Tracy Lachica Buenavista is an Associate Professor in the Department of Asian American Studies and a core faculty member in the doctoral program in Educational Leadership at California State University, Northridge (CSUN). In her research she uses critical race theory to examine the ways that migration, militarization, and education intersect to shape the academic trajectories for Asian Americans, particularly U.S. Pilipina/os.  She has published articles on U.S. Pilipina/o college access and retention, undocumented Asian student experiences, and the militarization of immigration reform in various journals including AAPI Nexus, Amerasia, and Asian American Policy Review. 

She has also contributed to several book projects focused on Asian American and Pilipina/o American educational experiences, and co-edited with her colleagues, Navigating the Great Recession: Immigrant Families’ Stories of Resilience. She is a Research Fellow with the Asian American and Pacific Islander Research Coalition (ARC) and is involved with the Research on the Education of Asian and Pacific Americans (REAPA) Special Interest Group of the American Educational Research Association. Dr. Buenavista received her Ph.D. in Education at the University of California, Los Angeles and M.A. in Asian American Studies at San Francisco State University. 

As a professor in Asian American Studies and Education, I regularly teach courses that guide students to think through issues of race, equity and social justice.  I have noticed a trend that reoccurs in my classrooms, regardless of the course: the exclusion of Asian Americans, including those who are U.S.-born and particularly those who are international students.  I commonly rely on small group discussion in class and while such a method often facilitates collaborative learning, in many cases Asian American students literally sit on the outside of the discussion circles formed by their classmates and are prompted to join only when I intervene.  The hesitancy for both white students and students of color to work with their Asian American peers is expressed by the body language and aversion to eye contact that physically signal to Asian American students that they are not welcome to the circle, largely based on reciprocal misperceptions that there will be difficulties in communication.  The interactions are awkward, uncomfortable, and laden with racial presumptions of Asian American students.  For example, quite frequently white students and students of color accuse Asian Americans of being too shy or unwilling to participate, without taking responsibility for their part in the inability for critical cross-racial interaction to occur or recognizing the structural factors that shape such behaviors.

I begin with this example to highlight that despite the diversity of Asian American students, they commonly have experiences that affirm their outsider status within American education, while they are simultaneously blamed for their marginalization.  I also argue that even in spaces that are explicitly constructed to work through issues of race, students are faced with the challenge of unlearning individual and institutional lessons that normalize segregation. From those who are U.S.-born but are perceived as foreigners, to those who are here as international students, the complexity of Asian American educational experiences is often obscured by: 1) the assumption that we are “all the same,” and 2) the lack of critical spaces and conversations in which Asian American (in)equity is meaningfully examined.  This blog entry aims to highlight the complexity of the Asian American experience and bring attention to the upcoming month of May, or Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (APAHM) – an underutilized opportunity for educators to explicitly engage in curriculum and conversations inclusive of Asian American experiences.  It is important to note that I am discussing Asian Americans distinct from Pacific Islanders, the latter of whom are often commodified by researchers using their experiences to challenge the model minority stereotype.

Asian Americans are the fastest growing racial group in the U.S.  The Asian American racial category is comprised of more than 30 different government-recognized ethnic communities – also an indication that there are many more groups that are subsumed by this racialization.  While the Asian American population continues to grow due to immigration, multigenerational Asian Americans (those who are second-generation and beyond) represent an increasing segment of the population.  The varying histories of Asian ethnic communities in the U.S. are manifested by students representing a multitude of migration statuses, including but not limited to a rising number of students who are more recently arrived political refugees to 1.5-generation youth who were born outside of the U.S. but arrived early in their childhood and have no (or only transnational) ties to their country of origin.  Further, there are over 1 million undocumented Asian Americans, many of whom are students throughout the educational pipeline.  Yet few educators interested in equity are familiar with Asian American diversity and how it shapes their differential experiences in education.

There is an overrepresentation of research that demonstrates the significance and detrimental impact that the model minority racial stereotype has on Asian American students.  The model minority myth incorrectly assumes that Asian American students experience universal academic success and conveniently ignores their social and political disempowerment, while it simultaneously promotes culturally deficit perceptions of Black, Latino, and indigenous students.  Research often showcase how certain Asian American ethnic groups suffer from disparate educational attainment rates, particularly those who are under-resourced and under-served due to their immigration status and/ or lower socioeconomic status.  However, rather than use educational attainment rates to depict the educational barriers faced by Asian Americans, I encourage educators to shift their attention to the social and political marginalization that impact young people in addition to or despite their academic outcomes.  For example, due to the lack of inclusive curriculum and culturally competent educator-preparation opportunities, Asian American students often experience higher rates of race-based harassment and bullying in schools, hate crimes in college, and overall perceive K-20 campuses as more hostile compared to their racial counterparts.

Ironically, I reference the model minority only to assert that Asian American educators are quite tired of having to contend with and challenge the persistence of the stereotype because it reflects the lack of progress among educators to understand Asian American student experiences.  I mention it here to urge teachers and other education practitioners to do their part and consume the abundance of research and popular discourse that Asian American educators have already used to develop a more nuanced understanding of Asian American students.  One opportunity to collectively examine the material realities of Asian American racial exclusion in education is to utilize Asian and Pacific American Heritage Month (APAHM) within your school or university to center the experiences – including both barriers as well as contributions – of Asian Americans within curriculum and school-related activities.

The responsibility of APAHM activities is often projected onto Asian American educators and students who must do the heavy lifting to teach others about our communities. I believe that Asian Americans must play a central role in the conceptualization and implementation of APAHM curriculum and events, yet allies of Asian American communities must also do their due diligence and create spaces and funding opportunities for such learning activities to occur within our respective institutions.  Such activities can include hosting guest lectures, workshops, professional development, and events that centralize Asian American perspectives and experiences.  However, APAHM can also be used as a platform to promote more sustainable institutional inclusion of Asian Americans year round, such as the establishment and growth of Asian American Studies curriculum; the hiring and promotion of Asian American educators, staff and administrators; and the creation and expansion of culturally-competent academic and student support services for Asian American students.

While such efforts are difficult if there are not Asian American-centered resources readily available at your institution, educators can draw on the plethora of organizations that focus on issues regarding Asian American education (see below).  For decades, critical educators have conducted critical research and developed community-based projects that honor Asian American students and their families.  Equity within education cannot occur without Asian American inclusion and participation, as well as the efforts of allies to recognize the role they must play in facilitating such efforts.

Organizations Focused on Asian American and Pacific Islander Education

  • Asian American and Pacific Islander Research Coalition (ARC): www.hawaii.edu/diversity/arc/
  • Asian Pacific Americans in Higher Education (APAHE): www.apahenational.org
  • Asian and Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund (APIASF): www.apiasf.org
  • Empowering Pacific Islander Communities (EPIC): www.empoweredpi.org
  • Pin@y Educational Partnerships: www.iseeed.org/programs/pinay-educational-pathways-2/
  • Research on the Education of Asian and Pacific Americans (REAPA): www.aera.net/SIG094/REAPASIG94

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One Response to ““APAHM” and the Inclusion of Asian Americans in Educational Equity Discourse by Tracy Lachica Buenavista”

  1. Barbara Pazey on 5/18/14 12:03 PM US/Eastern

    /Would be interested in knowing the intersectionality between Asian-American and Pacific Islander students in education and inclusion in relation to language, class, class/poverty, disability.

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