Last summer, the governor of Rhode Island signed RI S0439, titled “All Students Count Act”, into law. However, the title of the act is woefully misleading. By “all students”, this bill actually aims solely to subdivide the already diminutive three percent “Asian” student body into a plethora of new categories determined by “ethnic divisions.”
Supporters of the bill state that this act is essential to recognize the diversity within the Asian population and how different socioeconomic and ethnic conditions have affected educational performance, pointing to the “underserved but overachieving community” of Southeast Asians. They claim the act would in fact be a great educational boon to the Asian community by spotting apparent “underlying ethnic divisions”.
However, when this act was brought to my attention and the attention of my family we were by no means celebrating. Quite the contrary, actually. As a fourteen-year-old Asian American student, when I perused the bill, I was quite appalled. While I must commend the advocates of “All Students Count Act” for bringing light to many challenges of the Asian-American community, such as lack of English proficiency, poverty for immigrants, high PTSD rates among students, and other related issues, the resulting sum of the equation still failed to add up to its parts.
As Chinese American and Southeast Asian activists opposed to the bill already stated, the Asian American community bridged the “Achievement Gap” through hard work and effort rather than a clear ethnic divide. Also, the perceived gap in achievement still does not equate to academic success (as also mentioned in many pro-act articles), and dividing the Asian student body into even more parts only achieves to complicate the terrible grievances of poverty, language divide, cultural disconnection, and depression that face many students.
Perhaps the most distasteful part of the act is the fact that the proposed ethnic divisions equate neither to national divisions nor to the ethnic identities of people forced into the program. This information is both unnecessary and unasked for by the Asian community, and could stimulate more ethnic divisions, along with unwarranted or even corrupt actions. This tax-intensive data collection program also forces Asian-American students such as myself and countless others to tabulate ethnicity based upon the ethnicity of one’s parents, which could be mixed or inaccurate.
In fact, this process is always inaccurate in identifying ethnicity. American-born citizen students are often oblivious to this issue. We do not look into the mirror or at our last name and think “I’m Asian” or “I’m Caucasian” or “I’m African-American”. From the perspective of a Chinese Asian American, I identify as Asian before Chinese, and always as American before Asian American.
Along with so many others more or less successful or fortunate, I have been blessed to be born an American. Thanks to the sweat and toil of immigrant parents seeking a better future for their children, and to the blood and hope of the Revolution, the American identity is not something that can be taken from a person, neither Chinese-American, nor Asian-American, nor any other hardworking immigrant. Whether they were born here or elsewhere, as citizens they are always born free.
The ethnic divisions imposed upon the Asian American community in Rhode Island, California, and elsewhere are only a prelude to unjust divisions of Americans everywhere. As Martin Luther King Jr. said “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” We as Americans and immigrants, parents and students alike, must likewise say of the ethnic distinctions imposed in this “All Students Count Act” that “Division anywhere is a threat to unity everywhere.”
This is not, and should not be, an Asian-American battle. It is rather an American battle to oppose educational data collection based on race, ethnicity, or any other divisive criteria. We must endeavor to stop legislation of this sort, raise awareness of the battle before us, and help ensures that all students truly count.
Indeed, a nation of united American people, regardless of skin color, immigration origin or ethnicity, may be but a phrase, a dream for a difference, but peacefully, by word of mouth, a claim, a hope, the impossible, may become a reality.
Kevin Lu is a ninth grader at Amity High School, Woodbridge
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