We need more Asian American kids growing up to be artists, not doctors

Americans often measure success by the three M’s: money,
Motorola, and Mercedes. Most Chinese immigrant parents, on the other
hand, define success as getting straight A’s, graduating from an
elite university, pursuing an advanced degree and becoming a doctor,
lawyer, pharmacist or engineer.

Could this be why the children of Chinese immigrants are, on
average, better educated and wealthier – with
higher paying jobs – than the general US population?

Amy Chua (of Tiger
fame) and her husband and co-author, Jed Rubenfeld, seem
to think so. In their new book, The
Triple Package
, they compare differences in educational
qualifications, median household income and occupational status to
support their claim that certain American groups – including those
of Chinese, Jewish, Cuban and Nigerian descent – are more
successful than others because they share certain cultural traits: a
superiority complex; inferiority; impulse control.

But just because these groups have achieved “success”
doesn’t mean that these traits are responsible
for it, nor that the
high-paying, professional job is even what Chinese Americans
and other Asian Americans aspire to achieve.

In our
new study
of Chinese, Vietnamese and Mexican Americans in
Los Angeles, sociologist Min Zhou and I found that Chinese immigrants
are not only more educated than the average American – they’re also
more highly educated than those they left behind. As highly educated
immigrants, Chinese parents define success narrowly; more
importantly, they invest their resources in achieving it.

But this narrow framing of success comes at a price: young
people who don’t “make it” are made to feel like failures
and under-achievers, often leading them to isolate themselves from
their ethnic communities and reject their ethnic identities. These
“under-achievers” told us that they “don’t feel really
Chinese”, “aren’t like other Asians”, or have
become “the black sheep” of their families because they
haven’t met what they perceive to be the expected levels of
achievement for Chinese Americans. Our
big takeaway: claiming that certain groups are more successful than
others because of inherent cultural traits implies that those who
meet these expectations have no one to blame but themselves.

Given these consequences, why do Chinese and other Asian immigrant
parents frame success so narrowly?

They do so because they come from countries where education is one
of the only paths for mobility. And, as non-white
immigrants in the United States, Asian
immigrant parents fear that their children will experience
discrimination in their careers. So parents shepherd their children
into conservative, high-status
professions in which they may be most shielded from potential
discrimination by employers, customers and clients.

Based on our interviews with the children of Chinese immigrants,
we learned that their parents believe that careers in writing,
acting, fashion and art are risky because these professions
involve subjective evaluation, thereby making their children
vulnerable to bias. By contrast, careers in medicine, engineering,
law or pharmacy require higher credentials and advanced degrees,
which protects their children from the usual types of discrimination.

For example, a Chinese woman we interviewed remembered her
immigrant mother’s advice about majoring in math and pursuing a
career in medicine instead of interior design:

In math, there’s always a right answer; one
plus one always equals two. It’s not that way in the arts.

From her mother’s perspective, taking the most conservative
approach was the most sure-fire path to success.

Most of the US-born Chinese adults we interviewed do not work as doctors, lawyers, pharmacists or engineers;
of those who spoke to us, less than 20% even hold a professional job. However, because people
are more likely to remember evidence that confirms a stereotype –
and because of the tendency to group all Asians into a single racial
category – we’re more likely to pay attention to Asian Americans
who graduate from Ivy League universities, and work in one of these
high-status professions. We are also less likely to notice Asian
Americans who drop out of college, and work in low-paying, low-status
jobs. And because there are enough visible examples in the
public domain that confirm the stereotype of the successful Asian
American doctor, lawyer or engineer, the stereotype endures, in spite
of all the contradictory evidence.

There is no one-size-fits-all definition of success. While some
Americans may measure success by the three M’s, there are other
ways, including
how different you are from your immigrant parents. And who might be
the most successful immigrant group if we were to measure success
this way? The children
of Mexican immigrants

But despite immigrant
parents’ belief that success is guaranteed in only the most
conservative, “successful”
professions, young Asian Americans are finding success on their own
terms – in journalism, the arts, politics and in the social
sciences. Actress Lucy Liu, designer Jason Wu, chef Roy Choi,
politician Gary Locke, journalist Jeff Yang –
the list goes on.

That Asian Americans are increasingly departing from narrow
definitions of success, choosing alternate routes, and making it on
their own should give their immigrant parents confidence that
broadening the definition of success doesn’t mean failure; it means
uncharted new horizons.

Source Article from http://feeds.theguardian.com/c/34708/f/663879/s/383c4e3a/sc/7/l/0L0Stheguardian0N0Ccommentisfree0C20A140Cmar0C160Casian0Eamerican0Ejobs0Esuccess0Emyth0Earts/story01.htm
We need more Asian American kids growing up to be artists, not doctors
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