*APAC Heritage Month* Coming of Age: Model Minorities
Model Minority: Fact or Myth? Tune in for a discussion highlighting both personal experiences and the sociological context of the term.
Hey everybody, we have another segment with APAC Heritage Month. I'm here with two distinguished members of Agent Flair and Dusty Flair.
I'll introduce myself first.
I'm Albert. I'm a workers community manager. I work on workers products and manage the workers discord.
How about you Jade? Hi, I'm Jade. I run the startup program at Cloudflare.
So you know if and you need some free credits, hit me up. I'm the one to contact and I started Agent Flair.
Hi everybody, I'm Shivalika. I'm a BDR on the field team in the west region.
I'm based in San Francisco and I'm one of the co-leads for the AC Flair org here at Cloudflare.
That's great. We have everyone here.
We today are going to talk about the term model minority. So in college, I studied history and I took this course called Asian American history.
And there was just a wild thing where by the time that that course ended, I was like, oh, I should call my grandparents.
They went through a lot to get me here. And I also kind of learned where the term model minority became a bit of a contentious term.
Before it was kind of just like a almost facetious way of saying, oh, you know, like Asians statistically graduated from college the most compared to other groups in America.
They just have it all sorted out. And really, that's not the case.
And it's not representative of Asians in general. I think just to start off, I can go over just some quick historical notes about from what I kind of grabbed from that class.
It's been a research of a history professor at University of Minnesota named Erica Lee.
And she kind of just made this framework that for model minorities, the term kind of came up when American immigration laws were still really restrictive in the late 1800s was slowly opened up where you had a lot of immigrants from China, Japan doing agricultural work largely in the early 20th century.
And there were restrictive laws for who you can marry. And interracial marriage was not really a big issue culturally for a lot of Asian immigrants moving over.
So they would actually have women, also men as well, just move over and kind of build their own subgroups within these racially divided areas like San Francisco.
And in California at large, at one point, had a law where if a white woman married an Asian male, the white woman would lose her citizenship.
And so model minority actually, according to Erica Lee, came from that term when Asians would just marry each other.
And that was sort of respected by sort of the status quo.
And then we kind of move into World War II with internment camps, and you started to have an increase in violent crimes against Asian people, where Japanese people and Chinese people were confused as the same and they were attacked.
Life magazine even had a infamous comparison of how you can distinguish between Chinese and Japanese people based on physical appearances.
And you can start to see how the economic conditions of America post World War II were really painted, and also the political implications.
So immigration laws became more lax.
And for the political side, the USSR and China were constantly saying America has a lot of problems with racism.
And how can a capitalist society be a viable place for that many groups of people.
So America fired back by pointing out the success of Asians economically and saying, these are the model minorities.
Erica Lee also said, we've been described as honorary whites, cultural brokers.
So I guess I can kind of just like, leave it off there, because it kind of leads in today with how, yeah, we, as Asian Americans are represented as a very specific group.
But we still have people under the assumption that as a racial minority, we can simply just shoot up the ladder, even though there's just a lot more complicated history than that.
Yeah, I mean, I think one of the things that's worth pointing out is that approximately 60% of humankind lives on the continent of Asia, right?
And if we include the diaspora of like, you know, all the East Asian, South Asian, Southeast Asian diaspora, we're easily talking about two thirds of humankind.
And so like, and some of, you know, and some of our diaspora is in North America, some of our diaspora is in, you know, lives in Europe or Africa, or every basically, there's diaspora, there is an Asian diaspora in every continent on earth.
And these are not like random samples, there's such a huge variety in two thirds of humankind.
And like, and there's this notion of like, oh, yeah, like, you know, especially in the US, there's this mentality of, you know, creating a monolith of, like all of these diverse cultures into, you know, sort of one perceived group.
And there's just so, there's so much difference between each of our individual cultures.
You know, that different groups, different subgroups within within Asian Americans have different levels of success.
And if you statistically group them all together, you're, you know, that changes the perception, because there are people who are struggling.
And it's not so much about your nation of origin as what kind of visa did you come in on?
Right? Like, if you if you came here as an agricultural worker, your outcome is going to be kind of different from someone who came here in order to go to grad school.
Yeah, and it's just kind of touches on the immigration laws of America really shaped the kind of demographics of Asians coming in.
Like in 1883, there was the Chinese Exclusion Act, and for the longest time, American immigration policy would group country of origin as places to restrict immigration from until 1965.
Right with the Immigration Act, and then later on with the H-1B visa, where if you go to grad school, yeah, we want you here.
So yeah, we're probably overrepresented, compared to the 60% of other Asians in the world in terms of how educated, but yeah, at the same time, I totally agree.
It also overlooks a lot of people who might be struggling who might be Asian, and might now feel this weird social pressure from especially white Americans that, oh, you know, you're kind of the minority in your minority.
But Shivalika, what does that kind of term mean to you? The whole model minority?
Um, I mean, I've always thought of it as just, like, there's so much pressure on you a lot of expectations based off where you come from, as an Indian, someone's always like, oh, you're not an engineer, or you're not a doctor.
And I'm like, we can do so much more than just that.
And both my parents came on H -1B visas, they went to grad school here.
But I'm a first generation American. And to me, whenever someone says model minority, I kind of feel a little insulted that, like, you're putting me into a box, like you're expecting certain things of me.
And that's kind of how I've always just seen that term is that it's just a lot of societal pressure that you as an Indian woman have certain things you need to accomplish by being a minority here in the US.
Yeah, and even when you accomplish things, there's sort of this, this view that they will attribute your accomplishments to your race, as opposed to the fact that you worked hard for them.
Yeah, like, you know, just because we do fulfill some of the expectations, like, it means we did things and made decisions, as opposed to, like, this is a reflection of my skin color or my community.
Yeah, we were talking just now about, you know, there are Asians who are struggling.
And it's hard, because, you know, if everyone comes from different circumstances, you can't, you know, again, compartmentalize people.
But I think at the same time, for Asians who are doing well, there's that pressure to always do well, like one slip up, and they're like, what's wrong with you?
Like, you're not supposed to be messing up, you're supposed to be on top of it all the time.
And like, do you forget that I'm human too, I make mistakes, I burn out, and I'm not going to be at the top of it all the time.
And also the, I mean, I think this is also a good time to bring up the, what is often termed the bamboo ceiling, right, that there is this perception that a lot of us are, you know, suitable for technical roles.
And then it makes it really difficult to move up the chain, and sort of progress in our careers, whether it's from an individual contributor type of engineer role to a manager or from a manager to direct level.
And that hampers a lot of career growth in a lot of companies and a lot of, and in a lot of different places across different industries, there's this, you know, perception that we're, you know, not as good at reading social cues.
But there's this, or, you know, a socially fluent, when you think about it, if you take a large group of people, and you select only the people who have studied STEM subjects, and who are going to grad school, you're probably going to be selecting for a certain personality type.
And that, that has every, like, that doesn't mean that it, like, that doesn't mean that those personality types represent the racial group, it means that that's what you selected for in your, in the immigration process.
Yeah, I feel it also removes a lot of for the struggles of other racial groups in the States, when we live in America, where it's long as for long been Caucasian or other.
Now, yeah, you have a demographic of, like, highly trained, highly educated people just trying to get into the US for the good things America does bring, but it suddenly highlights other racial groups as why can't you catch up, because this framework of otherness has been so baked in.
I think also, it's really interesting, you brought up Jade, the idea we also get type tested as, you know, support or technical work.
The lab rat. Indians are always working in call centers, apparently.
Yeah, like, how do y 'all kind of navigate that sort of place in your own, like, work life?
How do you transcend those presumptions? I feel like it's, it's better at Cleveland than at other places.
One of the, there was an interesting article I read a while back.
That was it, the article had framed it as sort of like, oh, Huawei had stolen this, stolen this talent away from this Canadian company.
But, you know, all those brilliant engineers were stuck in their careers, unable to move up.
And they were of Chinese descent. And they weren't given growth opportunities when they were continually being assigned sort of, you know, individual level, individual, I see level tasks.
Some hadn't moved a little bit up into, like, engineering management.
But, you know, Huawei came along and said, hey, we have growth opportunities.
And you'll make more. And we'll give you more control.
And a whole group of them, you know, took better offers. Now, like, was it and you know, this was, the articles had been framing it as a sort of like intellectual property theft sort of thing.
But when you think about it, like it's, it's the failure of that Canadian company to recognize that they had a bamboo ceiling problem, right?
Like that was, that's actually a problem they had that they were willfully or not blind to.
And so they had a bunch of people who, it's not that they weren't suitable for promotion, they just weren't being promoted for one reason or another.
And now, you know, those people are VP level, executive levels at Huawei.
And like, whose fault is that exactly? Right? Like, maybe y'all should have been, you know, paying attention to your employees needs more.
I mean, I feel like that's kind of the moral of the story. But, but the feedback cycle for the entire industry is kind of, you know, longer than it should be.
Yeah. I was just gonna go back to your original question. This is my first job out of college.
So I haven't had too much experience with, you know, being in the workplace.
Also, I started remotely. So I didn't even like, get that whole, like office experience.
But I mean, I've kind of always been and this is the way I was raised.
It's just like, let my work speak for myself for itself. I try not to use, you know, things about me to my advantage.
I'm just like, I'm good at what I do. And I enjoy doing it.
And we'll leave it at that. I don't think it has anything to do with anything else.
And that's kind of how I've always done things. And I mean, I feel like I've been recognized for that.
I recently just joined the field team from inbound.
So they saw the potential in me and they let me move. So I really appreciate it.
But I would agree, I think Cloudflare, from what I've heard from some of my friends, I think Cloudflare does do a much better job than, you know, some of the other companies out there.
I think I also want to bring up an experience that my father had when I was a kid growing up.
We were new to the U.S. He had just finished grad school in computer science.
And there was something he was explaining to me when he made the realization, which was that culturally growing up and in all the places he had worked before grad school and when he was still in China, the cultural expectation when you do a self -evaluation and when someone tells you, when someone asks you how well you think you're doing, like on a scale of 1 to 10, like if you objectively think that you're at 7, then it is culturally polite to say that maybe you think you're 5 or 6 because you don't want, you want to seem modest.
You don't want to seem boastful.
You don't want to seem like you're bragging. But it's fairly common amongst the co-workers he noticed in the U.S.
that if you're objectively at a 7, you will rate yourself between 8 and 10.
And that's what the majority of them would do all of the time.
And so if you behave the way that you were trained to do and say that you think that you're a 5 or 6, assuming that your manager is not going to have like full information about how you're doing all the time, they're going to have a worse assessment of you.
And what you ought to do is match the behavior of the other people around you and say that you're in the 8 to 10, even when that feels uncomfortable to do.
What do you think Cloudflare is doing well about the whole, yeah, just sort of barriers we traditionally see in other companies when it comes to dealing with the bamboo ceiling?
Well, I think that the fact that Cloudflare has a global footprint kind of makes the whole company more culturally aware.
We have offices in the APAC region.
We have offices in tons of cities on every continent. And so this creates opportunities for people to be more culturally connected.
And in a lot of the upcoming episodes in APAC month, I think we see representation of people who look like us higher up in the company.
And that tells a story. And we'll be doing fireside chats with a lot of them and what their early life trajectories have been like.
I can't wait to watch this. So much good content. I mean, just the fact that we're hosting heritage month is such a big deal.
I think it's so awesome. And I'm really thankful that I got to be a part of planning this and being on some of these segments.
And I was really excited when, like, during orientation, they told us they had, like, a Basie Flair employee resource group.
I thought that was so cool.
And I was like, oh, my God, I can't wait to join and go through all of their sessions and join in on all the things that they're doing.
And I remember during my interview process, I grew up in India for the most part.
And it's listed on my resume that I, like, graduated from high school in India.
And every time it was brought up in interviews, it was brought up as, like, a strength that I had all these varying experiences.
And I got to grow up in the country where I'm a majority and not the minority.
And I really appreciated the fact that they asked really thoughtful questions about, you know, what I took away from living there for so long and what compelled me to come back to the U.S.
And it was always viewed as a strength.
And that's something that stuck with me. And I think when you're, especially when you're interviewing, like, yeah, the job description, the salary is great, but you don't get a good vibe from what the employee culture is like.
You're kind of like, I don't know if I want to work there, but I got a very welcoming, like, we want to have you here kind of vibe during the interview.
And I really appreciated that. Yeah, I only recently started helping with some interviews.
And I think that's just a great thing about working here is everyone has different experiences and everyone generally is welcoming, polite, but there's just, like, that extra amount of, like, warmth when you just see so many different faces on the Zoom.
Yeah, were you hired virtually or did you join before everything closed down?
Yeah, I was hired virtually.
It was really, like, really impeccable timing. I got my verbal offer. I went on spring break.
And then I came back from spring break. And it was, like, after I'd done my C-level interview and they made my offer.
And then two days later, everything shut down.
And the entire time I was like, fingers crossed I keep my job.
I really need to stay here. If I go back to India, it's gonna be really hard.
So, please, I just need to keep my job until July. I was really lucky that they, like, you know, nothing happened.
But you watch other people and they're like, I got my job offer rescinded.
They're pushing my start date to next year.
And I'm like, oh, my God. But yeah, I got hired virtually. It was a super easy experience.
And I was really lucky. And it was really good timing when they made my offer.
Yeah, I had maybe a somewhat level of anxiety just studying history in college and my dad being like, if you don't get a job right after, we'll pay for you to study this.
But you're on your own afterwards. And I was like, cool, I guess I'll just teach history.
Out of curiosity, Albert, like, what sort of, what, what major did they think you should have had?
And what kind of pressure did they apply to you?
It's a really great question. They actually didn't give me any pressure. They were more just thinking, is he gonna live with us afterwards in the basement?
My dad is very similar to yours.
He also comes from computer science, even got his master's there.
And I think it's also interesting subject to touch on with the model minority perception.
When you do have like a bunch of highly educated people coming over to the states or getting educated in the states, there's an idea that it's all meritocratic.
When there's a lot of interesting research coming to light how meritocracy is not cut out to mean everyone can advance equally.
It means some people as certain parts of history, who were lucky to get a certain amount of education can now pass that to their kids, almost like the children can inherit that kind of privilege.
There's great research you probably both of you probably are aware of by Daniel Markovits from law school, he wrote a book on a meritocracy trap.
And he highlighted how the GI Bill in 1944 was the turning point for a lot of low income Americans.
But the ones who didn't catch that wave to be educated in college are still today's languishing from increased inflation and stagnant wages.
Whereas if you are educated, it's easy to also educate your kids to follow along.
Yeah, for sure. It makes a big difference.
Education is often generational.
Like there's like, how much you can help your kids with homework and the sort of expectation that they should, the kids often want to emulate their parents and do what they see their parents doing.
Yeah. Yeah, I think also, it makes me kind of reflect, like, as myself, and the Asian American group where even though, yeah, I think things are going pretty well, post college, but also have to think I'm in a bubble of, you know, education was always prioritized in my house.
And my parents got here because they prioritize education more than the groups they were a part of, like, my dad was from a fishing village.
And the thing he brought back here was he's really good at eating fish with bones, but culturally, he's so different than his hometown, especially when he went back to visit.
And I think, yeah, that's just kind of worth highlighting too. Maybe some of us kind of grew up with the impression like, oh, maybe it's meritocratic.
Like I did work hard for this, but there's some privilege and a lot of circumstantial luck that should be considered.
And also selective bias, right?
Yeah. I mean, like, the people who are willing to move to a different place, that group is going to be kind of different from the base population that they are selected from.
Like, if you look at people who have chosen to move from one city to another, people who have moved to the Bay Area from other places in the U .S., you're going to, or, you know, who have subsequently moved to, or, you know, the selective bias of people who choose to move to New York to pursue opportunities, or people who have chosen to move to L.A.
to pursue entertainment industry opportunities.
The fact that you are willing to relocate and overcome the inertia of, like, in order to pursue opportunities, that's a selective bias in favor of, it's an opt-in versus an opt -out.
And, like, it doesn't say anything about the racial group that they are selected from.
It's just that people who are likely to move to pursue opportunities are probably going to be a little bit more ambitious than average.
Yeah. And so, they are probably going to influence their kids to be a little bit more ambitious than average.
Yeah. I think about, like, what my life would have been if my parents hadn't chose to move to the U.S.
Like, my dad was like, I want to go, you know, study there.
And his family was like, what are you going to do there?
Like, why are you going to go all the way to the U.S. and go live there and struggle and try to become a part of the culture and everything?
Like, why don't you just stay here where things are comfortable and your family is here?
And my dad was like, no, I'm going to go. And I get that ambition from my parents because I went to college in Cleveland and then moved here for work.
And I think because I've moved around quite a bit and my parents moved around, it's kind of normal.
Like, some people were like, you're going to go all the way to California.
And I was like, yeah, that's where the opportunities are. So, that's where I'm going to go.
That's where I think I'll do best. And that's what I'll do.
And so, I think, yeah, a lot of it comes from my parents. And I often wonder, I'm like, I wonder what would have happened if they just stayed back in India.
My life would be very different. But, yeah. That makes me want to ask, none of us here are lawyers or doctors.
How, like, for each of you, was it like growing up and also, you know, striving, but, or, you know, thriving, I have to say.
So, I wasn't always in my field.
I started out doing neuroscience research and I went to grad school for neuroscience with the focus on going into a research role.
And at the beginning of my PhD, my parents, so my parents at that point were already split up.
They, and they don't casually come back onto the same team for most reasons.
They were usually like kind of still fighting against each other. But they came together to present a united front in order to pressure me to go to med school.
Like, they really wanted me to, because the university I was at also offered an MD PhD program.
They're like, well, you could just tag on a couple more years and get an MD PhD.
And then you would have an additional option. I'm like, I don't want the additional option.
And you, like, you can't make me. And so they would like pull together their friends who were MDs and just kind of like throw a party where they got to tell me about their experiences.
And I was just like, oh my God, please stop.
Why are you doing this to me? But I mean, they had good intentions, but like it was an insane amount of pressure.
And from my standpoint, there was a part of me that was like, if they weren't putting that much pressure on, there was a chance that I would have done it.
But I kind of dug, like being my personality type, I dug my heels in and absolutely refused to.
And so I ended up going down the research road and then leaving research to start a startup.
And so that was kind of like my path from there on after. But I mean, in my case, you know, like my parents putting pressure on me to do a thing usually has the opposite effect where I really dig my heels in and say, no, I'm going to do the thing that I said I was going to do.
Yeah, I luckily did not have that pressure. My parents, either of them are doctors or lawyers.
So there was no pressure like that, but they did get their MBAs.
So there is the expectation that I will eventually go back to grad school.
They I was very lucky in that they kind of gave me the freedom to choose what I wanted to do.
I ended up becoming an econ and a physics major in college.
And I enjoyed sciences. And, you know, my parents kind of also were like my dad, especially was like, you should be in STEM.
And so I didn't have a lot of pressure, like you have to be like a doctor.
And that's the only life path that is for you.
And that's the only way we'll support you. They still supported me through college.
Obviously, they were like, please get a job. It was more like, please pick a major where you were hireable, where after college, you are guaranteed to have a good paying job and a comfortable lifestyle.
So that's kind of where that pressure was.
And obviously, there was always pressure to go to college.
I don't know what they would have done to me if I was like, I want to take a gap year and like go travel the world or something.
That's not very common, obviously, for Asian families.
So it was kind of like you can pick what you want to do in college, but you're going to college.
So yeah, yeah, I feel like that is definitely part of the expectation, right?
Like, I also grew up in a predominantly immigrant community that was from all different places, like most of my Caucasian friends were from former Soviet Union countries.
And so like, no one had, it's like no one had ever heard of taking gap years or not going to college.
Yeah, like, it was just not an idea that was in the air at all.
Yeah. Yeah, no one heard of mental health days.
But nope. Up there with us.
I think it's just so cool. If we all like get together someday for like work happy hour, I mean, I get to hear cool physics stuff from Siobhan and Jade would probably just blow our minds away about our minds.
So cool. It looks like we're running out of time.
But thanks to both of you for being here. Learned a lot just chatting with y'all.
Thanks for a great episode. Thanks for having me.