I received the following announcement from the well-respected Asia Society about a series of short videos they’ve produced on preferences for the upcoming presidential election among Asian policy leaders:


At the Asia Society’s 36th Annual Williamsburg policy conference in Bali, Indonesia, key Asia-Pacific leaders were asked to discuss the US elections and to comment on their preferred candidate.

Over 80% of all Asia-Pacific leaders interviewed expressed a preference for Barack Obama, arguing that he would be best for US foreign relations and would send a positive, hopeful message to the world.

Check out all the responses to “If Asia Could Vote in the US Elections” and a companion feature, “One Piece of Advice to the Next US President.”

Both videos are quite interesting and offer good information and advice for how our next President can maintain and develop closer ties with our Asian neighbors, many of whom are poised to take on a more prominent role as we move forward into the 21st century.

For most academics who study racial/ethnic relations, we almost exclusively focus on civilian society. But what are such relations like in the military? You might recall that the military was one of the first American institutions to desegregate, occurring in 1948 through Executive Order 9981.

To help us compare racial/ethnic relations in the military versus civilian life, as Newsweek magazine reports, University of Massachusetts at Amherst sociologist Jennifer Lundquist recently published a comprehensive study that contains some interesting findings:

The study of over 30,000 active duty personnel suggests that the armed forces’ social hierarchy—explicitly based on rank—overrides many of the racial or gender biases in civil society, which tend to act as barriers for women and minorities in career advancement. . . .

In civilian society African-Americans generally express higher dissatisfaction with their jobs than their white counterparts and are less committed. But Lundquist’s study of 30,000 active-duty personnel found that those norms are largely flipped in the military.

She looked at five measurements of career satisfaction, including overall quality of life and opportunities for advancement, and found African-American women to be the most positive and satisfied with their jobs, followed by African-American men, Latinas, Latinos and white women. White men are the least satisfied with their military careers, rating their satisfaction and overall happiness with their jobs much lower.

“It’s not that the military environment treats white males less fairly; it’s simply that, compared to their peers in civilian society, white males lose many of the advantages that they had,” Lundquist says. “There’s a relative deprivation when you compare to satisfaction of peers outside of the military.”

I should provide the disclaimer that Prof. Lundquist is a colleague and also a good friend of mine. Nonetheless, her research findings are quite compelling in their own right.

To summarize, those findings are that within the military, there is a much more stringent set of regulations regarding how personnel are judged and promoted. Based on this structure, outcomes do not differ nearly as much by race/ethnicity as they do in civilian society, where such criteria is much less standardized.

Therefore, Whites in the military generally do not enjoy the same privileges of being White that their counterparts enjoy in civilian life and conversely, people of color fare better and have higher levels of life satisfaction than their counterparts in civilian life.

Prof. Lundquist’s results also show that women report higher levels of satisfaction inside the military than do men, although the specific details are a little more complicated. In the end, as the Newsweek article sums up, “There’s a very clear contrast in job satisfaction between civilian and military society, and it seems to come down to the military’s meritocractic structure.”

Of course, Americans continue to debate the institutional morality of the military’s existence and the role it plays in international affairs, but that’s a separate question. The take-home message here seems to be, in regard to fostering racial/ethnic equality, apparently American civilian society can learn a few lessons from its military.

In the past two days, two news items concerning Asian Americans and higher education have made national news. Regarding the first, as I’ve explained before when it comes to Asian Americans being portrayed as the “model minority,” this image may be intended as a compliment in some ways, but ultimately, such perceptions about universal Asian American success only serve to hurt those who do not fit into that idealistic portrayal.

To reinforce this idea, the College Board has just released a comprehensive study entitled “Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, Fact, Not Fiction: Setting the Record Straight” that, as Inside Higher Education notes, lauds Asian Americans for their notable achievements but also details several major problems associated with treating all Asian Americans as “model” students:

The report suggests that while Asian-American students have achieved notable successes on admissions tests such as the SAT and admission rates at highly selective institutions, only a subset enjoys such accomplishments. Many other students lag, but they are excluded from support programs and the public discussion about diversifying higher education because of the success of others. . . .

The report comes at a time that many talented Asian-American high school students — and the guidance counselors who advise them — fear that the most competitive institutions are discriminating against them. The report also comes at a time that the success of some Asian Americans is viewed as license to mock them in ways that strike many as insensitive at best and racist at worst.

Just as important, the report also describes social class and immigration-nativity differences among various Asian Americans that pose a challenge to many who try to access higher education, with many elementary and high school teachers and counselors minimizing the struggles that many students experience in their studies.

This report serves as a useful resource and reminder that while Asian Americans share many characteristics in common, we cannot automatically assume that there is a “universal” Asian American experience or situation that all members of this category fit into. In other words, contrary to one of the most enduring stereotypes applies to Asian Americans, we are not all alike.

In the second development, you may recall that in 2006, an Asian American applicant filed a federal complaint against Princeton University after he was rejected, claiming racial discrimination. As Inside Higher Education reports, this complaint has now prompted the U.S. Justice Department to expand its investigation into how Princeton treats Asian American applicants as a whole:

A department spokesman stressed that converting the investigation did not mean that officials had come to any conclusions about the original complaint. But at the very least, the shift suggests that the government does not view the complaint as frivolous. . . .

Cass Cliatt, a spokeswoman for Princeton, said that the university was pleased by the broadening of the investigation. “We actually welcome the opportunity to talk about this,” Cliatt said. “There are a lot of misconceptions about how colleges and universities use the process. We’re happy to explain to OCR how we do this.”

As the Insider Higher Ed article points out, it appears that the Justice Department is interested in using this Asian American applicant’s complaint against Princeton to critically examine affirmative action in general. From a political standpoint, it is not really a surprising move since the overriding presumption has always been that the present administration is not a big fan of affirmative action.

I am on record as supporting many forms of affirmative action and that is is probably inevitable that some applicants of any race/ethnicity with “higher” objective qualifications will get rejected in favor of other applicants with “lower” objective qualifications.

At the same time, I also feel that as long as minimum standards are met and that the goals of such affirmative action programs are to create a racially and ethnically diverse class and to give students from less privileged backgrounds equal access to a college education than more privileged applicants, that such affirmative action programs still have a place in college admissions and other areas of American society.

Nonetheless and similar to Princeton’s reaction, I welcome this inquiry into Princeton’s admissions practice because it allows Princeton to delineate in detail how it goes about making its admissions decisions and presumably, will show that objective qualifications are just one set of criteria for admissions.

Hopefully the inquiry will show that Princeton does not systematically discriminate against Asian American applicants but if it does, then I certainly support Princeton (and any other college that is equally guilty) being held accountable.

We all know that affirmative action is still one of the most contentious and divisive issues in American society and particularly among Asian Americans. However, I still feel that there can be a middle ground where Asian Americans get fair and just consideration when it comes to their admissions (with objective qualifications being an important but not the only criteria) and also where qualified applicants from less privileged backgrounds get access to a college degree as well.

In other words, I do not believe that college admissions — or American society as a whole — is necessarily a zero-sum proposition. Instead, I feel that the resources are there to create opportunities for everyone who is deserving.

As I’m sure all of you already know, last week Barack Obama officially secured the Democratic Party’s nomination to be the next President of the United States. As many commentators, journalists, and bloggers have been saying, his status as the first non-White Presidential nominee of a major political party is truly historic in many ways.

I would like to place his historic accomplishment in a sociological context and specifically, how it fits into the larger landscape of American race relations.

Undoubtedly, you’ve heard or read about the elation that many African Americans feel about his clinching of the Democratic nomination. Rightfully so, African Americans — and indeed all Americans — should rightfully feel proud that history has been made and that Obama’s nomination represents a milestone in American race relations.

At the same time, does his nomination mean that Blacks and other people of color have now “made it?” Have Blacks achieved racial equality now that “one of their own” is the Democratic nominee for President? And just as important, does this mean that Blacks and other people of color no longer need “special programs” like affirmative action?

Unfortunately, I am pretty confident that most sociologists will answer no to all these questions. That is, while Obama’s accomplishment is indeed historic and a significant step toward racial equality, the success of one or a relatively few high-profile Blacks does not mean that all Blacks have achieved equality.

In other words, we need to keep in mind that racial inequality operates at different levels — the individual level, group level, and institutional level. It would be a great moment in American society if we can completely eliminate racial prejudice on the individual level.

But even if that ever happens, racial inequality and discrimination will still exist on the institutional level because various policies, practices, and other mechanisms would still directly or indirectly benefit the White majority over Blacks and other groups of color.

That is, even if Obama were to win and become our next President, we should still understand that there are millions of Blacks and other people of color who still earn less money than a comparable White worker, even for the same job and with the same qualifications.

Or that suburbanization policies put into place some fifty years ago are still responsible for why Blacks of all social classes continue to be residentially segregated and relegated to lower-quality housing compared to Whites, which has contributed to why the wealth gap between Whites and Blacks has increasing, even though the wage gap has narrowed.

Therefore, for those of us who support Obama, we should certainly celebrate this moment in American history and do whatever we can to see him elected as our next President. At the same time, I hope we keep in mind that our work is only another step down the road of achieving racial equality.

One of the knocks against academics and professors, especially those who study social inequality issues, is that we don’t do anything with our knowledge. That is, we conduct research and learn about the different ways people are treated unfairly and unjustly in American society, but passing on this knowledge to students in the courses we teach, we don’t use our knowledge to try to change the situation.

Thankfully, there are exceptions to these criticisms. As the Los Angeles Times reports, many professors at Santa Ana College in California are literally putting their money where their mouths are by donating some of their salary to a scholarship fund that assists low-income students attend their classes:

Chemistry professor Jeff McMillan is sick of seeing otherwise capable students drop his courses because it costs too much to go to school. So much so that he is opening his wallet.

McMillan and about a dozen other faculty and staff members at Santa Ana College have started a scholarship fund that they hope will make it easier for low-income students to afford their classes.Starting this fall, each will fund a student’s course fees for a year — about $600 for a full-time schedule.

Professors say the donation comes with the satisfaction of knowing the student their money is helping. . . . The Opportunity Scholarship will be awarded to students with extreme financial need. Instructors will recommend students who have great potential but are struggling to pay for school.

Each student will be paired with one of the faculty sponsors, who will serve as an informal mentor. . . . Most likely to benefit will be students who are not citizens and thus are not eligible for federal student aid or a state program that waives fees for low-income community college students.

I hope that they serve as an inspiration for other professors at colleges around the country, but at the same time, assistance programs like this are ultimately the responsibility of colleges and universities themselves, especially elite private colleges that have the endowment and resources to give low-income students the chance at a better life through a college degree.

Although there’s still a long way to go, thankfully there seems to be a trend among such elite colleges out there that they need to use their vast wealth and resources to help all members of society get a college education, not just the wealthy and privileged.

At any rate, kudos to the faculty at Santa Ana College who not only talk the talk, but they aren’t afraid to walk the walk. Or as another cliche goes, “Well done is better than well said.”

The explicit focus of this site and blog has been and continues to be on Asian Americans. Nonetheless, we should not ignore our counterparts up north — Asian Canadians, who share many things in common with us but who also have their own distinct histories and characteristics.

With that in mind, the Victoria Times Colonist newspaper has an article that compares the educational attainment patterns of various Asian Canadian immigrant groups versus that of White Canadians:

[Data from the 2006 census show that] the group with the highest proportion of university-educated people [between 35-44] were Korean Canadians, where 74.7 per cent of respondents in the age group analyzed had a university degree.

Filipino and Chinese Canadians were in second and third place with about 58.6 and 58.4 per cent of their community holding university degrees.

Arab Canadians weren’t far behind with university graduates making up 51.6 per cent of the population. The study found 48.5 per cent of Japanese Canadians had graduated university followed by 47.8 per cent of West Asians and 47.4 per cent of South Asians.

The levels of university education were significantly lower for Latin Americans, 33 per cent of whom had a degree, and for the black community, where 30.1 per cent had completed university.

However, the groups that were the least likely to have a university degree were white Canadians, only 25.9 per cent of whom had graduated university, and those from Southeast Asia where only 22 per cent had a degree. . . .

But while Canadians from visible minorities have higher levels of education on average than those who aren’t from a visible minority, several of Jedwab’s previous studies have shown that their higher education levels don’t always translate into better employment or better income levels.

In many cases, Canadians from visible minorities with university degrees earn a fraction of what their white counterparts earn and have lower employment levels.

In this case, the socioeconomic attainment patterns of Asian Canadians are quite similar to that of Asian Americans — many (though not all) Asian ethnic groups have higher college degree attainment rates than the White population, but that does not automatically translate into comparable income and occupational attainment levels.

In other words, just like Asian Americans, Asian Canadians still experience some degree of inequality — perhaps we can even say discrimination — when it comes to applying their high educational credentials to the actual income that they receive.

I received this announcement from Turner Classic Movies about a retrospective series in June about Asian stereotypes in Hollywood movies:

Turner Classic Movies presents “Race & Hollywood: Asian Images in Film”

This is a groundbreaking festival of 37 films examining the portrayal of Asians in classic movies. The festival is co-hosted by Robert Osborne (TCM’s primetime host) and Dr. Peter X Feng, an associate professor of film, ethnic and cultural studies at the University of Delaware and expert on Asian American film.

Asian Images in Film will feature interviews from some of the most notable Asian actors, actresses and directors in the industry including George Takei, Elaine Mae Woo, Wayne Wang and Ming Wen. Films shown range from the silent era (1899) through modern films (2001) and include The Dragon Seed, Bridge to the Sun, Shanghai Express, Enter the Dragon and Joy Luck Club.

For a full schedule, video clips, photo gallery, articles and more; go to

Race and Hollywood : Asian Images in Film premieres Tuesday, June 3rd at 8pm and will continue every Tuesday and Thursday in June on Turner Classic Movies.

Unfortunately I don’t get Turner Classic Movies so I won’t be able to tune in, but from the looks of it, it sounds like it should be a very interesting and worthwhile series. I commend TCM for putting this on and just as important, for collaborating with an Asian American media expert such as Prof. Peter X Feng to provide the necessary context and perspective.

Previously, I’ve written about the characteristics and attitudes of Muslim Americans and also about what other Americans think about Muslim Americans. To expand this theme ever more, the Christian Science Monitor reports on a new study by the Gallup Organization that illustrates what Muslims around the world think about the West in general:

When asked what they most admire about the West, Muslims pointed to (1) technology, (2) a value system of hard work, self-responsibility, rule of law, and cooperation, and (3) fair political systems, with respect for human rights, democracy, and gender equality.

What they dislike the most about the West includes: denigration of Islam and Muslims, promiscuity, and ethical and moral corruption.

What they admire least about their own Muslim societies includes: lack of unity, economic and political corruption, and extremism.

Most Muslims agree on what the West should do first to improve relations: demonstrate more respect, show more understanding of Islam as a religion, and not denigrate what it stands for. The issues that drive radicals are also important to mainstream Muslims, but they differ in their priorities and the degree of politicization and alienation.

Moderate Muslims next hope for Western policies that support economic development. Radicals are more focused on the West discriminating less against Muslims and refraining from interference in the internal affairs of Muslim countries.

In terms of what Muslims (moderates and radicals) around the world say the West can do to improve relations with the Muslim world, the first two suggestions — support economic development and discriminate less against Muslims — sound pretty reasonable to me.

It’s the third suggestion — stop interfering with internal affairs — that is a little more thorny and problematic for many Americans from both sides of the political spectrum.

Specifically, many Americans of different political ideologies object to the harsh restrictions that exist in many Muslim countries on the rights of women. The most extreme (or at least most publicized) examples of this type of gender discrimination occurred when the Taliban controlled Afghanistan and severely restricted the activities of women, using physical violence in many cases.

This is perhaps the most common and significant complaint against Muslim societies, at least among many liberals. And it is this complaint that makes it difficult for many Americans who would otherwise support greater respect toward Muslim countries to wholly embrace the idea of not trying to influence such policies that we in the West view as oppressive and even abusive.

So is there a middle ground here? In fact, the Gallup study goes on to note that most Muslims around the world support equal rights for women:

Majorities in most countries believe that women should have the same legal rights as men: They should have the right to vote, to hold any job outside the home that they qualify for, and to hold leadership positions at the cabinet and national council levels.

Majorities of men in virtually every country (including 62 percent in Saudi Arabia, 73 percent in Iran, and 81 percent in Indonesia) agree that women should be able to work at any job they qualify for. In Saudi Arabia, where women cannot vote, 58 percent of men say women should be able to vote.

In other words, the majority of Muslims support the same kind of equal rights for women that the West also supports. It is only a small vocal and militant minority of Muslims who believe that women are inherently inferior to women.

This support for women’s rights in the Muslim world is significant because it serves as an important bridge between western and Muslim societies — that is, it allows Americans like me to find common ground with Muslims around the issue of interfering with internal affairs.

In other words, there is no need to interfere with the internal affairs of a Muslim society when it comes to treating women equally because the majority of Muslim populations share the same beliefs on the topic. When gender discrimination does occur, the results of the survey show that we can count on the majority of Muslims to oppose such unequal treatment the same way we would.

Ultimately, this understanding can serve as the “social glue” that can facilitate closer and more respectful relations between the Muslim world and the West.

A common and popular theme in this blog and the entire Asian-Nation site concerns the issue of assimilation into American society. Many Asian Americans, along with other groups of color, still navigate the many forms, levels, and outcomes associated with what it means to become assimilated as “Americans” in this country.

With that in mind, Diverse Issues in Education reports on a new study of assimilation among various racial/ethnic groups that finds that immigrants today assimilate faster than earlier immigrants, but that some groups inevitably assimilate faster than others:

Newcomers of the past quarter-century have assimilated more rapidly than their counterparts of a century ago, according to a conservative think tank. However, the report from the Manhattan Institute indicates that Mexican immigrants are not assimilating as fast as other groups. . . .

In an article for The Boston Globe, [the study’s author Prof. Jacob] Vigdor said many Mexicans do not have much incentive to assimilate because they strongly expect to return home and they can function in Spanish-speaking populations in the United States. In addition, those without legal status lack a path to citizenship and better jobs.

This new report is not likely to sway many opinions when it comes to the issue of illegal immigration because both sides can legitimately claim that the results of the study support their own positions.

That is, critics of rights for illegal immigrants are likely to argue that since Mexican immigrants, particularly those who are here illegally, are less likely to assimilate, we should continue efforts to exclude them because ultimately, the results show that they aren’t interested in becoming American.

On the other hand, supporters of more rights for illegal immigrants will contend that there’s an important cause-and-effect issue here — many illegal immigrants can’t assimilate because they don’t have the resources or rights to do so. With that in mind, if we allow them to become citizens, they will eventually assimilate into the American mainstream.

As I’ve stated before, I belong to the latter group and favor giving illegal immigrants a pathway to citizenship, although not at the expense of others who have been waiting for a immigration visa for years and even decades.

To alleviate this bottleneck, we need to expand the levels of immigration to the U.S., especially considering that immigrants produce many tangible benefits for American society and its economy. I realize that this is a controversial idea, but as a sociologist and an immigrant myself, I firmly believe it to be true.

Previously I’ve wrtitten about two particular trends among Vietnamese and Vietnamese Americans — the first is how many Vietnamese Americans are increasingly relocating back to Viet Nam in order to open businesses and get a iece of Viet Nam’s fast-growing economy. The second trend is the burgeoning high-tech industry in Viet Nam, as it tries to catch up with its “Asian tiger” neighbors such as Taiwan, South Korea, and of course, China.

As luck would have it, the San Jose Mercury Times has a story that combines both of these trends — growing numbers of Vietnamese Americans in the Silicon Valley area returning to Viet Nam to open high-tech business ventures:

For decades, the Vietnamese who settled in Silicon Valley, which has one of the largest Vietnamese populations outside the Southeast Asian country, and the leaders of Vietnam eyed each other with suspicion, if not hostility.

Now Hanoi is luring them back as the country embraces a pro-business path similar to its neighbor, China. In April, government officials held the latest in a series of seminars in Ho Chi Minh City focused on encouraging even more Viet Kieu (overseas Vietnamese) to return.

Particularly the younger generation are responding by taking the 15-hour flight across the Pacific to launch start-ups and head up operations for multinational companies. They all want a piece of Vietnam’s hot economy.

Most software outsourcing companies here were founded by Viet Kieu. Overseas Vietnamese hold high-level positions with companies like Intel and venture capital firms. The government reports Viet Kieu entrepreneurs invested about $90 million last year. . .

While Vietnamese enjoy greater personal freedoms, returning Viet Kieu are mindful that they must stay clear of local politics. The government prohibits any debate about its one-party system. . . . These days, Viet Kieu are as likely to be wined and dined by Communist Party officials as to be spied on. . . .

For the most part in Vietnam, pragmatism has replaced anger. Officials know Viet Kieu have critical business experience, technical know-how and vital overseas connections, all of which are desperately needed in this emerging economy.

The article does note however, that there is still some emotional tension among Vietnamese Americans — especially concerning the older generation — about doing business with the communist government.

As I’ve also written about before, many first generation Vietnamese immigrants vividly remember the brutalities and suffering inflicted on them and their family members by the communists and as such, are likely to react angrily to anything seen as “cooperation” with the communist authorities.

Nonetheless, this economic and cultural trend is inevitably going to increase in the years and decades to come, even if Viet Nam continues to be controlled by the communists.

This trend is also another example of the globalized nature of the evolving Asian American identity these days. That is, as we move forward into the 21st century, these kinds of transnational economic and cultural ties and networks are only going to become more prominent and significant among many Asian Americans.

Just as important however, is that in facilitating these kinds of transnational, global ties, Asian Americans are not turning their backs on their American identities. In fact, they are strengthening them by leading American society and its economy forward into the globalized marketplace.

In other words, for good and for bad, the U.S. needs to adapt to globalization. As this story shows, Vietnamese Americans are leading the way — for the benefit of both Viet Nam and the U.S.