Balancing Two worlds: Asian American college students tell their life stories

asiamer.jpg Balancing Two Worlds … (2007) is a book about the Asian American identity by Dartmouth Professor Andrew Garrod and Robert Kilkenny. It consists of fouteen first-person narratives by Dartmouth students who came to the U.S. with their families between the ages of 5 and 12 from different parts of Asia, including Vietnam, India, Myanmar, China, Thailand etc. Students discuss issues of race, gender, stereotypes, assimilation, social interaction, family life, school, education, and challenges associated with being labeled “the model minority”. Some students discuss their childhood and early life, others focus on college life and adulthood. Some conceal their identity, others are comfortable with sharing who they are with the outside world. Professors Garrod and Kilkenny let the students speak in their own language, and if the two have any influence on students’ accounts it is not visible in the stories.

The Asian American population in the U.S. is also an invisible minority and a silent minority. Though increasing in number, the Asian American population is very small compared to the majority White population or the minority Blacks and Hispanics. Moreover, unlike Blacks and Hispanics, there is great diversity within the Asian American population, as they come from many different cultural backgrounds. Perhaps, because they are invisible and silent, Asian Americans issues are seldom discussed in public forums or policy making. Balancing Two Worlds… succesfully brings out the diversity of the Asian American population and effectively presents the issues that young people in this group are confronting.

Unfortunately, the book is only about high-achieving Asian Americans who succesfully make it to an Ivy League like Dartmouth. Focusing on this small group, reinforces the model minority image of Asian Americans- No matter how big their problems and obstacles, they will work hard and succeed. How about the experiences of hundreds and thousands of Asian Americans who never make it to college or join gangs. In all fairness to the two authors, they accept upfront that the stories presented in their book are not generalizable to all Asian Americans. I also find it interesting that Asian American students presented in this book are always using two lenses to look at the world- They look at the American society around through their Asian lens, and use an American lens to look at the Asian culture which they come from.

The book is short (about 250 pages) and can be read in a day (if you are reading in a coffee shop and that’s all you do that day!). May be a useful book for courses that discuss Asian Americans in education and school. Some of the stories are better written than others, but these are young students and I am impressed they even took the time to work on these stories.    


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