Monday, January 27

Letter to the Editor: Daily Bruin column distorts Asian American views on affirmative action

This article was incorrectly categorized as a submission. In fact, it's a letter to the editor.

Dear Editor,

I am writing in response to Arthur Wang’s article concerning Asian American opinions on affirmative action. Mr. Wang’s article incorrectly surmises that Asian Americans support affirmative action, based on biased polling and the opinions of left-leaning advocacy groups.

I worked in market research, and I know how easy it is to draw incorrect conclusions based on deceptive survey data. I have written a blog post contesting UC Riverside professor Karthick Ramakrishnan’s conclusions, as did the Los Angeles Times. The 135 organizations that Mr. Wang considers more representative of Asian American views are left-wing advocacy groups. Neither the polls nor the groups Wang cites are unbiased representatives of Asian American opinion.

The affirmative action issue touches me personally because in 1999, I posed as black in my application to medical school – I am Indian-American – and gained admission at Saint Louis University, despite my low college GPA. Affirmative action impacts the lives of thousands of UCLA graduates who apply to graduate schools every year. According to figures published by the American Association of Medical Colleges, if I did the same thing and applied to medical school as black instead of Asian between 2013 and 2015, with my GPA of 3.1 and Medical College Admission Test score of 31, I would have increased my chances of admission from 17 percent to 74 percent.

The undeniable statistical fact is that affirmative action is racial discrimination in admissions against Asians and whites.

The California State Legislature understood that it declined to overturn Proposition 209 because of the opposition by Asian Americans.

Vijay Jojo Chokal-Ingam
UCLA alumnus

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  • chelement

    Vijay, I highly disagree with you. You attack Arthur for pointing out the media’s overgeneralization that ALL Asians disapprove of Affirmative Action. However, I don’t believe you can represent Asian Americans either. We can only represent our opinions as individuals out here.

    As a person who misrepresented his race on medical school applications, you have also drawn an incorrect conclusion that SLU accepted you because you applied as an “African American”. I can’t believe you trimmed your eyebrows, shaved your head and tried to pass as another race during interviews. This is near close to blackface, Vijay. Had you applied as an Indian American, and additionally submitted the same exact medical school applications as a black, maybe, just MAYBE, we can talk about what is plausible proof. Instead, you scare people by pitting minority groups against one another.

    By stating that African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans have it easier in admissions than Asians and Latinos, you and others are ignoring the bigger issue of education access. Yes, it’s true that East Asians and Indians generally have higher GPAs and standardized test scores than other ethnicities. It takes hard work, but you don’t acknowledge that a large part of that comes with privilege.

    Privilege to grow up in the right neighborhood, attend a good school, and have parents who push you to excel in academics. Privilege to have peers who go to SAT or Kumon math prep, instead of personal friends in East Side San Jose, Inglewood or Compton who drop out of school, because they can’t imagine a way to break the cycle of poverty. Privilege that of looking a certain way, so the cops won’t assume we’re undocumented civilians or that we robbed the nice car our parents bought us.

    Each one of us is born with advantages and disadvantages of life. Not saying that all Asians grew up with these same privileges that I listed before, but please acknowledge that we do have them.

    Affirmative Action provides a more level playing field. In high school, I used to believe and get angry that my non-Asian friends would have it easier to get into college than I would. However, what is the bigger picture? When 65% of Asian Americans aged 35 to 39 have a bachelor degree, while 26% of blacks and 16% of Hispanics have college degrees. It might look unfair, because we’re seen as the model minority, and that we have to work to get into a school. However, have you considered why we have Affirmative Action?

    Well, let’s look at it again. The Pell Institute states that 77% of students in their twenties from wealthy families have a college degree, while only 7% of students from poor families have that. This is the great injustice, that an imperfect system like Affirmative Action is trying to solve, but if you cannot provide better alternative, why discredit it and take away all chances of equity? (

    Until you have that solution to make access to educational access equitable for all of us, Vijay, I can hardly listen to you gloating that you posed as an African American in your med school applications.

    The real issue is NOT Affirmative Action, but our struggle with the model minority myth. This is the myth that all Asians are wealthy, highly educated and well-paid in professional fields. As a result, other issues like the high suicide rates in Asian American females, language barriers for South East Asian refugees, or the bamboo ceiling are easy to overlook, when it looks like Asian Americans are doing well collectively. Let’s tackle that. And let’s not put other minority groups down, because each one of us is struggling with our own challenges in life.

    • Jerry3130

      Kathy, you wrote the 2nd paragraph to deny (and just deny, no reasoning there) Vijay’s testing about the injustice of the system. You chose to ignore the established fact that Asians need to score hundreds points more than other race to get to the same school. Vijay’s test is not surprising at all, it’s just testing out a well known phenomenon.
      Your 2nd and 3rd paragraph just start to talk about “advantage and disadvantage of life”. That’s social economical difference, not racial difference. Nobody would be against AA if it is based on social economical status. And you are grasping that as your reasoning.
      You acknowledged Asian need to work hard to achieve the current educational status, and with AA, they need to work even harder, and it’s NOT fair.
      You mentioned why we need to have AA, but didn’t connect the dotted line to the real issue. The social-economical problem can’t be solved with racial discrimination. Raced based AA is a wrong tool to deal with this. College admission is a wrong place to deal with this.
      You are right that the real issue is not AA. And you are using the same myth (Asians are wealthy, well educated etc) to justify AA in 3-4th paragraph. The real issue is political. Even though decades of AA didn’t help minority with their social economical improvement, AA is merely used to buy votes, nothing more.

      • Kathy Pham

        Hey Jerry, I deny Vijay’s testing because it is one case in a non-controlled setting. After pretending to be another race, Vijay got into only 1 school, SLU, after applying to 22, and interviewing with 11. Medical school is hard to get into, but he claimed that “If I was black and not Indian, I could increase my chances of admission by 30-40%.”Thus, even in his own “testing”, his conclusion that he got into one medical school much easier as an African American is hardly substantial.

        My reasoning is that AA is one step closer to making higher education more accessible to lower-income and historically underrepresented groups, which does include historically marginalized ethnic groups. I did NOT claim that Asians are hurt by AA, thus I put quotation marks on “harder” to emphasize what some folks claim to see, so I apologize at least if this was not clear.

        If you are referring to Espenshade and Radford (2009), re: hundreds of points, please read this same article written by the same researchers who conducted the study. They state that:

        *****”Doing away with racial preferences for underrepresented minority students would substantially reduce the number of such students at selective colleges. No admission policy that we have examined is able to replicate underrepresented minority student shares at selective universities if affirmative action is eliminated. This includes policies that substitute class-based for race-based affirmative action.”******

        So Espenshade does support race-based AA, because race often is intersected with income level andeducational opportunity.

        “What starts off as a racial gap in school readiness quickly becomes an academic achievement gap, which is followed by a graduation gap, a labor-market skills gap, a wage gap, and eventually a poverty gap.”

        Additionally, although Vijay did get offers of stay-overs and tours around campus as an underrepresented minority when he applied as black, I don’t which one might assume is special treatment, these proposals happen often. In my senior year of HS, colleges have also offered me and my friends special overnight stays and tours, because we fell into certain minority groups: women in STEM majors (8), LGBT individuals (2), low-income South-East Asians (all of us). By that understanding, AA in colleges is inclusive of other historically marginalized groups.

        Jerry, we can both agree that college is not the sole place where we need to correct socioeconomic disparities. Instead, there should be college, and counteraction against this problem much earlier in life too. But that takes generations of change…

        I do believe AA for colleges should be temporary. However, I am against ending AA at this time, until we can transition out of it and replace AA with an equitable system for all of us.

        • Jerry3130

          I want to say, Vijay’s case is in no way a scientific study to prove the racial preference by college or med school admissions. But it is an important piece of evidence, a piece of the puzzle, to a well known fact: Asians need to score higher, worker harder in order to get in the same school as other minorities.
          The reason score is identified here or in some studies you are also aware of, is not that Asian student do good only in standardized test. On the contrary the high score achievers are usually very active in other extra-curriculum, humanitarian, and even sports activities, even though some people tried without substance to say Asian student is less rounded. Those are not emphasized because it is harder to prove as compared to SAT scores gap, which no one can deny, regardless of their political stance or intention.
          I can’t care less about the scholar’s personal opinion, the hard fact is that Asians need to score hundreds of points higher, period. And that’s not fair, especially for those historically under-represented Asian groups, although It should never be viewed as a racial group as opposed to each individual.
          The author’s opinion is trying to achieve the “underrepresented minority student shares”, which in my opinion, should NOT be tracked after all. What they should track is the social economic status of the students, (low income families, welfare receivers, first generation college students), not their skin color! It’s not hard to do, but the problem is it doesn’t give them much political leverage either.
          It is interesting that he said even use socioeconomically based based AA can’t achieve the share of minority he wants, which proves they had a wrong goal to aim at. Why should they care about race after all, if they want to solve socioeconomic problem and can solve it without race involved?
          I agree with you that college admission is NOT the place to correct socioeconomic disparity because it’s too late. But it doesn’t take generations to fix unless we are on the wrong track. Thousands of Asian immigrants changed their socioeconomic status in one generation, I am sure you can witness that.
          Even socioeconomic status should NOT be valued that much in the college admission, to avoid academic mismatch and high drop out rate. Lower the standard for entrance and graduation is never a good idea. You may check college entrance in China during 1966-1976, and what happened to all the graduates in that 10 years. That might help you see the consequence of emphasis too much on social background.

          • Kathy Pham

            Jerry, you have valid points. I agree with you that high-scoring students are active in other extracurriculars too. Also agree that Asian American college applicants are as well rounded as other non-Asian applicants.

            However, I don’t see that Affirmative Action is harming Asian Americans, or the reason why some Asians don’t get into their first choice of college. Race-based affirmative action might actually help Asian students attend schools where they are very under-represented.

            Additionally, some schools, especially the Ivy Leagues, are selective enough. They can’t possibly accept everyone, and certainly many academically high-achieving students will not get into Harvard with its 5.9% acceptance rate. This includes students of all creed and colors.

            Rejection sucks. But I have faith that these hardworking students will accomplish great things regardless if they get into Harvard vs. UCLA, etc.

            If there is any racial discrimination against Asians going on (which is hard to proof for sure), I think it comes from the college’s admission committee itself. Even if affirmative action is ever deemed illegal across the US, who is to prevent admission readers with subconscious racial biases from denying Asian American applicants?

            This is why I believe the stereotypes we Asian Americans face are bigger than anything resulting from Affirmative Action. PS: I do want to thank you for being respective and reading the replies during this comment-debate.

          • Jerry3130

            Kathy, It was nice to discuss this with you. However, when you say you can’t see how AA is harming Asians, have you thought about a child of a Chinese restaurant waitress, or a Hmong farm worker? They endure the same hardship with other poor minorities, but in the eye of an admission officer or the statistics of the University admission records, they are just another Asian American.

            It’s true that top University is not a necessity for success. (Interestingly you used UCLA as the example of alternative, but that was one of the two Universities the SCA5 proponents were using to justify race based AA.) But Isn’t that true for non-Asian as well? On the other hand, a less prepared minority student could also be hurt when placed in an academically mismatched University. Don’t know if you know a Chinese idiom called “pulling up the seedling to help the growth”.

            Yes, I agree the stereotypes we Asian American face are a bigger challenge because it is not as obvious and harder to quantify. But legally allowing race-based AA only helps confirm that stereotype, giving the racially biased admission officers a tool to justify their prejudice. And that prejudice comes from an ill minded goal of equal representation by race. Race shouldn’t be on the application form after all, and shouldn’t be used as an indication of diversification.

            Education is a big topic, and social justice is even a bigger one. A much more important right is that every child deserve a healthy family and an actively involved father. Before that equality is achieved statistically among all racial groups, we don’t have an equal footing even in the elementary school. Merely showing up in the elementary school doesn’t mean the diversification is working there. Teen pregnancy rate, drug use, incarceration rate, high school graduation rate, College admission is way way down the list for equality.

          • Kathy Pham

            Jerry, if we met in person, I’m sure there are many things we would agree upon. From my understanding, we disagree on two main things, how to judge “merit” and how poverty affects different races. This is perhaps why we disagree on Affirmative Action.

            I like that you brought up Chinese restaurant workers and Hmong farm workers. They are both people who are often overlooked in mainstream news. And they do exemplify how there are Asian Americans living below the poverty line. However, it’s hard to compare the poverty that East Asians, Indians and South East Asians face to the poverty within some African American, Native American and Hispanic communities face. Because educational access, geographic location and wealth being connected to race.

            When blacks were historically enslaved, segregated from whites by Jim Crowe laws, denied loans to improve their neighborhoods and economic standing by redlining regulations, this process has created a cycle of poverty that is harder to escape than for Asian immigrants.

            So when someone tells me that an Asian immigrant is able to pull him/herself within generation, why can’t others? I think it is ignoring that as a pan-Asian ethnic group, we haven’t faced the same struggles other POC have.

            I can’t compare Japanese WWII internment to slavery and Jim Crow laws, Chinese Exclusion Act to the Mexican Repatriation, or any other racial injustices many Asians have faced as compared to the longer history that Native Americans, African Americans and Hispanics faced. But that doesn’t mean we shy away from solidarity against these bitter racist times, or that we have to say race-based Affirmative Action is bad.

            I never want to forget the moments Asians and other POC did work together to advance social justice. I want history books to include Pete Velasco and other Filipino leaders who worked with Cesar Chavez to expand farmer laborer rights. I want to see a discussion on Yuri Kochiyama as long as Malcolm X. Or the days MLK wore a Hawaiian lei that symbolized the support Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders gave him during the civil rights march.

          • Kathy Pham

            In terms of merit, I disagree that GPA and test scores are the best way to determine “merit”, even though they are easier to quantify than essays, extracurricular activities and life experiences.

            So I’ll tell you my story, and I’m hoping you share yours.

            I was lucky enough to grow up in a East Side San Jose neighborhood of predominantly Hispanic and SE Asian immigrants to understand how our quality and access to education differed from our wealthier counterparts in the Westside. Many of us lived single parent households, couldn’t afford SAT prep, and were the first to even apply to college. Yep, true for me too..

            Our students’ AP and SAT scores were on average lower than the students’ of a nearby wealthier school, because our already limited school funding was divided between teaching ESL, AP/IB, basic and remedial classes. It did upset me that there were great inequalities even across our school district, the East Side High School Union District. However, it’s made me become more race-conscious than others, and not so judgmental that Affirmative Action does look at race, income and other factors.

            The schools in poorer areas of San Jose, median home price 500k-548k, predominantly Mexicans and SE Asians, have the lowest API ratings:
            James Lick:
            My alma mater, Andrew Hill:
            Yerba Buena:

            The schools in wealthier areas of San Jose, median home price 720k-750k, predominantly East Asians, have the highest API ratings:

            Sadly, wealth does appear to maintain a large intersectional relationship with race and access to more educational resources.

            Like you said, we don’t have an equal footing even in elementary school. And because of these educational and socio-economic disparities, my peers’ and my own test scores are most likely going to be lower than Affirmative Action opponents Vijay Chokalingham’s or Michael Wang’s. So I’m asking you to take people’s backgrounds and race into consideration.

            Everyone’s got struggles. We have different starting points in life, with some people who are more privileged and have better educational access than others, but it’s how far you travel that dictate what merit is for me.

            And I’m sure you’ve overcome problems in your life too, but I don’t know yours. And I really am curious, what is your story? Because, I won’t understand why you think differently unless I know your background too.

          • Jerry3130

            Thanks for a sincere discussion on this. I think you summarized the our disagreement pretty well. However, I still don’t see race to be necessarily in the mix, and I see you constantly mix the socio-economical factor into the race.

            When you say how poverty affected different race, I still don’t think the evidence of poverty is a result of historical baggage of slavery and segregation. The trend of Black family and poverty didn’t improve, but deteriorated from 50s to 90s, when the civil rights improved, and time elapsed further from the time of slavery and segregation.


            If race have anything to do with the poverty, I would say the culture has more to do with this. If being a good student means “acting white”, and acting like gangster is viewed as cool, you won’t be able to solve that issue by throwing money to them. This became a big debate on social policy, but you see what I meant. And obviously college admission isn’t going to help here.

            The second part, I understand the poor school typically has lower API. However, I disagree that has a direct causal effect. It can be other way around. The single mother family, the attitude towards study are the reason they are in poor community, not the results. I don’t think you scored statistically lower than other asian children from the way you are writing. If you are from a disadvantaged family, I believe you are a living example of turning the social economical status around in one generation.

            From my background, I would say poverty shouldn’t be a hinderance for excellence. I am a typical Chinese immigrant who grew up in China and came to US almost 20 years ago for my PhD and brought family here. I grew up in cultural revolution and witnessed enough poverty that no one in American society lived through. People grew up in US can’t imagine the days that you are limited to 1 pound of meat (pork or fish) and one pound of eggs per MONTH per person (and that was in the best city in China). But poverty was usually an incentive for working harder when I grew up. You can hear plenty of personal stories that people from rural mountains with illiterate parents, got into a top tier University just by studying hard.

            When I came to America on a scholarship, We lived in a small and ragged student apartment and on a research assistantship. Many doctoral students and postdoc scholars in the University lives in poverty for many years, but it doesn’t prevent their teenage children from excelling in school.

            Fortunately by the time of my kids went to elementary school, I have graduated and started working. Being poor and with language barrier (My son doesn’t know alphabet when he went to kindergarten because we couldn’t afford daycare and my wife spoke little English) doesn’t hinder my kids to perform well in school, because you need good habit and attitude, not money, to succeed in school. I understand you may point to the intelligence factor, but excellence in K-12 (especially for American curriculum) doesn’t really take much of smartness, but merely requires them to do the work, and practice.

            But again, I am all for the socio-economical based AA in college admission because it benefit the society as a whole, but I think the gold will shine even in dirt. But raced based AA, no, why should you be punished as compared to the hispanic kids next to you in your school just because your last name is Pham?

            Another less known factor related to your experience about the east Asian in San Jose, the nice neighborhood. The recent immigration from China in 80s – 00s was a huge advantage for America. While people has the stereotype of Asians being smart, it is not a totally stereotypical because that small fraction of immigrants are the top of the cream in China society. It was a brain drain from China. Now their children are getting to the age of entering college, and that was part of the reason the recent influx of Chinese American in all the competition and top University. But that wave is approaching an end with the booming of Chinese economy. The higher ratio of Asian face in top university may be a unique phenomenon for several decades, but may not be a sustaining upward trend. But if our Universities shun away these kids because of the racial quota, it is a net loss to American society for sure, and injustice to these kids.

            For people who is saying too many Asians in the top University, I don’t know which part is so uncomfortable to them, for these American born, grown , who pledge allegiance from elementary school, studied APUSH, sang the national anthem, did cheerleading. Why are people so uncomfortable seeing these kids in large numbers in University, is it just because they have yellow skin, squinted eyes?

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