Dec 2, 2010

Will Filipinos ever be considered a "model" group?

Dear Filipino,

I am a second-generation Fil-Am who attended a reputable college, and I went to school with really smart folks (I didn't think I was any less smart by the way :-p).  I must admit though that I sort of felt "jealous" of the Indians, the Koreans, and the Chinese who many other students (including fellow Filipinos) and teachers considered the smartest and the "model" students.  Now, here's a somewhat "racist" question: Do you think that, as a group, we will ever belong in their ranks?

Chippy-shouldered Pinoy

Dear Chippy-shouldered,

I totally dig your question (it's not "racist" just race-related), but I'm kinda disappointed with it too.  Here's why: Coming from someone like you who supposedly went to a "reputable" college already, does this mean that many other Filipinos "below" your educational stature carry the same "baggage" -- i.e., "jealousy," or maybe, from the very premise of your question, even a sense of "inferiority" perhaps?

But first, let's give credit where credit is due.  I think the reason why US-based Asian Indians, Chinese and Koreans have seemingly outsized rates of representation in Ivy League colleges is because their cultures (at least, from what I can tell from my interactions with them in the US) value education more. Plus, of course, in the case of China and India, they are very populous countries so that naturally, they tend to send more people to US universities for higher education.  And not to diminish their smarts, they shine because, as they say, in China, even if you're one in a million, there's at least a thousand just like you. 

Additionally, the US-based Chinese/Korean/Indian parents, many of whom are recent immigrants and recruited to work in high-tech, push their kids to not be content with just complying with school curricula, so many of their kids also attend after-school tutorial classes, academic camps and what-not.  Yes, they probably know the US educational system is falling behind, so the kids are being asked to aim higher -- which, I think, is the right way to go.  They are also attuned to what's happening back in their own home countries (by this I'm referring to the intense competition to succeed in booming India, China and South Korea); thus, peer pressure among them to excel academically is likewise intense.  This dynamic has its obvious rewards, but like anything, also has its costs. (We don't have to go into this now because that is not part of your question.)

So if we want more academic achievers, we have to do more as a community.  We have to glorify academic achievement with even just a tenth of the passion we employ to glorify Manny Pacquiao's exploits or Charice Pempengco's.  We have to lessen the invidious impact of pop culture by shutting off TVs and monitoring our kids' Internet and cell phone use.  Our kids must be told to prioritize homework before hiphop, cellular chemistry before cellular phones, math book before Facebook.

I do have some US Census stats to make you a little prouder of our community (and which should tell you that we may be underrated as a group).  Here's one about educational attainment (note: click on the images to enlarge):

As you can see, we do fairly well, compared to the other Asian groups in education.  Our college graduation rate is almost double the national rate, and that's admirable. 

And it's important to impart the value of education because there really is a high correlation between education and income, and education and unemployment rate.  Here's one graphical proof:

(Source: American Century Blog)
And though less clearly shown, here's another proof:

Now, here's the BIG CAVEAT: The data in the immediately preceding graph is old and getting older; newer figures are available on Wikipedia and I'm glad we're faring even better.  But the data actually does not explain other factors affecting household incomes.  For instance, Filipinos are probably making more than the other Asian groups because we are heavily represented in the higher-paying health industry and because we, like Indians, have a better grasp of the English language, which give us an advantage over other Asian immigrants when it comes to landing jobs. (So a quick note to policy-makers in the Philippines: Do NOT water down English instruction in favor of Tagalization under the guise of "nationalism," without regard to the fact that the Philippines has more native non-Tagalog speakers than there are Tagalog speakers.)

But here's one graphic which I think shows that the "model minority theory" is in fact a myth and can be counterproductive and harmful:

As you can see, almost counter-intuitively, the Chinese and the Koreans (and, to a lesser degree, the Asian Indians) have higher levels of poverty compared to national rates -- and about double ours.  And this is why your question  reveals some ignorance or is at least inartful, because, by this measure at least, we, as a community, are not doing too badly even if there's much more need and room for improvement.  Heck, we can even stake a legitimate claim to being a "model group" in this regard.

And these graphs, collectively, is one reason why I don't believe in traditional notions of affirmative action anymore -- the one based on race, national origin or sex.  We are now heading into the second decade of the 21st century, and well past the era of pernicious discrimination and even race-related riots.  Sure, there should be affirmative action, but it should be based on membership in society's lowest economic strata, which unfortunately have been ballooning in size lately in America.  You and I must help to reverse this unwelcome trend, not just for the Filipino-American community but, more importantly, for the country which has benefited us greatly and which we now call home.

Got a question for The Filipino?  Email him now at


T.K. (Ask a Korean!) said...

Blasphemy! The Korean is a firm believer in both Affirmative Action AND model minority theory! :)

The Filipino said...

Dear TK: I respectfully apologize for coming across as blasphemous to you. ;-) I re-read your posts about both AA and MM and I think we actually agree on most points and are not that far from each other where we don't agree, even if our conclusions appear polar opposites.

But first, allow me to point out that my stand here is limited to higher education, one of the major factors of success in America. Of course, when it comes to bagging government contracts, many small and medium-sized minority-owned firms still won't stand a chance against the major white-owned companies, so some form of race-related AA in this regard is appropriate I think.

Trust me, I fully appreciate your points in your AA post. Well put, as always. My take though is much more similar to the one enunciated by your fellow Cal stud, former Sec. Reich. See

I think the traditional AA has to be upgraded to AA 2.0 to reflect the "post-racial America" (whether a reality or a hope is still being debated, but the guy now sitting in the WH is a strong argument to argue for the former). Because the reality is, AA 1.0 is a continuing source of racial tensions which, if not addressed in a major crisis situation such as what we have now, can evolve to something worse. As Reich said, AA 2.0 will also in fact address the concerns of many minorities because they are heavily represented in the ranks of the poor, but at the same also address issues of the poverty-stricken whites who are probably feeling elbowed out in everyone's quest for advancement just because of their race and maybe the sins of their grandparents. We're about 50 years now since the race riots of the 60's; we've already progressed majorly on race issues, and this should definitely be taken into account when crafting AA policies.

RE the MMT: The theory appears fine and your post on this also makes perfect sense, a great analysis. Other sub-minority groups though (like the Hmongs, etc.) really have legitimate concerns from the implications of the theory, not the things you pointed out in your post. Whether we agree on this or not, I think the sad reality is, the theory is really being used to pit races against each other by people with less-than-sincere intentions (it this were not the case, the theory is completely fine -- it would just be a theory after all). But as the graphic above on poverty shows, it can really be detrimental to the Chinese and the Koreans who are seen as over-achieving as a group but actually have higher poverty rates than the national average.

And this is exactly where my MMT stance dovetails with my stance on AA: For college admissions in particular, it would be very unfortunate for spots to be taken away from Asians, who are seen as the "model minority" and therefore don't appear to need any form of system-provided "break," even when they are actually coming from poorer backgrounds. In theory, I think the last thing we both want to see is for a high-achieving 4.0 GPA kid of a Chinese waiter to lose a Harvard spot because he got, say, elbowed out by the uber-mediocre son of an uber-wealthy black who coasted through a pampered, just because of the races of both.

The Filipino said...

Dear TK: I had to cut my response because of the limitations on characters by Blogspot. Here's the second (and last) part of my response:

BTW, it's not lost on me that by advocating income-based AA, I may be putting Filipino people at a disadvantage, if the census data is accurate. But you and I both agree, I'm sure, that anyone given the right resources opportunities, motivation and drive can succeed in the US. And I believe in my own people: Fil-Ams, from the graphs above, have proven that where corruption is not endemic, where systems work, where there's rule of law, where hardwork is compensated, etc., we're perfectly capable of pulling ourselves by the bootstraps and succeeding. That's why the dreamer in The Filipino hasn't stopped hoping that one day, the Philippines will find itself among the ranks of the more impressive countries too.

Thanks for being very supportive of my humble blog!

MV said...

what a very thorough answer to a complex question!

but i guess my concern would be: why always compare ourselves (Filipinos) to Koreans, Chinese, Indians? What compels us to always "strive" for Asian model aspirations? What is the "glue" to assume a default affiliation: "Hey why aren't we like 'them!"'

It seems to be feeding into the very problematic tendency to classify very disparate people according to an arbitrary (and historically bogus scientific) taxonomies.

I think the prior post on "Are Filipinos Latinos or Pacific Islanders?" is just as a confounding question (and Edwin San Juan is incredibly hilarious) and problematic in a similar way as "desiring Asian model minority membership" but it (Latino or PI question) still offers the possibility of diverse Filipino racial affiliation.

No racial affiliation is perfect, and all are problematic (assuming racial classification is arbitrary). But perhaps it is always a healthy practice to question the impetus to "desire" one racial category.

The Filipino said...

MV: I appreciate your questions and comments.

I must point out though that this "need to compare" is part of cognitive self-awareness, self-examination, and even the process of self-realization of one's goals. As individuals and as groups, we benchmark ourselves against others. (This is along the lines of the "social comparison theory" articulated by Festinger -- the idea that people evaluate themselves, their ideas and their desires in comparison with others, especially those they consider their peers.)

So if we're going to compare ourselves to others, it's not a bad idea to look at other groups and what they are doing right. In the case of the Koreans, Indians and Chinese, they do seem to be successful in getting recognized as "academic achievers." As a parent of two kids, I look at that and say: "Hmmm...What parenting ideas can I borrow from these folks so that my kids also grow up academically well-prepared?" This is not to say of course that it's my only goal for them, but in order for me to avoid, say, the risk of my kids dropping out of school prematurely, I also need to investigate the dynamics surrounding this phenomenon. I think it's a generally healthy process on an individual level and on a group level.

You're right about racial classifications being inherently arbitrary and therefore problematic though. This is especially moreso with respect to us Filipinos -- Asia's "mutts." I remember once reading how globalization would someday render racial classifications meaningless, but I suspect it won't happen during my lifetime.

MV said...

point taken.

but, in the act of comparison, i think the original question was hyper-aware of the (phantom) category of race. comparison is fine, especially when trying to "improve", but the concern was emphasizing race (Asian).

MV said...

The Filipino, here is my response to those Asian Journal articles:

Anonymous said...

I think you are really overstating this post-racial paradigm. Obama was a significant symbolic step forward in this country. Unfortunately, the reality is black and brown brothers and sisters still disproportionately live in impoverished communities, attend underresourced schools and are highly underrepresented in higher education. Frankly speaking, Obama's election will not fundamentally change this situation.

Your idea of AA is fine an dandy, and I actually think that there will be a time for it. But that is if/when this country's institutional barriers--which actively target black and brown people--are removed as well.

The Filipino said...

@Anonymous poster 1/14/2011 12:27 AM:

You said: "Unfortunately, the reality is black and brown brothers and sisters still disproportionately live in impoverished communities, attend underresourced schools and are highly underrepresented in higher education."

Do you have any data to back up this assertion?

And you further said: "But that is if/when this country's institutional barriers--which actively target black and brown people--are removed as well."

Can you name those "institutional barriers" which "actively target" black and brown people?

I wasn't pinning my argument on Obama's election alone. In fact, I made it clear that the US Census data shown above are the basis undergirding my assertions.

Anonymous said...

I have a question for anyone on this blog, based on this exchange on academic achievement. Is it not strange, given its size, duration in the States, and overall educational and socio-economic standing, that the Fil-Am community produces so many fewer Ivy League passes than other Asian-American (AA) groups? I was also told that among the big AA communities, the Fil-Am community was the most hurt in elite education by the withdrawal of affirmative action on the West Coast? (I seem to have read this somewhere, but can no longer find the reference).

filipino girl said...

I think the Philippine migrants can teach the world something about patience, perseverance. They are very religious; they trust in the Lord and they never give up.

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