Archive for the ‘ Race ’ Category

The Affirmative Action Dilemma

So, I’ve finally decided to accept an offer for graduate school education. As I begin the paperwork, I come to the question of why this particular school decided to accept my application. As I contemplated, my mind (as it typically does) diverges to tangent upon tangent. Eventually, my mind came to the tangent of Affirmative Action.

Now, I’m not the brightest crayon in the box. I also didn’t have good grades or a lot of work experience in my favor. So, what could it be that draws them to me? I try not to be terribly cynical of myself, but am reminded of the affirmative action dilemma I faced during my application process.

I remember struggling with the idea of Affirmative Action when deciding what to do about the optional self-identification box. Having a lot of conscientious friends who think critically about the affirmative action policy, I have always been of the mind that it is important to “Decline To State” in order for fairness to remain in my applicaion process. I want to know I have made it there on the full weight of my application alone, and not the color of my skin or the people group with whom I identify myself.

Was there a slip up? Perhaps my essay indicated an emphasis on my cultural understanding as an American Born Chinese which led the admissions committee to focus on that identity over that of my academic merit.

This is yet another chance for me, a chance I do not deserve, to succeed. I am grateful for any participation that Affirmative Action has played in my acceptance. I cannot deny that I believe it to be a factor. Perhaps it is a factor because of my emphasis in international social work and how it helps me to better serve international clients.

A friend once said that I should use whatever I can to get ahead. If it means checking the “Asian” box, then I should do it lest I fail to achieve or receive what I want. As Asian Americans, we need to be able to be confident and strong to grab what we can if it is there for the taking. That is how we get ahead because American culture is not friendly to us.

Yet, I have a sinking feeling of not being worth what I have received. I feel as though I have not truly achieved, that this is a pity gift from those who think themselves better than I, from those who believe I need a lift to be successful in this world. And that is just not right.


Finding Identity

I’m finding that as a substitute teacher, I am growing more interest in race issues.  I sub often at a local high school, where the campus is rich in diversity, but poor in social skills. Part of that has to do that they’re high-school students who have the usual adolescent self-centeredness that makes it difficult to be more sympathetic toward others. However, as the fall semester winds down, I’m beginning to have a pretty nice collection of observations, but I’m not sure how to categorize them yet. For example, today, as I was taking attendance, I called out the name “Miguel”. After a few times of calling his name with no response, I decided he was absent. Just as I was about to move on, a Hispanic ninth grader retorts, “it’s Miguel, not ‘Meeguel’.” Not to mention Miguel never accounted himself for attendance, I couldn’t understand this girl (rudely) correcting me on my “mispronunciation” of a Spanish name. Now what is this—assimilation? Ignorance? Or just stupid rude behavior?

I covered for an English 1 class today, who were reading through Breaking Through by Francisco Jimenez, a Mexican emigrant. The book was translated in English, but was peppered with Spanish words and names. Oddly, many students who read with Hispanic accents didn’t know how to read the Spanish words when they came across them, or could even understand the words. A lot of times they would read the word in an American accent, which completely confused me. One usually assumes that if another person has an accent, it is a result of having learned that language when they were older, and therefore still keep the first language. Yet these incidents defied that theory and I realized that these particular Latinos (whether full or part) actually only speak one language: English, and they have picked up the phonetics of their peers, who are apparently English language learners.

These English speaking Latino students are associating themselves with the Hispanic crowd, putting on the “minority” label, if you will. This is a typical habit of people of multiracial/multicultural backgrounds. What they are doing is called hypodescent, associating themselves with their “subordinate” race. The opposite, hyperdescent, is when one chooses to identify themselves with the more “superior” race.

Multiracial people living in a multiracial society are forced to find an identity. My Puerto Rican relatives in Puerto Rico know without a doubt they are Latinos, or specifically Boriqueños, but I (half white, half Hispanic) need to find out which racial group I associate myself with, if any. (See Race: None Selected.) An expression of that may be in the way I dress or the way I speak.

Of course we don’t have to even identify ourselves with our racial heritage, but so many of us do. Unfortunately for high school students, they feel the need to quickly find a racial group to identify with, building pride and allegiance in that, and the end result becomes favoritism, snobbishness, racism, and arrogance, and quite a bit of other things. Still, a lot of it is sheer ignorance as this is a typical conversation between  my high school students and me: “Are you Hispanic?” “Yes.” “Oh, so you’re not white, then?” “No, I’m white, too.” “But then you’re not Hispanic.” “No, I am half white and half Hispanic. Get it?” “No, not really. So you’re Mexican?”

Race: None Selected.

Whenever I fill out an application or survey, there is always the optional section to indicate my race. I usually refuse to disclose this information simply because they refuse to allow me to answer honestly.  It is frustrating when the boxes to mark are either 1) Hispanic, non-White or 2) White, non-Hispanic. What if I am exactly both? I’ve noticed that this isn’t an issue for any other race included on there, and Asians even have several options from which to specifically declare, yet Spanish, Caribbean, South Americans are all lumped under the “Hispanic” umbrella.  Anyhow, marking your ethnic heritage means what, exactly? Culture is not always directly tied to race.
I find it so curious to know why on race surveys they make the clear definition of a Caucasian:

Caucasian (not of Hispanic origin): Persons having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, North Africa or the Middle East.

With a definition like this, it is impossible to be Caucasian, although half my genes are inherited by my pure Caucasian father. Yet other races are allowed to include Caucasian as part of their ethnic makeup, so long as they have no Hispanic origin. However, to mark that I am Hispanic non-Caucasian is unfair to my White side. Is it inconceivable to be both?

Some applications, like this one I filled out, makes sure that the applicant can only chose one race:

Additionally, there is a parenthetical note for every race but Hispanic that clarifies that what you are claiming as your sole race is not Hispanic. It’s like saying, “Don’t worry, we won’t mistake you for them.”

Honestly, identifying race is kind of a silly thing to do. Sure, I tell people I am Hispanic, but in the same breath I tell them I am White (that is, for people who are curious to know why I am “ethnic” looking but speak English perfectly without a trace of an accent). I am a blend of multiple worlds. I am a typical person. Hardly anyone is purebred, even if they are straight up from Asia, Africa, or Europe. So what’s the point of this questionnaire? Thankfully, I have the option to be “none selected”.