My parents value what Huffington Post contributor Allison Singh calls the “List” — a college list for parents of high-achieving Asian-American students. The Ivy League schools are in the top tier, followed by other prestigious schools like Stanford, Berkeley and John Hopkins. Like many Asian-Americans, my parents believe that attending a school on that list raises one’s standing in American society and, more importantly, in the Asian community, where education is strongly emphasized.
I could not disagree more.
The Ivy League (or any high-end college brand) frenzy damages the many Asian-Americans who do not follow the model minority stereotype. They are rarely accepted as part of the “in” crowd and receive unwanted attention for breaking the mold. Houston Rockets point guard Jeremy Lin, for example, has faced unnecessary scrutiny as a professional basketball player because of his upbringing.
Part of the obsession with labeling Asian-Americans like him comes from a lack of familiarity with Asian-American culture, which is understandable. The other part comes from how Asian-Americans, like my parents, brand themselves.
When I attended Columbia Journalism School, my parents flaunted me as the prized jewel of the family. In their eyes, I had achieved the American Dream. Some of their friends and relatives were genuinely happy for me, but I also received endless backhanded compliments. Some people sarcastically remarked that I knew everything because I attended an Ivy League school. Others were determined to place me on a pedestal above my peers, many of whom attended lesser-known schools. Sometimes, I found myself in an awkward position with friends whose parents would tell them to be more like me. In all honesty, I wanted to be seen more like them — just average people who love hip-hop and basketball.
As Asian-Americans, we want to be respected, but in branding ourselves according to our colleges, we become isolated. We give others the impression that we do well educationally but are accused of failing to assimilate into the American mainstream. The fact is that the brands do nothing to lift our social standing. They only cement our place as aliens in America.