds, just to have a hope of finishing all the homework on time. In the US, nerds (of any race) tend to be socially isolated at school. And Asian kids are stereotyped, justly or not, as nerdy. So there is a sorting mechanism at the very start ...
    I do agree that the "robotic" and "uncreative" epithets are slanderous nonsense, pure racism. When a white guy does it, it's called "team player"; when an Asian guy does it, "robot". Pure, silly racism.
    The writeup I linked to, by Lian Chikako Chang, points out that Wesley Yang is really only addressing a set of frustrated nerdy Asian guys, and cannot really speak for All Asian Americans.

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  32. @askakorean

    So can we as AA community debunk or bash all asian american female writers? after all these asian female " writers" may have played a role in [paper tiger] NYT article?

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  33. CS,

    That is a fair point. I grew up with the mentality of the majority, which is partially why I chafe at the idea that my values could do any disservice to me. Perhaps I might have a different perspective if I had been raised under different circumstances.

    eric,

    No idea what the heck you are talking about. Please elaborate -- especially "all Asian American female writers" part.

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  34. Great write-up, Korean. I agree--the article was all about him, and really no one else. I didn't mind the article, but what I found offensive was the implication that his views were unique. They've been said over and over and over again but the many, many Asian American "Writers" who have passed through.

    Anyway, it was good reading your opinion and thoughts. I know it wasn't the purpose of you sharing it, but I'm impressed by your history.

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  35. I have to say I really enjoy reading your posts (last time I was at this site was to read your response to the Chua article) and I feel like you really nailed it again here. The Yang article started out interesting enough. I might not have agreed with everything he said, but at least he was touching on some topics that made me think. But as he went on, it was less and less about Asian Americans and really just about himself. It left a rotten taste in my mouth, like I had been tricked into thinking this was some great or deep piece and instead was just this little whiner's memoirs. Like some of the comments from his article said, he wouldn't be complaining if he was tall and good looking. His plight is really just that of any outcast or loser, and he tries to validate himself by believing he's some kind of misunderstood genius. This really isn't anything new. It's just that he tried to tie it into a bigger picture of AA values that got people to read his article, but I think most people afterwards see it for what it is.

    He really just misses the point when he criticizes AA values and I feel bad for his parents. Asians have only been here for a few generations at most, how are they going to be equally represented at all the top tier positions? Naturally there's going to be favoritism (nepotism?) at work here and it's a problem for any outsider in any group, which is all minorities not just Asians. It's why "networking" is considered such a big deal at that level, which basically means sucking up and other things that don't have anything to do with merit. In what world are any outsiders going to come and "take over" top positions so quickly?

    The AA mindset is the same as the "growth mindset" from Carol Dweck's book that I just happen to be reading right now. That mindset is the belief that you can improve by working hard, which is something that serves you well no matter what you're trying to do. Asian Americans are good test takers because that's what was put in front of them to apply their work and effort. It's really as simple as that. What happens when there's no more tests to take? They'll find new challenges and obstacles to overcome with this mindset instilled in them by their upbringing. To not see that at all just shows what a low awareness person Wesley Yang is; in his entire life, he never thought to see things from another perspective outside of his own? For example other successful Asian Americans with careers in the precious "non-robotics" arts who succeeded due to their AA upbringing and not in spite of it? Or his parents that just wanted him to have a good steady income while not having to work as hard as they did? Or other minority groups that face many of the same problems? What a narrow-minded ungrateful douchebag.

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  36. Thanks, bigWOWO -- your blog is great too. And also thanks to chris and everyone else for their kind words.

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  37. I went to a top charter school loaded with Asians (over 50% Korean school population) with the #1 math team in the country. The stuff he talks about is spot on. A lot of emotionally stunted yuppie robots. I have several friends living at home because they don't even have the life skills to live on their own, despite six figure incomes.

    Yes, upper middle class mediocrity is the norm. Heck, I live it too. Getting paid six figures to do some corporate BS you don't give a shit about that does nothing for the world. As I and my peers enter late 20s I'm hearing the same thing from everyone.

    The trouble with girls is also true. I know plenty of stunted Asian guys that are still virgins at 30. That six figure IT salary didn't land a woman, big surprise to them. People don't want beta providers these days, except as a last chance from desperate women hitting the wall at 30.

    Wang didn't just use anecdotes, he used plenty of statistics. Powerful statistics mind you. His statistics back up what I see everyday and hear from Asian friends everyday.

    Are there people of every race like that, sure. But come on, stereotypes exist for a reason, because on net they tend to represent meaningful differences in behavior for the group as a whole.

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  38. Wang didn't just use anecdotes, he used plenty of statistics. Powerful statistics mind you.

    First of all, the writer's name "Yang".

    Second of all, name one such statistic that Yang used that definitively isolates this so-called plight of Asian Americans to their upbringing as opposed to, for example, discrimination in the larger society.

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  39. Bingo.

    For example, my grams was just asking about the difference between teaching boys and girls. I said girls were easier, because even low level girls will make the connection of needing to remember what they learn at the beginning of a lesson to apply it at the end. Boys tend to just focus on what's right in front of them.

    She said, "Girls are smarter."

    I said, "From very early on, society expects better behavior from girls, and makes excuses for boys. So, girls learn not to make mistakes like that. Boys learn to be careless."

    Someone argued that Korean students only seem outgoing in Korea because "they are all nerdy" or something to that effect -- false. They are not. The difference between my Korean students and Korean American students is not in their upbringing -- their households are both Korean. The difference is in the society they are surrounded by and what that society does and does not expect out of them.

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  40. Alright, I just read your Chua article.

    For starters, Tiger Mom's don't accept failure irregardless of ability. I tutored for a Korean tutoring agency and had a mentally handicapped kid doing worksheets 8 hours a day every Saturday only to have his parents tell him how worthless he is because he can't get straight A's at math.

    Second, even amongst those with ability, the slightest deviation from absolute perfection is not tolerated. Our school had very high SAT scores and few perfect scores. One of my Korean friends got a 1550/1600 and was beaten by his parents. That is fucked up.

    The statistics in Wang's article about Asian middle class mediocrity were a lot more convincing then your spot this famous Asian anecdotes. I deal with disappointed Asian robots all the time and they are realizing around 30 that what they were told was a crock of shit. They are 30, they don't really know what to do with their money, they aren't getting laid, and they have no social life. Doing well in school and earning six figures didn't get them what they want in life.

    The Asian stereotype of roboticism is alive and well in the workplace. Mostly because its true. We all just got back from a really shitty presentation by an Asian co-worker last week. She probably put a lot of work into it, and you know what, it was really shitty because she can't present at all and all she's every been good for is spreadsheet and coding donkeying on her own. Her career got set back five years from that presentation. But I bet all those math worksheets she did were way more important that actually learning to talk to people.

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  41. Good god at least she can probably read. His name is Yang.

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  42. If you want to discuss Tiger Mom stuff, go comment there.

    The statistics in Wang's article about Asian middle class mediocrity were a lot more convincing then your spot this famous Asian anecdotes.

    The guy's name is Wesley YANG. With the Y. And if his stat is so spot on, just name one. It can't be that hard, right?

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  43. wait, your were born and raised in Korea?!?!?! what the HELL do you think you have to offer on the experiences of asian americans who were born and raised HERE?!?!?!

    dear god...
    and you practice law?
    do you remember logic class?
    straw man argument?

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  44. wait, your were born and raised in Korea?

    If you are just noticing that, what the hell did you read when you commented the first time?

    what the HELL do you think you have to offer on the experiences of asian americans who were born and raised HERE?!

    The fact that I lived in America for 14 years now, since my adolescence?

    do you remember logic class?
    straw man argument?


    I do. Apparently you don't.

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  45. While this retort definitely made me think, I believe you're being too harsh on Yang. He wasn't saying that Asian Americans have no possibility of living a standard, happily mediocre life, but was lamenting the idea that so many Asian Americans like himself have to suffer emotionally because of their lack of complete belonging. Although he could have done the same in going to doctorlawyer route, further down the road he discovered that such a life was not enough to satisfy him because he was approaching life in such a stereotypically obvious AA way. Instead of bashing Yang as a self-pitying loser, we should sympathize with his inner conflict.

    Yes, I understand your frustration against AAWAs, but it's quite cold and unfeeling to disregard the pain of failure Yang chose. The system is messed up anyhow, so instead Yang chose not to play. Is he really a failure because he doesn't have a decent job or substantial romantic relationships? No. It was a failure of the system.
    My only complaint against Yang is that he did not actively go to correct his cultural misfit in society. Though he was wired this way, surely there's a chance that he can train himself to be social slowly.

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  46. I came here from a link on the article in question, didn't bother reading your life story. My point, however, remains un-refuted. You have as much authority on the issue of growing up asian in america as a white person saying they "know what it's like to be black." PLEASE stop insulting us as if you're one of us. You can go ahead and offer your OBJECTIVE observations and criticisms, but stop passing yourself off as the same as those of us who GREW UP as a minority. Fucking A...

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  47. While I'm neither Asian American nor Asian, I hope I can comment without making Randy more emotionally distraught -- I think what TK was trying to say by asking if you read the article you're commenting on is that he didn't try to pass himself off as anything -- he stated clearly what his background is. And even if he didn't, this is a blog, not a newspaper article, and it's the responsibility of the readers to fill in the gaps of their knowledge based on what the blogger has already openly stated about himself multiple times, or at the very least not to make assumptions.

    Also.... I think TK's point still stands -- he wasn't saying that the AA experience is not "xyz" -- he was saying the AA experience is not a result of Asian values. Which is a valid point, given that he grew up in a (as you point out so eagerly yourself) very Asian household. Where he did not entirely grow up was in Western society. So the point stands -- it is not Asian values that are causing the problem, and it's not Asian values that should be blamed.

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  48. May,

    [Yang] wasn't saying that Asian Americans have no possibility of living a standard, happily mediocre life, but was lamenting the idea that so many Asian Americans like himself have to suffer emotionally because of their lack of complete belonging.

    And whose fault is that Yang and his fellow AAWAs don't belong? Yang's answer is: "Asian values." My point is, that is just not true.

    it's quite cold and unfeeling to disregard the pain of failure Yang chose. The system is messed up anyhow, so instead Yang chose not to play. Is he really a failure because he doesn't have a decent job or substantial romantic relationships? No. It was a failure of the system.

    The system is not perfect, but it is not so messed up to a degree that is not worth playing. Many Asian Ams who are in the same situation as Yang play the system and win. So yes, Yang is a failure. He didn't even try, and is now whining about how it is not his fault and how it's the whole world that got it wrong.

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  49. TK,

    I enjoyed reading your reaction to the Wesley Yang's "Paper Tigers" piece. There is plenty in his article I don't agree with, but it resonated with me more than apparently it did with you. I think we read everything through the lens our own experience.

    I think I related somewhat more to this piece, because I'm 2nd generation Asian American and was born in 1970. I think he is describing an experience that is different from yours in two important ways (one of which you acknowledged). First, as a 2nd generation AA, he has only experienced life as a minority. He doesn't have a "dual frame of reference" of being a member of a majority culture. These are profoundly different experiences. Second, he, like me, grew up in a US that was much less diverse than it is now. I grew up in Seattle in the 1970s and early 80s, and let me tell you, it was a much different place than it is today. I'm making an assumption here that if you immigrated when you were 16 years old and seem to be in your thirties(?), that means you arrived in the 1990s? Correct me if I am wrong. Those of us who spent many formative years in the 70s and 80s may have a different generational experience than folks who came even 10 years later.

    So, I think the experience Yang describes that I can relate to somewhat is a layered one: (1) First of being raised in an Asian family with values that emphasize filial piety, duty to family and group rather than pursing individual desires, and certain ways of communicating and interacting; (2) Growing up as a member of a very small minority within the larger US culture and not seeing oneself in popular culture at all;(3) Being raised in an immigrant family where one witnesses the sacrifices of parents and/or grandparents --which is not at all unique to Asian culture, but increases the sense of obligation to family even more.

    So, I think it's easy for us to pick apart any one of his assertions. Yes, Asian values are not bad per se, and they are actually very functional in Asian cultures (about which there is lots of angst in the US related to economic competition). There is nothing wrong with hard work, respecting elders, aspiring for success in mainstream society. But what I read in Jeffery's piece (which I agree was a lot about his own experience) was an exploration of how these different layers of experience can pose challenges for adult Asian Americans trying to navigate US society. And some of what he described I could relate to personally. I do think that stereotypical Asian parenting doesn't really develop emotional or intrapersonal intelligence, which can be very important for success in the US. I do think implicit stereotypes about Asians (and Asian Americans in particular) can be consequential in ones work and social life.

    Yes, some of what Yang wrote did seem a bit self-congratulatory, whiny, or immature, but I actually found the article thought provoking.

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  52. Ed,

    I think we read everything through the lens our own experience.

    I agree. I can see how being an Asian Am child in the 70s and 80s could change one's perspective. (And you assume correctly -- I immigrated in 1997.) I did not put this in the OP because I did not think it was worth discussing, but I also find subtle attitudinal differences among Asian Ams from West Coast and those from East Coast, precisely because Asian Ams are less numerous in the East Coast.

    But I stand by what I wrote. Regardless of our individual childhood experience, the present reality is the same for all of us.

    But what I read in [Wesley's] piece ... was an exploration of how these different layers of experience can pose challenges for adult Asian Americans trying to navigate US society.

    Normally, I am all for learning something from everything, no matter how unworthy the source appears. (That's another Confucian virtue, actually.) And there are certainly things that can be learned from Yang's article. It is not utterly worthless.

    But I do believe that his main point is worthless, and I am only addressing that. If he wants to speak about his own life and the forces that shaped it, far be it from me to comment on that. I can't tell him what to feel about his life. But when he starts talking about how it is the Asian-ness that is ruining not only his life but also Asian Am's lives generally, it's time to take a stand.

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  53. Although I quickly read through your response to the Paper Tiger and agree with a lot of what you wrote, there is one thing that troubles me. It's your labeling of the "Asian American Writer," and how we should take their opinions with a grain of salt. If you ask that we not listen to Asian American Writers, who should we listen to? White American Writers? Black American? Hispanic? You do realize that most periodicals published in the United States are, BY FAR, geared to the white person and their agenda - TIME, Newsweek, The New York Times, and New York Magazine. Even television is not for us. FOX, NBC, ABC, CBS, etc. All of them. You mentioned that one of the top rated shows has two Asians in their cast. Okay. What else? Are there any other shows with Asians playing the supporting role? How about the leading role? I don't think so. Currently, there is no single prime time show on the major networks that has a minority actor cast in the LEAD role. There used to be a show on NBC named "Undercover" that featured two outstanding black actors, but that show was later cancelled. It was a good show. Trust me. I watched it and it had everything - good story, humor, character development, great writing, and decent acting. But, white people didn't want to see it. I can't blame them. White people want to watch other white people. Same with blacks. I would think it's reasonable to if Asians wanted to watch or listen to other Asians.

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  54. Although I quickly read through your response to the Paper Tiger and agree with a lot of what you wrote, there is one thing that troubles me. It's your labeling of the "Asian American Writer," and how we should take their opinions with a grain of salt. If you ask that we not listen to Asian American Writers, who should we listen to? White American Writers? Black American? Hispanic?

    Maybe you should read my response one more time, this time slowly. Then you might understand that the term "Writer" is specifically defined as something other than what the word "writer" usually means. I believe I started the post with that distinction, to avoid confusion like this.

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  55. TK, first of all I apologize for being late to the party, however my busy normal life does not allow me to keep up with "the blogs" in a timely fashion, especially since there is so much to read.

    I liked Wesley Yang's article a lot, but your response was great too. How can I like both at the same time? Well, I thought his article was great except for the part about "fuck...this fuck...that" and I believe that his mentality of entitlement and rejecting hard work and the Straight and Narrow is no formula for any kind of success. I really liked your use of the word "Writer". Your work ethic is really the superior way to go and you have the results to show for it. I also empathize (read: empathize, not sympathize) with your frustration at having your success as an Asian with Asian values erased in terms of recognition by this article.

    Despite all of this when I was reading Wesley Yang's article my first thought was "Yes! Finally somebody is talking about us. Finally we are not invisible." And second, "Somebody is FINALLY saying it. Somebody is finally saying what I have been thinking for years, but didn't want to voice, and have only begun tentatively voicing to friends."

    The stereotype is undeniable. I have no statistics but my personal experience is overwhelming: We Asians, particularly men, and particularly Asian Pacific, are seen are nerdy, asocial, outsiders, without much to say or much to contribute besides being smart in technical fields and vocations. Every fiber of my being rebels against this stereotype, yet somehow it has still captured me, since I am now in my late 20's, single with no women seemingly interested in me, and working in IT as a computer engineer, earning a salary at near the six figure mark but still struggle sometimes in social environments to keep up a conversation.

    Further I've noticed the big disparity with many Asian women/white men, but no Asian men/white women. You see it in high profile places, sure. Nicholas Kristoff/Sheryl WuDunn, John Halliday/Jung Chang, Jed Rubenfeld/Amy Chua. Notice a pattern? But you also see it on the street. An over 2:1 ratio of white guys/asian women vs. asian men/white women? I live in the DMV as well, you can't tell me you haven't noticed it. But it's even worse in places like Boston. Far as I see, this shit never even gets talked about.

    Finally I don't think we've been as successful as our South Asian and Middle Eastern American friends in being visible in the public forum. Fareed Zakaria, Sanjay Gupta, Liaquat Ahmed, Nouriel Roubini, Nicholas Nassem Taleb (yeah, my interesting are showing here) Khaled Hosseini, Atul Gawande, Vikas Swarup, just to name a few? Award winning writers, best selling books. Where are those from Asian Pacifics, especially Asian Pacific men, who have made a big splash as big as the Kite Runner or Black Swan?

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  56. The stereotype is undeniable. I have no statistics but my personal experience is overwhelming: We Asians, particularly men, and particularly Asian Pacific, are seen are nerdy, asocial, outsiders, without much to say or much to contribute besides being smart in technical fields and vocations.

    Glad you enjoyed the post. I completely, absolutely agree that the stereotype is undeniable. What I object to is that it is somehow the fault of our parents, or the values that our parents taught us, that we fall into such stereotypes.

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  57. He admits there are a lot of super star alpha Asians. He is just pointing out that Confucian child rearing techniques occasionally stunt social skills, which are essential for corporate culture. Sometimes, tiger moms can be deadly effective in raising bad asses. I have seen many Mongol hordes tear up the higher eschalons of corporate America. However, to really benefit from tiger rearing requires that the cub have some innate intelligence, drive, toughness and chutzpah. Otherwise, it is too easy to scar and stunt the runts of the litter. I have met too many Asian American males who have been emasculated by their overbearing immigrant mothers, not to mention castrated by cultural typecasting.
    I remember my cousin who is a higher up at Goldman Sachs telling me that I had to out white the white man if I wanted to make it in corporate America. Out jock them, out smart them, out man them. Whatever corporate culture considers manly, you better have those qualities in spades. Have the biggest swinging shlong in the office. I guessed it worked for him. He is rising to equity partner soon. Hey, more power to him and to everyone else who want to slay the dragons of commerce.

    Wesley completely acknowledges Asian titans. He is just trying to expose the flip side of the coin. What if you are not geared to be a company man? What if you are wired to ride solo? Drift on the edges. He is giving a voice to those guys. Also, what if you were not born with oxen balls? What about the guys/gals who are naturally timid, nonassertive,unambitious or who really had criminally abusive psycho parents? I grew up with Korean girls who got punched double fisted in their faces by their dads for speaking out of turn. I knew KA girls whose mothers tore out clumps of hair from their scalps for not practicing their scales enough. My good Korean friend in high school had a dad who would come home from a long night with the bottle to beat the living crap out of him, while he was in his bed sleeping. These people did not fare too well.
    Asians don't rep as well in higher corporate management as they do in elite colleges because a lot of them just burn out. At some point a lot of them just come to realize it is not worth the sacrifice. Some just lack the requisite social skills, which they never had time to develop. Some just hit their own genetic wall. Mostly, they don't have the social capital, they aren't connected. Their parents don't know any important people. Give the brother a break. All he needs is a hug.

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  58. Wesley completely acknowledges Asian titans. He is just trying to expose the flip side of the coin. What if you are not geared to be a company man? What if you are wired to ride solo? Drift on the edges. He is giving a voice to those guys.

    First of all, Yang does not "completely" acknowledge Asian titans. He does so grudgingly, as if they are exception and not the rule.

    And what if you are not geared to be a company man? Then you blame your own disposition for your situation -- NOT blame your parents and your culture's values in a way that degrades your fellow Asian Ams' success.

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  59. By “completely acknowledges” I mean that he totally concedes the point that many AAs are bad asses:

    “Of the dozens of Asian-Americans I spoke with for this story, many were successful artists and scientists; or good-looking and socially integrated leaders; or tough, brassy, risk-taking, street-smart entrepreneurs. Of course, there are lots of such people around—do I even have to point that out? They are no more morally worthy than any other kind of Asian person.”

    He uses the qualifier “many,” not some, not a few. “Many” implies a sizable subset. Then he continues, “Of course, there are lots of such people around-do I even have to point that out?” I don’t read that statement as implying that AA bad asses “are the exception and not the rule.” He “grudgingly” concedes this point because he doesn’t think he has to point out the obvious: “…. do I even have to point that out?”

    Next, he does blame his own disposition for his situation:

    I see the appeal of getting with the program. But this is not my choice. Striving to meet others’ expectations may be a necessary cost of assimilation, but I am not going to do it.

    Often I think my defiance is just delusional, self-glorifying bullshit that artists have always told themselves to compensate for their poverty and powerlessness. But sometimes I think it’s the only thing that has preserved me intact, and that what has been preserved is not just haughty caprice but in fact the meaning of my life. So this is what I told Mao: In lieu of loving the world twice as hard, I care, in the end, about expressing my obdurate singularity at any cost. I love this hard and unyielding part of myself more than any other reward the world has to offer a newly brightened and ingratiating demeanor, and I will bear any costs associated with it.
    The first step toward self-reform is to admit your deficiencies. Though my early adulthood has been a protracted education in them, I do not admit mine. I’m fine. It’s the rest of you who have a problem. Fuck all y’all.
    The brother concedes that “Often I think my defiance is just delusional, self-glorifying bullshit that artists have always told themselves to compensate for their poverty and powerlessness.” He is obviously emotionally invested in his “obdurate singularity” and is knowingly paying the cost. He also admits that his “early adulthood has been a protracted education in [his deficiencies]”. When he asserts that “I do not admit [deficiencies]”, it should be obvious that he is not saying that he does not have any deficiencies but instead that he refuses to part with those defects, even if they are large millstones around his neck. His defiance will probably be his undoing if he does not grow up.
    Blaming parents and cultural values in a way that degrades other AA:
    You have to look at the subtext. He is writing this article for New York Magazine; the readership is pretty sophisticated. The upscale New York “smart set”. They have a pretty favorable impression of overachieving AAs: hardworking, smart, upwardly mobile, maybe a little reserved or reticent. Remember, many of their i-banker, white shoe attorney, strategic consultant colleagues are AAs. It is to this audience he is writing his spleen ruptured Gonzo memoiristic inquiry. This readership should know that this rant is more about his bruised immigrant experience and those similarly situated rather than a sociological expose of AA pathology. This piece is an interesting coda to the tiger mom hoopla, as Slate’s Metcalf points out. His approach, broad stroke, wild wielding, diaristic, may not have been the most incisive means to broach the topic, but I think his voice is a welcomed screed to the AA writerly panoply.

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  60. By “completely acknowledges” I mean that he totally concedes the point that many AAs are bad asses.

    He has to -- otherwise he is self-indulgent AND stupid. But Yang does NOT concede that such Asian Am success is thanks to Asian Am values. In fact, Yang sees it as a hindrance to be overcome. So he says this:

    "If the Bamboo Ceiling is ever going to break, it’s probably going to have less to do with any form of behavior assimilation than with the emergence of risk-takers whose success obviates the need for Asians to meet someone else’s behavioral standard."

    (Here, when read in the context of the entire article, "risk-taker" is clearly a term that stands opposite to "Asian values.")

    This is what I mean by "grudgingly." Instead of embracing the success, Yang thinks Asian Am success leads to MORE entrenchment of the status quo. And apparently that's the fault of our own values that such entrenchment happens. As I see it, your cousin who is about to make equity partner at GS (a hell of an achievement) shattered the bamboo ceiling thanks to his work ethic and determination. But according to Yang, he is only adding to the stereotype.

    Next, he does blame his own disposition for his situation.

    That's a VERY generous reading that is unsupported when one reads the entire article. The entire article is about how Asian Am values fail Asian Ams. Yang bears the cost, but he does not recognize that the cost is created by his own doing.

    This readership should know that this rant is more about his bruised immigrant experience and those similarly situated rather than a sociological expose of AA pathology.

    They should, but they don't. When it comes to minorities, they never do. You can say the exact same thing about the readership of the Wall Street Journal, but Amy Chua still had to explain a million times that the article was an autobiography and a self-parody to the pitchfork mob that wanted to crucify her. In fact, I pointed this out already in the OP:

    "But problem with AAWAs is that no matter how personal of a story they weave, it is invariably taken as some kind of a larger cultural comment. Such is the fate of anything written by an ethnic minority in America. (The maelstrom that followed Amy Chua's autobiography is a good recent example.) Worse, sometimes AAWAs actually believe that they are, in fact, making a larger cultural comment, although all they can do is to offer the story of their own failure ..."

    And sure enough, the world is taking Yang's commentary as a "sociological expose of AA pathology," as you put it. And if you had any doubt that Yang actually intended to make a social commentary instead of just telling his own story, this blog comment by Yang removes all doubt.

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  61. Glad you enjoyed the post. I completely, absolutely agree that the stereotype is undeniable. What I object to is that it is somehow the fault of our parents, or the values that our parents taught us, that we fall into such stereotypes.

    I think you are right. It is not the fault of our parents. They came here to this country as the first generation and that was a huge accomplishment. Their values were the ones that they were imbued with and did not choose themselves. By the time they immigrated here they were already adults and it was more than enough to deal with discrimination, a new language, a new culture, it is not their fault for trying to hold onto some continuity.

    But. It. Is. Our. Fault. If. We. Fail to make Progress. The second generation, the third generation, cannot simply copy the values of the first generation, uncritically. And let's be blunt. We are failing. You did not address the other points made in my post. Yes there are many successful East Asians, but compared to our socio economic status we are falling behind South Asians and West Asians, and on the scale of social desirability we men are at the bottom, even behind African-Americans and Hispanics. Are you really saying that there is this huge negative stereotype of East Asian men as uninteresting, robotic, sexless, and it has nothing to do with our culture or the priorities our parents put on us, including this Tiger mom shit? No offense to Amy Chua but she married a liberal white guy, and has not said to date whether Jed Rubenfeld was raised by a "Tiger Mother". A liberal Jewish tiger mother? Come on. And even if that were the case, how does it make it uniquely Asian? By all accounts Jed does not share Amy's parenting philosophy, even though he is just as successful as her. And he turned out to be valuable enough that Amy wanted to spend her life with him and make her kids with him. Which is more than a lot of us raised with Confucian bullshit are getting. This is why I don't believe Amy Chua. I would be more interested in seeing a book written by a Jewish mother on how they raise their kids, because the Jews know how to be successful in America, not just at taking tests and populating middle tier schools, but you know actually succeeding in life, including the arts.

    Basically although I appreciated your story it feels that you are using it to go into denial about how it really is for Asian men in this country and that we need change! Every time I turn around I see another Asian woman with a white guy. Even our own women are rejecting us. Is it pathetic? Absolutely. Everything that got us to this point must be questioned, and if a few valid points for the status quo must be quashed in the process, so be it. We don't really have that much to lose, from where I'm standing.

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  62. oranges,

    Are you really saying that there is this huge negative stereotype of East Asian men as uninteresting, robotic, sexless, and it has nothing to do with our culture or the priorities our parents put on us, including this Tiger mom shit?

    That's exactly what I'm saying.

    A liberal Jewish tiger mother? Come on. And even if that were the case, how does it make it uniquely Asian?

    No one, including Amy Chua, ever claimed that Tiger Mother was uniquely Asian.

    Every time I turn around I see another Asian woman with a white guy. Even our own women are rejecting us.

    I'm sorry, but this objection from Asian Am boys really tickles me. I receive about 10 questions a day, and at least 3-4 of them go something like "Are Korean guys into white/black/Hispanic/Arab/Martian girls? Where do I meet Korean guys?" Seriously, the ladies are not just interested in meeting Korean men -- they are freakin' desperate to meet Korean men.

    Minority women will always disproportionately date white men. The exact same thing happened with African Ams until recently, and the exact same thing is happening to Hispanic chicas now. On the other hand, minority men will always face some level of discrimination of stereotype. Heck, if a good-looking guy like Tim Chiou sometimes loses out on getting a date just because he is an Asian, I can see how the picture can look bleak. Is it shitty? Yes. But again, the fact that there is a discrimination against us is not our fault.

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  63. TK, you made some great points. But like Wesley Yang's article, your response wasn't well-balanced.

    There was a point about Yang's article you didn't interpret correctly. The article does not start and end with him, he ends with a segway into Amy Chua and a more universal conclusion. Sure, Yang talks about himself, but he talks about other things as well. It's the same interpretation people made in the comments on his article - that he focuses on only Asian males, when in reality, that was only one of the many subjects.

    I disliked certain aspects of Yang's article. Some of his statements, such as "Fuck ___. Fuck ____." and denounces Asian values, were unnecessary and even disrespectful. But he brought up some good insights and had the balls to reveal the flipside of the situation. The "Asian story" is full of happiness and success, but there's also angst and dissatisfaction. That's the reality, and as far as I'm concerned they are fairly substantiated feelings. All stories have two sides, and I'm happy Yang brought out the second side, when most people would rather ignore that side and pretend things have worked out near-perfectly.

    Ultimately, we need to talk about this issue with balance. An emphasis on academics and hardwork is good, but grade-grubbing and Ivy League-obsession is not. Asian parents want the best for their children, but too many times I've seen that turn into fanaticism for achieving for the sake of achievements and obsession with university labels. 'Asian' values aren't better, and neither are 'Western' values. I'm putting these in quotes because I'm generalizing. People need to combine the best of both worlds, and a lot of responses don't seem to show that.

    Don't get me wrong though, you made some great points.

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  64. WHY YOU MAD THO?

    The point of the article isn't whether you or another individual is personally happy with the quality of your life but decrying the alienation of Asian Americans from American life.

    How on Earth could you possibly have a problem with that.

    I'm not a judgmental person but can't shake the feeling that everyone supercritical of Yang's article is simply not very intelligent or has poor reading comprehension.

    As someone who has graduated from an Ivy League college, grew up in the Midwest and feel completely in touch with American culture, many of Yang's observations ring true, particularly some very insightful comments about "knowing which rules to break" as a lawyer and how Asians self-segregate themselves for coolie work.

    These might not be characteristic of me, personally but I've seen it in enough coworkers, friends and classmates to validate at least the consideration of these as grounded in fact.

    The bit about the Bamboo Ceiling is true, particularly in Banking and Law. You might not be of sufficient socio-economic status to be aware of this but the roster at Skadden might have 50 Asian first years and 0 Asian partners.

    Stop projecting your own insecurities onto the article and take it for what it's worth. It's inane to take it as a personal affront on the possibility of your own American Happiness rather than what it is: a discussion of general racism and social conflict in the context of the Asian American experience.

    To be clear, since you seemed to have missed the point of the article, if the pitfalls of the Asian American experience is something that has no relevance to you, take a moment to consider that your own kids might not share your fortune to be as awesome/social/confident/atypically-non-korean as you evidently are and might run into some of these barriers in their own lives.

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  65. Hey Korean,

    I've posted a reply to your reply to my article here:

    http://wewitnessedtheapocalypse.blogspot.com/2011/06/reply-to-korean.html

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  66. IMHO I think that in responding to Yang's article you went a bit too far in defending Asian-American achievements and culture and you're almost starting to pat yourself (ourselves) in the back. Asian-Americans should all remember that on average Asian immigrants were better educated than the average Americdan and also were much more likely to have technical job training and skills. While a college degree does not automatically guarantee success in running a landromat or tiny grocery, it does help some to have some of that knowledge and training. Asian-Americans who come from families who were middle- or upper-class back in their home countries tend to do better in the USA, and Asian-Americans whose families were poorer tend to do worse. Asian-Americans, imho, have a duty to be aware of our privileges - as well as our disadvantages and past persecutions.

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  67. While everyone is debating Yang's and TK's view on familial influences lending a shaping factor to AA's success stories in America, let me just point out how incredible this is for me (as a male AA) to see two very strong Asian American male writers being discussed for their equally strong positions on which they stand.

    I only wish I had Yang's article around during my undergrad years to write a criticism piece on (and then have TK's blog as a refuting source).

    Yang's article, even with its flaws, still deserves the acknowledgement for having accomplished the feat of making the cover of a mainstream magazine in which an Asian male takes center stage without a background in science, math, or martial arts.

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