Asian American Youth

In “The Making of Culture, Identity, Ethnicity among Asian American Youth”, Min Zhou and Jennifer Lee describe the youth as people between the ages of sixteen and twenty-four who are making the transition between adolescence and adulthood. The youth are those who are attempting to discover their place in society and their true selves. “Today, to be young is to be hip, cool, fun loving, carefree, and able to follow one’s heart’s desires…Culture, on the other hand, is defined as the ways, forms and patterns of life in which socially identifiable groups interact with the environment and express their symbolic and material existences.” (3). Zhou and Lee state that it is not common for laypeople to acknowledge the existence of a distinct Asian American youth culture. Asian American youths are almost invisible because they are stereotyped as the model minority. In other words, Asian American youths don’t have any qualities that stand out – they follow all the rules, are quiet, succeed in academics, aren’t particularly beautiful or handsome, and don’t know how to have fun.


Here in Isla Vista, I’ve received an abundant amount of remarks and questions about my Asian heritage from people who I barely know. Most of the time these comments are made under social settings – at parties or events. I’ve had a few people compliment my looks followed by the claim that I do not look like I am fully Asian. I never know if I should feel pleased or offended because I almost feel like they are happy with the fact that I am 100% Chinese but, at least to them, do not look like a “typical” Chinese female. I went to a high school that was known for having strong academic scores, and the student body also consisted mostly of Asian Americans. With a GPA of 3.7, I fell in the bottom 50th percentile of my class of 600 kids. As one of the three kids in my graduating class who went to UCSB, a “party school”, many of my peers laughed at my choice of school. Now that I am at UCSB, I’ve experienced a lot of remarks from non-Asian Americans about my studiousness, probably simply because I am Asian. It is because of this that I feel like my identity is still very fluid, and I can identify with Zhou and Lee’s description of youth as those who are trying to find their place in society.

13 thoughts on “Asian American Youth

  1. In the reading by Min Zhou and Jennifer Lee, it is said that the age of “youth” is 16-24 years old, and sometimes even 30. They strive to find their own places and make their own choices, and find their own identities. However, I think that the age range should be increased by two years (18-26). In recent times (from personal experience), I have found that on average more and more people are still trying to figure out what they want to do when they’re even in their mid twenties. In the article, it was pointed out that children under the age of 18 are not considered legal adults, and for that reason I consider them to be younger than the average “youth”. It is true that people who are under 21 may not be able to purchase alcohol, but they are still able to vote, and are considered legal. At this age, they are also most likely entering into college, which in my opinion, classifies them as youth. By 26, many people are finished achieving higher education, and are starting to enter the workforce. For that reason, I do not consider anyone over 26 to be “youth”.

    I did find it odd that people do not realize that there is an Asian American youth culture. I have definitely heard of the stereotype of Asian youth being obedient, studious, quiet, etc. There is only one example of when Asians are not only stereotyped as being the typical Asian youth, and that is in the movie Mean Girls, where they not only had a “nerdy asian” table, but also a “cool asian” table. Other than that, I can’t really think of a time that Asian youth was not classified as being anything other than stereotypical. That’s so unfair though. Every culture has their own youth culture. However, it seems that almost any culture’s youth culture is stereotyped. The rare few people who do not match their stereotype are classified as “white washed” youth. Some are classified as “coconuts” (brown on the inside, white on the inside) or “bananas” (yellow on the outside, white on the inside), Oreos (black on the inside, white on the inside), etc. However, if someone is extremely interested in Asian youth culture, or any other culture, they are not consider “(culture) washed”.

    • Following your topic on Mean Girls, did anyone else notice that the Vietnamese dubbed English was incorrect? When the Vietnamese teen supposedly says, “Nigga, please.” She was really saying, “Girl please, I wouldn’t dare.”

  2. While reading Zhou’s and Lee’s piece, I was surprised to discover that up until recently, academics did not study Asian American Youth culture. As the article states, “Today, to be young is to be hip, cool, fun loving, carefree, and able to follow one’s heart’s desires…” By ignoring Asian American Youth culture, the dominant culture suggests that Asian American youths are not worth the research. In other words, “if you know one, you know them all.” Instead, the dominant culture’s ignorance homogenizes Asian American Youths by placing all Asian American youths into one stereotypical group – the model minority. Not surprisingly, this categorization has plenty of faults. For one, homogenizing a group ignores the fact that not every single Asian American youth fits into this “model minority” cookie cutter. It also suggests that because Asian American youths are so absorbed in their studies and achieving the “model minority” status, they cannot be as “hip, cool, fun loving…” as youths from other ethnic backgrounds, thus making Asian American youths a not-so-interesting research topic. Additionally, the model minority idea creates a robotic representation of Asian Americans, with no other goals, dreams or aspirations other than to maintain the “model minority” title.

    I can also relate to @mchen13 about the racist remarks against Asian students. During my freshman year at UCSB, I was one of three Asian American females on my floor. Like any highly motivated, determined college student should be, I committed myself to gaining academic success, which turned into countless of hours spent studying. Hard work truly pays off, because I received the grades that I wanted thanks to my commitment and dedication. However, the people on my floor never recognized my academic achievements as a result of my self-driven goals and ambitions. Instead, it was suggested that I received good grades because it was genetically wired to! If I received a good grade on a midterm, (especially a number-related course) it was always “because you’re Asian.”

    With more academics studying Asian American youth culture these days, perhaps eventually the “model minority” discourse will vanish and Asian Americans can be looked at as an individual instead of as a collective stereotype.

  3. The main purpose of Min Zhou and Jennifer Lee’s “The Making of Culture, Identity, and Ethnicity among Asian American Youth” was to show how Asian American youth have created and redefined their own culture while counteracting the one-dimensional portrait of the “model minority” (1). It is important to point out the phrase “youth culture”, coined by Talcott Parsons in 1942, formed a system of domination between the highly skilled suburbanites and working-class youth, exercising the concept of hegemony (6). Here, the authors argue that class has been replaced with race/ethnicity; however, Asian Americans have been intentionally omitted from the youth group due to deeply rooted racism and legal exclusion (7-8). This is why extensive research has not been done on Asian Americans youth.

    Zhou and Lee claim that the Asian American youth experience is closely linked with immigration, racial exclusion, racial stereotyping, invisibility, globalization and transnationalism. They couldn’t be more right. The generational gap–between our immigrant parents and us first generation children–has created a lot of cultural differences and social stigma leading to a lack of understanding between the two groups. Although, my parents are old-fashioned, traditional and strictly authoritarian, they have become more acculturated now that their seventh daughter (yes, I was the one with 7 siblings) have made it to college. As stated in the reading, I, too, have a great deal of love, gratitude, and respect for my parents for sacrificing their “middle-class life [to] endure [a] downward occupational mobility, relative deprivation, and discrimination from the host society”(15). Aside from our own self-interest, this respect and sensitivity we have for our parents is what motivates us to excel in our academics, not because we’re trying to fit into the racial stereotype of the “model minority”. Racial stereotyping Asian Americans as “model minorities” only stirs up negative feelings between minority groups, which keeps us segregated and oppressed.

  4. I found Zhou and Lee statement that it is not common for laypeople to acknowledge the existence of a distinct Asian American youth culture to be quite interesting. I always felt that laypeople had an idea that the Asian youth had a distinct culture from the white youth culture, which is hip, cool, fun loving, carefree, and able to follow one’s heart’s desires. From what I have gathered from laypeople is that the Asian youth culture defined by white people is the exact opposite of the white culture in that it describes the Asian youth as studious, calculated, and follows only their parent’s desires.
    I see this in many of my friends who are computer science majors and treat college like a job.

    • I accidentally posted the comment before I was done writing it. Continuing on from above.

      I myself as a biochemistry major and of Turkish heritage, typically not defined as Asian, do find myself treating school like a job, I chose to pursue a career in medicine of my own volition and thus I put heavy emphasis on my studies. On the other hand I have seen some of my Asian friends collapse under their parent’s and society’s pressures. For example my Vietnamese friend who recently graduated from UCLA with a nursing degree, abhors the thought of practicing nursing as a career. She pursued Nursing mainly due to pressure from her parents. Currently she has delved into her hobbies of photography and following Asian dance crews. She is an example of one of the Asian youths that rebel against society’s expectations.

  5. What is Asian-American youth culture? What does that mean? If you want to define a culture by a set of generalities or common practices of self-expression, identify, beliefs, etc, then you are invariably going to encounter people or populations of people who don’t fit your mold. Isn’t this one of the main complaints of characterizing Asian Americans as a “model minority”- namely, that by doing so, you are removing the individuality of persons with your idea of how they should or would behave?

  6. The topic of “Asian-American Youth Culture,” is quite the interesting topic of discussion. The stereotypical Asian American youth is supposed to be the model minority. This pigeonholing allows for really no freedom of choice as well. Qua Nguyen says it best “Aside from our own self-interest, this respect and sensitivity we have for our parents is what motivates us to excel in our academics, not because we’re trying to fit into the racial stereotype of the “model minority”. Racial stereotyping Asian Americans as “model minorities” only stirs up negative feelings between minority groups, which keeps us segregated and oppressed.”

    I am of biracial descent, half Chinese and half Puerto rican. The city I was raised in was predominantly Mexican with only a few Asian Americans spread through out the city. Thus when I am home my friends and people around me perceive me as being pure Chinese and when I first came to UCSB, I got a lot more that I looked hispanic. So when I am in my home town as compared to Santa Barbara does that make me more Asian? Lee and Zhou define Youth as people trying to find themselves in society, but how can someone find his or herself if the perception about this person is continuously changing.

    Culture is a remarkably broad term; to try and state what is and is not Asian American culture puts a limit on what Asian-American culture is. The very word Asian-American is based on two separate cultures, Asian Culture and American culture and because the people who represent Asian American culture are American. It is tantamount to racism to limit american culture out of what is deemed Asian-American.

  7. As I was reading the article, there was a particular quote regarding racial stereotyping that I found really interesting and relevant to my own experience: “During the exclusionary era, people of Asian descent were viewed as clannish, unassimilable aliens, and their cultures backward…” My parents were born in the Phillippines – my mother in a really rural, close knit community and my father from the city, first son to a family that was obviously rather patriarchal. It makes sense that even now, having lived in American and in California for more than 25 years, their traditional values & expectations remain resolute, particularly in terms of the way that they have chosen to raise me.

    I come from a predominantly white town and high school. I had always been pushed to work harder by my parents, these images of becoming a doctor or an engineer stamped into my head. My teachers had always expected me to become an English or Journalism major – which my parents viewed as unsatisfactory and lazy – even though, from the very beginning, I had expressed interest in writing. I wonder now where my parents’ expectations arose from, if not the Asian American stereotypes perpetuated by our society. I always wondered how my parents could be so different from my friends’, even though we had lived here in the same area, for so long. Like I said, my white friends and the parents that my own interacted with, all seemed to be easygoing – these parents didn’t take such an active role in pushing their children down very specific, desired, and designated paths. After high school, all of my friends had had their own self discovery and had found success in their chosen paths, but I felt that my own was paired with the stigma of being Asian and of having “crazy” parents (a descriptor not undue to my own whining) who pressured me down this road. In some ways its disconcerting, because although I’m not the English major I had wanted to be when I was a sixteen year old, high school sophomore, I still find a bit of happiness in the science major I am now. I don’t know if this is due to my own self discovery – because hey, I can like something else besides English, right? – or because I’ve finally acclimated to what my parents wanted and expected me to do, all along.

  8. Its interesting how Zhou and Lee have mentioned that the proximity the second generation Asian-Americans live to their working class peers of similar national origin can alter their youth-cultural beliefs. I see culture enclaves, as mentioned in the essay, as an area of common ancestral ideologies and traditions. These unique areas allow for these “foreign” traditions to slowly permeate into the larger body of American culture; whether this is chinatown or little italy, the first two that came to my mind, these areas embody the true modern American culture.

    The second generation Asian-Americans are somewhat caught between preserving the full traditions or being perceived as abandoning their heritage. I think this dilemma can be used across all people who come to America from elsewhere in the world; my grandma and her siblings all came from France, so when I was little they would have large celebrations for Bastille Day, but as those family members from France passed away the celebrations slowly dwindled into a personal obligation to discover the meaning of that day. As I am not a second generation Asian-American and have not necessarily had to deal with the same hardships, the aspect of cultural preservation is shared amongst all people and is what makes up the true amalgam of American culture.

  9. In all this discussion about Asian American youth culture, I thought it interesting how according to Zhou and Lee (p.12), only 14% of those polled identified themselves as Asian American. It seems the majority still reject the blanket term Asian in favor of their true country of origin. In the article it was mentioned that this mostly occurred within the Asian American community, but when talking to, say, Americans, the Asian American community indeed referred to themselves as Asian American. This implies that there is an “us vs. them” mentality occurring when trying to create a unique identity within a dominant culture. While Chinese people, Japanese people, Korean people (and so on) consider themselves a part of their national heritage, when it comes to living in American as 2nd generation citizens, it falls in their best interest to band together and thus form this collective Asian American subculture.

    The study that was referenced was conducted in 2001, and I wonder if the numbers would have changed in the past 12 years. Additionally, Asian Americans are not alone in being lumped together under a blanket term. I am curious to see if similar studies were conducted with African Americans, Latinos, and even “Whites” to see their opinion of such blanket terms.

  10. I can also relate to Zhou and Lee’s description of Asian American youth who are just trying to find their identity. I was born in Hong Kong and moved over here when I was young. Whenever I go back to visit my relatives, I feel like they see me as a “whitewashed” Asian because I have mostly Caucasian friends and used to date a Caucasian guy. I almost feel torn between the American and Chinese traditional culture because I don’t want to feel like an outsider in either place.

    In Isla Vista, I’ve also received comments about how I don’t look fully Chinese and it’s kind of reassuring to hear that I’m not the only who feels the same way about these comments. I almost don’t know whether to feel pleased or happy when people say I don’t look Chinese. In my head I think, is it a bad thing to look Asian? What does that even mean? Not to mention the growing number of Youtube videos making fun of the stereotypical Asian American, I think it’s harder for Asian American youth to find a place in society due to closed-mindedness and societal pressures.

  11. Certainly, the model minority image and the lack of visibility from Asian American youth culture in research can show that marginalization not only renders Asian Americans but all minority groups lacking in visibility and cultural diversity when compared to a standard. In this case, that would be Caucasian youths. Marginalization is not only detrimental to one’s own minority group; it also internalizes the racism put forth from discourses like youth culture research and how each minority group gets portrayed by mass media. Unfortunately, within a hegemony (and yes, each society has one), there will always be a group in power who contends for the top while others are pushed down and marginalized.

    With Asian Americans leading the cyberspace culture today, there is more opportunity to cushion this marginalization through our interactivity and growing dialogue.

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