Exploding Myth:
                   Asian-American Youth
                   Suffer a Rising Toll
                   From Heavy Pressures
                   ---
                   Suicides and Distress Increase
                   As They Face Stereotypes
                   And Parents' Expectations
                   ---
                   You Add Up the Check, Ming
                   By Joan E. Rigdon

                   07/10/1991
                   The Wall Street Journal
                   PAGE A1
                   (Copyright (c) 1991, Dow Jones & Co., Inc.)

                 SAN FRANCISCO -- At age 17, Kio T. Konno seemed to fit the
                   stereotype perfectly. Hard-charging, industrious and bright, she was
                   destined for stardom, like so many of her Asian-American "whiz kid"
                   peers.

                   A senior at this city's prestigious Lowell High School, she pulled a B-plus
                   average, spoke fluent Japanese and snagged national swimming awards.
                   Her Japanese parents cared so much about her education that they
                   moved closer to the school to ease her commute. Brown University was
                   actively recruiting her.

                   But last October, a week before her 18th birthday, Miss Konno walked
                   into her closet and hanged herself.

                   Miss Konno's parents decline to comment on their daughter's death. But
                   people familiar with the case, as well as a friend, say Miss Konno was
                   distraught over the pressure to succeed -- from her parents, from Asian
                   and non-Asian society and even, in a sense, from Asian history.

                   Miss Konno's tragic fate is becoming all too common. Suicide rates
                   among Asian-American teen-agers have risen as much as threefold over
                   the past two decades. A 1989 study by the U.S. Department of Health
                   and Human Services found that the suicide rate among
                   Chinese-Americans 15 to 24 years old was 36% higher than the national
                   average among that age group. The rate for Japanese-Americans was
                   54% higher.

                   The number of Asian-American youths who kill themselves is quite small,
                   of course, but it is the most dramatic evidence of a more widespread
                   emotional distress. "The problem is much more pervasive than many of us
                   think," says Leland Yee, a psychologist who sits on the San Francisco
                   school board. "If you're an Asian who's alive, eating and breathing, you're
                   expected to be a genius. It's not unusual for Asian kids to have nervous
                   breakdowns."

                   Asian-American youths face many pressures that children of other
                   immigrants don't. Many are even born with names that translate to lofty
                   titles such as "Treasure of China" or "Universal Versatility." Many grow
                   up with the burden of carrying on the legacy of their entire ancestry, not
                   to mention the wishes of their immediate families. In school, they are
                   saddled with the "Model-Minority" myth, which says that Asians are
                   bound to excel at whatever they do. Thinking this way, many educators
                   expect Asians to overcome academic and emotional difficulties without
                   help from special programs available to members of other minority
                   groups. Meanwhile, students of other races, goaded to do as well as
                   those of the Model Minority, resent Asians.

                   Asian youths of the U.S. are, in fact, a tremendous success story. They
                   are vastly overrepresented, for instance, in the Ivy Leagues and in
                   prestigious contests such as the Westinghouse Science Talent Search. But
                   not all of America's approximately three million Asian-Americans under
                   age 25 fit this mold. Asian youth gangs have emerged as a major criminal
                   force in California and New York. Almost 10% of juveniles in detention
                   or on probation in San Francisco are Asian, up from 5.7% in 1988.
                   (Asians are about 30% of San Francisco's population.)

                   Some talented Asians graduate from high school with top honors, only to
                   flunk out in college. David Rue, a psychiatrist at the Cleveland Clinic
                   Foundation, says he sees many cases like these: an Ivy League man who
                   slit his wrists after failing three classes in one semester, and a 16-year-old
                   high-school valedictorian who went on welfare in college and then tried to
                   kill herself to escape her parents' control.

                   Asian parental pressure for academic success dates back to the ancient
                   Chinese philosopher Confucius, who influenced other Asian countries
                   with his teaching that the scholar sits at the apex of social hierarchy.
                   Under this philosophy, education is the only route to success.

                   The result: Some Asian-American parents choke off their children's social
                   lives while expecting nothing less than stellar academic performance. Even
                   star students come under scrutiny. One 17-year-old Korean-American
                   high-school student in suburban Los Angeles was allegedly beaten in May
                   by her father because her A-minus grade-point average fell short of his
                   hopes for straight A's. He has pleaded innocent to felony child abuse.

                   That case is extreme. More typically, the pressure is subtle, and often
                   unintended. Consider Anthony Shong-yu Chow, a 22-year-old
                   psychology student at San Francisco State University. Mr. Chow's father,
                   who has a doctorate in chemistry, and his mother, who has a master's
                   degree in botany, abandoned academic careers to start a Chinese
                   restaurant to make more money. They eventually set aside some profits to
                   pay for college for Mr. Chow and his older brother. The sons weren't
                   expected to work regularly in the restaurant because school was more
                   important.

                   Their father, Chak Yan Chow, moved to the U.S. in 1958 at the age of
                   21. He says he misses his chemistry career, but it is his duty to provide
                   the best education possible for his children. Paraphrasing Confucius, he
                   says, "If a youngster isn't well educated, the parent is to blame."

                   The younger Mr. Chow is grateful, but he feels guilty. "They say they
                   want you to be happy," he says. "But they also say, `I'm working for you.
                   I'm sacrificing for you.' Their happiness is us doing well."

                   Asians suffer many of the same problems that have always faced
                   American-born children of immigrants, they must straddle two cultures.
                   Sometimes that means going to language school to study their parents'
                   native tongue every day after regular school or being pressed into service
                   as translators for their parents. But even here, some Asian-Americans
                   have a special problem: They feel torn between the American emphasis
                   on individuality and the Asian concern with family harmony.

                   They are expected to shine academically, but once they do, they aren't
                   free to choose their own life paths. For instance, when Lina Han, a
                   Korean-American, graduated from Yale this spring, she planned to move
                   to San Francisco with her non-Korean boyfriend and work for a few
                   years before studying to become a liberal arts professor. But "my mother
                   put her foot down," Ms. Han says. Her mother, who lives near
                   Cleveland, urged her to break up with her boyfriend and go straight to
                   medical school. For Asian parents, many of whom are scientists because
                   a 1965 change in immigration laws barred the entry of most others from
                   Asia, the science field promises financial security, prestige and less
                   discrimination.

                   When the 22-year-old Ms. Han balked, she says, she and her mother got
                   into terrific screaming matches. The rebellion was out of line with Korean
                   tradition. "Our parents grew up in households where they would bow
                   their head when giving dinner to their fathers and then walk backwards
                   out of the room so they would never turn their back on them," Ms. Han
                   says.

                   During the fights, Ms. Han's mother became bedridden with a previously
                   diagnosed heart condition. "I felt very responsible. It came to the point
                   where I had to make a compromise," Ms. Han says. The truce: Ms. Han
                   is breaking up with her boyfriend and will work at a law firm in New
                   York for a few years before going back to school. But she won't go to
                   medical school. Instead, she will study law, which satisfies both her
                   mother's concerns about prestigious work and her own preference for
                   liberal arts.

                   Lina's mother, Jane Han, says she appreciated the compromise. "I cried
                   with her a lot," she says. "I told her thank you a number of times. . . .

                   "When I was Lina's age," she says, "I had my own ideas, my own hopes
                   and my own dreams. But they didn't mean much because I just followed
                   what my parents told me to do." Mrs. Han says she went back to school
                   six years ago partly to understand America -- and its children -- better. "I
                   know I'm in a different generation here," she says. "I'm still trying to
                   accept the fact that I'm in a different world." One change: She agreed to
                   allow her younger children to attend their high school proms. But she says
                   she's not willing to budge on issues concerning education and interracial
                   marriage.

                   Says Dr. Yee, the San Francisco psychologist: "You have to understand
                   that the primary identity is always family. It's as if they say, `We'll give
                   you a leash and it can be as long as you want. But you always have to
                   know who the master is.'"

                   Society adds more stress by stereotyping Asians. Even though Asia
                   encompasses countries as different as high-tech Japan and rural
                   Cambodia, many people expect Asians to be the same: shy, brainy nerds
                   who are especially good at math.

                   The nerd perception prompts some teachers to grade Asian students
                   more easily and misinterpret their confusion as deep thought or timidity. In
                   some cases, teachers refuse to call on Asian students in class, figuring
                   they know all the answers anyway. "I got away with a lot," says Ms. Han
                   of Yale. In high school, "My teachers singled me out and treated me with
                   kid gloves. In their eyes I couldn't make any mistakes -- even if I did,"
                   she says. She recalls teachers "fudging" her grades to give her the benefit
                   of the doubt on quizzes. "My work got less rigorous attention," she says.

                   Ming Leung, a 27-year-old Chinese-American project manager for the
                   San Francisco-based Asian American Health Forum, recalls being the
                   butt of the math stereotype in numerous settings. In high school, his
                   counselor tried to get him to study chemistry and physics instead of
                   government and psychology. When he went out to eat with friends and
                   the bill arrived, he was often nominated to figure out who owed what.
                   And at an officers' election for a school committee in San Diego, Mr.
                   Leung cringed when the chairwoman suggested that an Asian volunteer
                   for the post of treasurer for "convenience's sake."

                   The stereotype comes wrapped in resentment. In high school and college,
                   Mr. Leung endured several acerbic remarks about Asians. "People used
                   to say that there's a correlation between the grading curve and the slant of
                   the eye," he says.

                   Other Asian-Americans recall similar treatment. Says Sang Do Bae, an
                   18-year-old Korean-American biology major at Cornell University:
                   "Whenever I scored in the 80s, there was always someone saying, `Oh,
                   you mean you didn't break the A-minus mean?'"

                   The stereotypes "pit one group against another," says Bernard Wong, an
                   anthropology professor at San Francisco State University. "And it's being
                   used as an excuse not to give help to Asians when they need it." He adds:
                   "I've sat on committees where they say, `Oh, you don't need any help.
                   You're the model minority group.'"

                   What can make all this especially difficult for Asian-American youths is
                   that they are generally less likely to seek professional psychological help
                   than others. "Asians aren't accustomed to venturing to ask for help
                   outside," says Sookyung Chang, a Korean-American psychologist in Los
                   Angeles. In Korea, for instance, people seek counseling only when they
                   have a mental breakdown. In China, there is no word for mental illness.
                   Says Mr. Leung: "You're not supposed to tell people your personal
                   business."
 

                   -30-
 

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