Wednesday, June 14, 2017


Having two Asian kids, I read this article with great interest on how consultancies are popping up to help students to "become less Asian" when applying to elite universities where there is a perception that being Asian is a disadvantage in getting in.  Whether you view this issue in the big picture (what is fair? what is good for all in society?) or at a more personal level (what's it going to take to get my daughter/son into Harvard?), there are a number of arguments you can marshal, and I for one don't consider any to be absolutely and definitively the right angle.  In other words, it's complicated.

It seems obvious to me that what is stereotypical for kids of different racial/ethnic backgrounds enters into a parent's decisions about what extra-curriculars their children are going to get into, whether it is making sure to pursue those things or making sure to go out of our way to not pursue those things.  Growing up in the Bay Area, it seemed like I was the only Asian kid who didn't play tennis competitively, for example, so you would think I would be contrarian enough to make choices for my kids in a vacuum.  And yet, it weighs on me.  I'm glad that Jada likes violin, and it hurts that she is paring that down some next year to have more time for school, because how can I be a good Asian parent and not have a single kid in violin or piano?  I say this partly in jest, but partly in homage to, if I am being honest, the very real internal and external pressures that I feel about what kinds of extra-curriculars are valued.

It's early for Asher, but the leading contenders for his extra-curriculars are piano and swimming, piano because he seems to like it and swimming because we've liked that it's given Aaron an active and team activity for his after-school hours.  Of course, the stereotypical activity for someone who looks like Asher is basketball, and in fact I know a lot of African-American parents who intentionally avoid basketball for their sons because they want them to get into other things than hoops, and I respect that.  But Asher really likes basketball, so we'll at least consider that too.

It's all in fun, but on another level it's a big decision.  I learned so many life lessons and have had my very identity shaped by the things I got into when I was a kid, so I want our kids to have the same opportunities to forge their character and social network.  And, because of the way race and ethnicity and class and social status work in this country, what they get into could affect their social standing, where they get into school, and how they are perceived by others.  So there's a serious side to this, too.
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