Tony Wong: The unbearable lightness of being too Asian

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      By Tony Wong

      When I went to the University of Toronto in the 1980s, it was already "Too Asian".

      Trust me. Duking it out with fellow Asians in economics and math meant certain academic suicide.

      "Damn, there are way too many Asians here!" I would mutter under my breath.

      Also, the fact that I was the only Chinese kid on campus who couldn't add, or subtract, did not help my cause.

      At Robarts Library where I studied, there was always a lineup of Asians at the cafeteria. “They should have a quota," I would seethe after some pushy Asian would line up to scarf the last Jamaican patty.

      So when Maclean's wrote a controversial article on Canadian universities titled "Too Asian?" I totally understood where they were coming from.

      So far it has provoked more than 2,000 comments on their website. They haven't had as many comments since Justin Bieber apparently changed his hairdo last week—which gives you some sense of the international outrage this story has caused.

      The Star followed up on the Maclean's article, suggesting that Asian families were pushing their kids too hard. Apparently, 72 percent of East Asians go to university, compared with 42 percent of kids born in Canada who speak English.

      That is just plain wrong.

      Maclean's says Asian students are "strivers, high achievers and single-minded in their approach to university".

      They also say Asian kids tend to have “High SAT scores, good grades in high school and a lot of them really want to go to the top universities.”

      I know what you are saying. The bastards!

      I am glad that Maclean's brought our attention to this pressing problem.

      This research is almost as important as the furor that University of Western Ontario professor Philippe Rushton started a few years back when he said Asians had the biggest brains of all races. He also said they had the smallest penises. I’m serious. And this isn’t just because I have always wanted to write “penis” in a column.

      Anyway, you know what most people would rather have. That, and a university where academics are not at the top of the list. Can you say keg party?

      Meanwhile, the City of Victoria became the first municipality in Canada last week to condemn the article in a resolution, while MP Olivia Chow tabled a motion in Ottawa last Thursday demanding an apology from the magazine.

      However, Maclean’s points out that this is absolutely not about racism or stereotyping.

      (In fact, let’s say you substitute the title of their article, “Too Asian” and put in “Too Black” or “Too Jewish.” See what I mean? This is not about racism!)

      The magazine says, "Many white students simply believe that competing with Asians—both Asian Canadians and international students—requires a sacrifice of time and freedom they're not willing to make," so they avoid highly academic schools like U of T. White students are more likely to choose schools that build their lives around “social interaction, athletics and self-actualization—and yes, alcohol.”

      I say right on. Who wants to compete with some Asian who spends all day in math lab and then all weekend practicing her violin? That is just wrong. Also, no Asian would be caught dead doing “self-actualization". That is just creepy.

      On another important note, Maclean's says Canadian universities may one day go the way of American universities.

      Harvard and Stanford have had scandals after they were accused of restricting Asian students so that they can keep their "WASP" credentials, according to the magazine. In fact, a Princeton University sociologist says Asian applicants need an extra 140 points on their SAT scores to be on equal footing with their white applicants in order to get admitted to some Ivy league universities.

      I say it's about time. The last people who need any form of affirmative action are Asians. If we need to give the WASPs another 140 points on the SATs to make it a fair fight, I say good on them!

      As an Asian, I am all about making this a level playing field. I know what you’re thinking. Can a head tax be far behind? We need to give these guys a bigger handicap.

      Because the last thing we want in our universities is a meritocracy.

      Otherwise, we might have too many Asians.

      Thank you to Maclean’s, with an assist from the Toronto Star on bringing this important issue to light.

      Tony Wong is a writer based in Toronto.




      Dec 9, 2010 at 1:24pm

      I would tend to think that Harvard and Stanford restrict the number of Asian students so they have room for American students. Seems fair since they are American universities paid for primarily by Americans. Tuition by students - whether from Asia or America - doesn't go very far for paying for any university anywhere. They also restrict the number of white students to leave room for the minorities they are legally required to enroll. So everything isn't as clear as it seems - everything is not a conspiracy. I do have to wonder why the writer of this article bothered to bring American universities into this so called scandal. I guess he's playing on the Canadian habit of blaming America for all the troubles of the world. Some of our problems here in Canada are of our own making.

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      Tony Wong

      Dec 9, 2010 at 3:31pm

      Hi, the writer was quoting directly from the Maclean's article that interviewed a Princeton professor who did a study on race and SAT scores.

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      Dec 9, 2010 at 3:33pm

      Satire is hard to write - but this is masterful.

      Having said this, Maclean's one-upped you with a "penis" analogy:

      Look at this Maclean's excerpt about university social life (by same writer of Too Asian? story):

      “The guys would go, ”˜Who loves the cock?’ and the girls would call back, ”˜We love the cock,’ ” says Johnson.

      I mean doesn't every reporter dream of such wit?

      Universities can be ranked by where not to "strike out" too at Maclean's. Didn't you know?

      You might want to up the ante...if Maclean's can have 3 headlines (and counting) for one story and the Toronto Star can have 2 headlines for one story...I say you can extend your story...

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      Dec 9, 2010 at 5:01pm

      Funny stuff Tony ... I had a good chuckle.

      In all seriousness, I read an article today about BC politics (not sure if you follow our zoo, but its very entertaining), and it struck me as "racist" but only from the minority perspective and as such, I wondered if it even qualified as "racism". Any thoughts?

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      Dec 9, 2010 at 9:51pm

      Funny. I was a student at UWO, when Rushton caused that uproar with his "findings". But for a couple of academically good students of Asian descent, there's enough that don't score well. They just don't end up in any post-secondary educational institution.

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      Dec 10, 2010 at 8:26am

      I love the pro-Asian bias that comes out whenever any factual article about Asians come out.

      For example, Tony implies that the Toronto Star thinks Asians push their kids too hard. So it's just a bunch of white reporters / editors that are bashing Asians, right? Damn those white guys who want Asians to stop working hard and make them look bad, right?

      Nope, guess again!

      "hosted by and for the GTA’s Asian community....Chinese-Canadian educators and professionals warned some 300 stop giving their children no other choice than professional courses such as engineering"

      Oh, what's that? It's the CHINESE people themselves that are saying that? Well, maybe they are just racist against themselves :)

      "“There is such extreme pressure from immigrant parents on children, especially east Asian, that many of them collapse under the pressure — it’s shocking,” said conference co-chair Maria Yau...who moved to Canada in 1995 from Hong Kong"

      Well, maybe Maria Yau is just a racist and a self-hating Asian right?

      Surely there's no basis to those claims?

      "[Asians] are much more likely than the average American to commit suicide...Cornell University, for instance, 13 of the 21 student suicide victims between 1996 and 2006 were Asians or Asian Americans...Asians make up of only 14 percent of the total Cornell student body."

      Well, crap.

      Tony, I love satire more than the average person, but satire doesn't mean that you can ignore facts.

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      Dec 10, 2010 at 12:58pm

      I remember being in a first-year physics class at the University of Manitoba (where's that? about halfway between Vancouver and Toronto) quite a long time ago, before there was much physics, actually, and being mesmerized during an exam by the way the Asian students could work a slide-rule (I did say it was a long time ago...) in one hand and write the answers with the other. Us white guys didn't have a snowball's hope in the bad place. Apparently the contest for the Asian students wasn't about getting 100% on the exam, it was about HOW FAST you could get 100%! The winner did a one-hour exam in 11 minutes. 49 minutes later, I crawled out, and yes, I immediately went to indulge in some self-actualization down at the Voyageur tavern, where, oddly enough, there never were any Asian students, and now I know why. They were practicing their violins.
      Thanks for the chuckle, Tony. Alas, satire that still kinda calls us white folks a bunch of racists is just not right. So put away the violin and get your ass down to a tavern and talk to us. We're actually OK, and probably funnier than you think! But then, I've also heard you guys can't hold your booze. I'll give you a hint: it takes practice!!

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      Tony Wong

      Dec 10, 2010 at 1:33pm

      Hi Cell

      Nobody's hiding from the facts as this mea culpa
      from the Star's own public editor attests:

      The Star put the story as their black line A1 feature, linking it with the Maclean's story.
      The problem was not that there was a conference by East Asians. Or that there was a career day to encourage kids to think about alternate careers.
      It is the linkage between the conference itself and the suggestion by (anonymous sources) in Maclean's that universities are too Asian, giving
      front page credence to the story. Essentially turning a huge positive about a minority group into a negative.

      The Star nut graph:

      "With a staggering 72 per cent of Toronto’s Chinese-Canadian students applying to university compared to 42 per cent of those born in Canada, some are starting to ask if Canadian universities are becoming “too Asian"

      As Ombud Kathy English put it:

      "I think the Star added fuel to this controversy in assigning education reporter Louise Brown to report on theMaclean’s article as part of a story on a conference organized by and for Toronto’s East Asian community.

      The Star’s senior editors judged the Maclean’s controversy as newsworthy. But linking the Maclean’s article to the issues raised at the conference distorted Brown’s reporting. "

      Let's put it this way: As the Star is not the main culprit, as I said, it only deserves an "assist" on this one.

      ps. GOT, I'll have a drink with you anyday. But it has to be C-Plus (the mead of Asians)

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      Dec 11, 2010 at 12:51am

      C Plus, eh? I've heard it goes not bad with vodka for that extra morning boost...but let's get down to the nitty-gritty. If you're having issues with the concept of 'too Asian?' as presented in a recent magazine article, then logic would suggest that you'd be more amenable to an article asking if we're 'Asian enough?' or perhaps 'not Asian enough?', which are the alternatives. Now... we're talking about Canada, eh? I can honestly say that I've never heard of a national dream defined in terms of 'how Asian do we want to be'? Canada is not an Asian country. Do we want to be one? If that's on the table for discussion, let's discuss it. But the discussion will be hard to get off the ground if it's assumed that we're NOT an Asian country because Canada is full of white racists! If, on the other hand, Asians in Canada are suggesting that they are being prevented from achieving their dream of an Asian Canada because of white racist superiority attitudes...well, I can see a conflict arising that none of us really wants to get into, certainly not before last call. If you get here, live here, be here, be Canadian, OK?. That maple leaf represents who you are now, and it connects you to a great, proud, very hard and sometimes fallible history. Should we be more Asian, are we too Asian? Who gives a flying fiddler's fuck? We're Canadians! Bring my friends another round of C-Plusses. I'll have two 'n' a juice.
      Next topic: Is Canada Too Manx? I've noticed that there are a number of people in my neighbourhood who have cats that have no tails...I'm concerned about increased levels of Manxism...would anyone like to discuss this?

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      Mar 26, 2011 at 11:43pm

      The problem isn't with race, it's with culture and cultural value. In Canada the MAJORITY think university should be defined by education + finding oneself + a great experience. That's what the Canadians value, in other countries it may be different. Be prepared to INTEGRATE into the societies system or stay in a country where your own values are being represented. It's not just about University, it's about culture, just like everyone who's in Canada must respect the laws, you must respect the culture as a whole.

      Multiculturalism is so silly a term as well, a country must also be unified under similar VALUES. Yes, we must respect other cultures and if people choose to celebrate their culture great. But you cannot IMPOSE your new culture on the existing culture you are coming to, especially when that culture values freedom. ( don't reference the past native americans about how it's so bad what england did as an argument. YES it is bad to let another culture take over the existing one WE"VE SEEN THAT. SO don't let it happen AGAIN! Since when does freedom mean allowing people to do absolutely anything they believe in?? No, to have freedom you must also have boundaries on those freedoms to PROTECT them.

      The terms stereotypes, racism, and multiculturalism are thrown around WAY too generously and we've been conditioned as CANADIAN to NOT be those things, but we overgeneralize what they mean. Perhaps...The majority of asian Canadians at UBC-engineering aren't going on exchange trips or dedicating themselves to the student unions that do end up benefiting all students. Their studying b/c that's what required to compete now, great! but we can't squeeze out the people who get 3.4 gpa yet spend time volunteering their time to the community and student community as a whole. That's what's happening, students that pursue other things besides academics (not PARTYING jesus thats the only other option at university ??) Because the level at which some people are being forced to apply themselves to study, is too high to include other things.
      Sports? Volunteering? Activism anyone?? Yes, lets have NONE of that and only worry about our GPA's to be able to compete in Canadian Universities. I'm sure EVERYONE will benefit from 'just putting more effort into their studies'... Thats why we have the Terry Fox Scholarship and other bursaries and awards as well b/c Universities/organizations also give awards for things besides academics, because they as well ENRICH the Country. As Oprah has said, she is a Master student- as she spends everyday in earths school. But that type of education doesn't matter anymore- it's on the same level as partying yes?

      People even defer further education to gain knowledge in 'REAL LIFE' SHOCK!! As Barak Obama did when he took a year off to Community Organization. But again.. all that matters is your education career.

      And i'm partial to believe that perhaps top schools in the United States, don't consider many asian students as it takes a lot of community service and community involvement to be considered. Something that hasn't been noted, it's not just SAT scores and academics!!!! So saying yes they do better GPA, really translate to they have given to the community at large in a profound way? I'm not saying they don't, but it's not just about GPA, which keeps being mentioned like it's the ONLY thing that matters. I mean if your focus is on GPA, your focus is on your GPA at all costs. Maybe their less likely to engage in activities that might take away time from physical studying? My brother won the Canadian Merit Scholarship and went to Harvard for Medicine.. But not before dedicating himself to involvement with his community and as much volunteer work as one can muster, b/c he knew everyone else that got in had amazing volunteer experience.

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