Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Hip hop over homework: Filipino Americans "failing"?

Filipino children recite "Jingle Bells" in the classic
Philippine film Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos (1976).


Getting “Stuck”

In a November issue of the Asian Journal, an article entitled “Why Are Fil-Ams Doing Poorly in School?” compares the “poor” academic performance of Filipino American students with the stellar achievements of other Asian American groups. Among other startling statistics, the data gathered by the National Federation of Filipino-American Associations (NaFFAA) reports that “Filipino-American public high school students in the city of San Francisco had the highest dropout rate among other Asians. Those who stayed in school barely passed.” It continues,

“In San Francisco public schools, the report revealed, the California Standardized Test scores of Filipino-Americans in 6th to 8th grades were “Below Basic” in both English-language arts and mathematics. In the 9th to 11th grades, 42 percent of Filipino students were in the “Basic” and “Below Basic” levels in the Star Math test. California schools have five performance levels: Advanced, Proficient, Basic, Below Basic and Far Below Basic.

In Los Angeles, the dropout numbers for Filipino-American students represented 56 percent of all dropouts in the county.”

The last statement, Fil Ams representing 56 percent of all dropouts in LA county, is probably an error. The article’s author, Dennis Clemente, likely (hopefully!) meant Fil Ams represented 56 percent of dropouts among Asian Americans in the county, or he likely meant Fil Ams dropped out at a 56 percent rate within the ethnic group. Whatever the case, the data is troubling.

Furthermore, when it comes to science and math, Clemente notes,

“A 2006 Seattle School District study also found that in the 10th grade WASL test, 73 percent of Filipino-American students failed the science component and 55 percent failed the math component. Both are subjects required for graduation.”

In a December article, the Asian Journal continued the theme of Filipino American student academic underperformance, but this time it addressed their low-rate of enrollment in higher education (four-year or higher academic institutions). Melany De La Cruz-Viesca, a friend of FilAm Funk as well as a former member of the legendary L.A. poetry troupe Balagtasan Collective and current assistant director of the Asian American Studies Center at the University of California, Los Angeles, iterates the crisis young Fil Ams are in when it comes to higher education:

"'We’re not going on to graduate programs or doctorate programs. I think in a way Filipinos are getting stuck and I’m curious to try and find out why that is. Are more Filipino students going to community colleges first before transferring, or are they being tracked into these high school programs that do allow them to go to a four-year university? More and more, I think we’re getting stuck at community colleges or they just finish with an AA degree before getting a job.'

'It’s really telling because if you see Koreans and Taiwanese, they are going on and receiving their graduate and doctorate degrees,' added De La Cruz-Viesca."


Why Are We Running the “Race“?

One question I would like to raise is the comparative value of the (phantom) category of race (here, we are talking about “Asian American”) and its uncritical usage in the two articles. The articles essentially ask, “Why are Fil Ams underperforming in academics when other Asian Americans are doing better (or overachieving)?” I would like to ask, “Why compare Fil Ams to other Asian Americans in the first place?” In the same vein, why compare Koreans and Taiwanese together? Essentially, what “glue” holds these groups together—what characteristics give them comparative value? Is this a biological issue? If so, how is this different from the practices of biological racial taxonomy used to justify racial segregation and differential treatment at the turn of the 19th century? Or maybe this is an immigration issue? If so, for the sake of analysis, why can’t Fil Ams be compared to Mexicans, Haitians, or Brazilians? Why are we concerned with how more “successful” Asian Americans are doing? Why does it matter? The second article's criticism of the state's lumping of all Asians together is a step into the right direction, as the state's determining of racial membership holds a certain aura of authority. We must be self-critical when we redeploy the state's same logic.

A second set of questions I have concerns the meaning of “success”. What does it mean to be “stuck” with an AA or community college degree? Why is receiving a graduate degree at a high rate (especially when compared to Asian American groups) a marker of ethnic achievement? When and why has “success” become a foot race?

Yes, a foot race can be the appropriate analogy if academic “underachievement” of Filipino Americans can be attributed to social ills impacting the Fil Am community. Certainly, there are social ills. But also, there might be (and this is where further research is needed) a hyperbolic sense of crisis imbedded in these articles. Just how detrimental is it to the Fil Am community to receive an AA degree at a higher rate than other groups (as the second article demonstrates), rather than a PhD degree? And, what kind of job market are Fil Ams saturating? Is it lower-paid or middle-class? Is a working-class income (or near working-class income… I understand the arbitrariness of these class designations) such a disavowed concept? Or are Fil Ams really at risk of slipping into the abyss of poverty as the articles strongly suggest? Simply put, is there a sense that Fil Ams somehow deserve to align with the upper strata?

What is interesting about Clemente’s article is that in his inquiry about Fil Am’s “underachievement," he does not interrogate so much the impacts of this phenomenon as much as he offers reasons why young Fil Ams are doing poorly in school. He even questions the role of Filipino genetics, a gesture to the practices of turn of the 19th century biological racial classification mentioned above. Clemente asks, is it genetics or environment? His section, “Hiphop over homework” spells out the environmental threat hip hop plays in poor academics.


Hip Hop Pathology and Alternative Knowledge

Perhaps not as dangerous as the genetics card, the environmental argument of “hip hop pathology” poses a sinister blame game nonetheless.

Not being very specific on what he means by hip hop, Clemente paints a (and I say this crudely) “ghetto fabulous” Fil Am way of life, and apparently it has something to do with “Hiphop over homework.” He states,

“The [NaFFAA] study reported that Filipino students focused their energies more on working so as to be able to buy expensive clothes and cars. Also, they were much more into dancing and singing than studying and earning academic awards.”

Clemente goes on to tell a “success story” of Miguel Cutiongco who attends Harvard as a model of a Fil Am who “made it.” Troubling Clemente’s own genetics proposition, the author points out that Cutiangco’s parents are highly educated, having graduated from the University of the Philippines and Northwestern University. Not many young Fil Ams will relate to Cutiongco, even the most academically-talented students who dot the many community colleges, state colleges, and universities around the nation. Cutiongco’s story is just simply not relevant to most Fil Ams.

What many young Fil Ams will relate to is the hip hop story, which many of us know is not antagonistic to academic “achievement.” Especially on college campuses with Filipino student organizations, hip hop has been extremely central in day-to-day life, with dancing in particular forming a well-known social life among Fil Ams in college. At times this social life gets in the way of academics (this we know for sure), but just the same, this social life also helps us survive and thrive. This social life, as many of us can attest to, has given us a sense of meaning, passion, and wisdom. In some of us, it has even sparked a sense of social justice. For example, in a recent interview, Kimmy Maniquis, a choreographer of Kaba Modern in the mid-1990s, notes that Kaba Modern has been a positive space for community development and organizing. Today, Kimmy is a successful community organizer in Long Beach. Kimmy’s is just one of many stories of Fil Am organizers, educators, artists, performers, and even politicians who gained experience and wisdom within hip hop spaces.

Hip hop has been so central to young Fil Am life—to pathologize it would be to disown the rich texture of our community. This disowning would be a fruitless attempt to exorcise the collective soul of Fil Am youth (and for older Fil Ams who have been immersed in hip hop for some time now). Geologic speaks of our community's rich texture in “Commencement Day”,

“Up in assemblies nobody would listen
Instead rock the mixtape and Walkman
Discrete with the headphones
Threaded through the pockets and the sleeve.
You received education through the music you heard.
Cafeteria tables enable beats to occur.”

As the song goes, sometimes school sucks. The blatant historical lies and the irrelevant lessons just don’t interest young people. Geo continues,

“History repeated you repeat it to regurgitate
Slave-owning dead white men.
Folks, you know they make curriculum
Designed to make obedient drones.”

It is important to be clear that Geo is not criticizing the abstract concept of education itself, but rather the politrickin educational institution that fails students, an institution that is directly linked to the “Benevolent Assimilation” (a code for cultural extermination and colonial social engineering) of Filipinos by white Americans during U.S. colonization. The images of Filipino students reciting "Jingle Bells" included in this entry visualizes the absurdity of U.S. education, where white teachers taught songs about snow, Christmas trees, and white American heroes.

Given this history of U.S. educational duplicity, the notion of “knowledge” is already a fraught concept: “knowledge” for whom and for what ends?

And if hip hop is the story we can relate to, can hip hop offer mental "intelligence"? Can our hip hop performances express our corporeal “genius”? Can our “achievements” be gauged by our knowledge as artists, archivists, dancers, emcees, and poets? Rather than “Hiphop over homework” can hip hop be our homework?

In “Commencement Day,” a song that issues a reality-check to new graduates, Geo educates his listeners about material history, a history deliberately obscured for Filipinos, a history that many young Fil Ams seek and usually fail to find in the classroom. Referencing the Colt 45 pistol used to kill Filipinos during the Philippine-American War in the early 1900s, Geo’s lessons address “us” as Fil Ams rooted in history: we are the here today because some of us survived the Colt 45—our bodies are the proof of our survival. And today, alive in the U.S., we are negotiating the idea of “success.”

“Ay yo we made it
45 caliber proof
And your teachers ain’t believe
That you can handle the truth…
As you recognize
The thresholds of negative stress
The crossroads between
Complete failure and success…”

A Filipino student recites "Jingle Bells" as documentary
footage of WWII atrocities overlap her image.

Hip Hop as Culture to Work With, Not Against

Unlike Clemente, I want to be transparent when I use the term “hip hop.” As demonstrated by the Fil Am student organizations, hip hop is not simply a dance style or musical genre but it is also (more importantly) a cultural and social space which is historically-rooted (rather than a pastiche of aesthetic expressions). Hip hop as a space mobilizes community. This vision of hip hop, rather than pathologizing it, offers a productive opportunity to work with Fil Am youth rather than talk down to them.

Instead of demonizing hip hop and disavowing this central form of expression so dear to young Filipino Americans, perhaps we can view it as a legitimate and valuable resource for alternative knowledge. How can the already-existing elements within our culture enhance our “success” and “achievement”, both in academic life and in the “real” world?

It is important to do well in school, and it is my hope that the dismal data in the NaFFAA study improve. There is no doubt about that. But at the same time, I believe that “success“ is not only limited to classroom learning and higher education statistics. Other sources of knowledge, forms of intelligence, and “success” texture the lives of Fil Ams.

"Success" can also be re-visioned as the gaining of knowledge relevant to our own bodies and history--in other words we can successfully "win" back knowledge that has been buried. Unfortunately, "knowledge of self," which is so central to the theme of this blog, usually does not come from the classroom. For some time now, for Fil Ams, “knowledge of self” has come from hip hop.

In the classic track “Blue School,” Geo spits about the rich “wisdom” outside the traditional classroom and in the hip hop space. Hip hop has figuratively become a part of Geo, and his questions are answered on the dance floor:

“In the Blue School, class is in session,
Ask a question, cuz class is in session…
…And now my arteries connect to the amplifier wire
The music make the flames in my inner fire higher
I reinvent the language in the image of a dancer
Contorting where the floor becomes an answer.


“Primitive” Bodies, “Primitive” Knowledge, and the “Blackening” of Fil Ams

Recent journalism touching on Filipino American embodied (as opposed to cerebral) intelligence is not limited to the Asian Journal article. In the controversial 2007 L.A. Weekly article “The Fil-Am Invasion”, which portrays Fil Ams as somehow “taking over” the Hollywood hip hop club scene, paints a picture of Fil Am corporeal excessiveness, an image not too far from Clemente’s “singing and dancing” depiction of Fil Ams. In the piece, Sam Slovick writes,

“These Fil-Am kids are serious about having a good time, and that’s about it. It’s cultural. It came from the islands. The celebratory communal music and dance go way back to tribal roots. The DJ is spinning hip-hop, of course.”

As I tackled in a prior entry, Slovick’s fixation with Fil Am “tribal” bodies is connected to white historical fascination with Filipino primitive “otherness.” The Philippine Reservation at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair stands as the paradigmatic example of white “gazing” upon “tribal” Filipino bodies. The Philippine Reservation was about biological racial taxonomy: the marking of Filipinos as “less than” whites and certain Asians (see Robert Rydell's All the World's a Fair: Visions of Empire at American International Expositions, 1876-1916). Slovick’s depiction of Fil Am kids’ “tribal” “dancing around” astonishingly resonates with the historical consumption of Filipino bodies. The only difference is that instead of communing with tribal drums, we are now communing with hip hop.

Slovick and Clemente have effectively replaced a Filipino primitivism with a black primitivism, although the two primitivisms have traveled with each other since the turn of the 19th century‘s practice of racial taxonomy (see Cedric Robinson's Forgeries of Memory and Meaning). For Slovick and Clemente, hip hop has become code for a blackened racial position. It’s something that young Fil Ams “naturally” gravitate towards, distracting them from the important things in life, like school (over)achieving.

A friend to FilAm Funk, sociology scholar Valerie Francisco spells out the “blackening” of Filipinos that Clemente deploys. Her citation of Eduardo Bonilla-Silva’s acknowledgment of this “blackening” is useful here:

“Eduardo Bonilla-Silva wrote a book called Racism Without Racists where he effectively argues that Filipinos belong to the “collective black” in the US racial order and, I would argue, the US social imagination…

We can’t ignore that Filipinos as well as other Asian Americans who are, in a sense, “blackened” (either by US foreign intervention in their countries–Vietnam, Burma, Laos, hella other Southeast Asian countries) aren’t also doing as well as the poster-child (East) Asian groups…”


The True, the Good, and the Beautiful

Fil Ams’ supposed “deviance” from Asian American academic overachievement illuminates how racial categories position Filipinos in curious ways within the landscape of U.S. racial membership.

The task, therefore, may not be about pinning down Fil Am racial membership, either to lament their shortcomings to a model minority Asian Americanism or to demonize their “primitive” black cultural participation. Perhaps it would behoove us to see what is happening “at the bottom”, to understand the intelligence and genius of what is already there. The alternative classroom of hip hop has at many times been the pathway to Fil Am “success”, even if that “success” may not look like a PhD or MD degree.

During martial law, Imelda Marcos funneled billions of pesos to beautification projects to superficially “cover-up” the slums and construct prestigious cultural centers to impress foreign visitors in the Philippines. Imelda’s beautification initiatives ultimately failed, making no long term impact on Philippine society. To this day, she retorts that she only wants to promote the true, the good, and the beautiful. But in reality, Imelda has not been able to face the truth.

Contrasting Imelda’s maxim, hip hop often tells the startling, the bad, and the ugly. In other words, it tells the real truth—raw and naked.

The startling, the bad, and the ugly can be a transformative thing, alarming us to the work that needs to be done. It does not conceal or pretend. It awakens and demands. Hip hop’s alternative knowledge has been a staple of Fil Am life for decades now. How much value is a college degree if one graduates without “knowledge of self”? How many of us are still singing "Jingle Bells"? Geo‘s “Commencement Day” suggests the ongoing education of “knowledge of self”, one that continues even after you toss your graduation cap into the air:

“Now you stand at the summit
Future facing the wind.
Now it’s time to let your true education begin.”

---

18 comments:

The Filipino said...

Very interesting piece, MV. And you made very persuasive points.

However, I'll have to push back a bit and challenge your contention that "hip hop is not antagonistic to academic 'achievement'." Maybe you'll have to qualify that a bit and not emphasize the NOT part? (And why the need to put quotes on "achievement" here when the word preceding it is "academic," not "educational"? Education is not just academics, true, but academic achievement IS academic achievement.)

Anyway, the reason I say the above is this: although hip hop does not equate to academic underachievement,
I did witness first-hand in Vegas how Pinoys who were into hip hop got into big trouble with police authorities (some landed in jail), and definitely academic authorities. But unlike your discussion in your article where hip hop played a key and positive role in the college lives of Fil-Ams, the Vegas kids I saw were just that: kids -- maybe sophomores and truly sophomoric as well. In other words, very impressionable -- with no solid sense of what's right and what's wrong. It may not be the case, but it did seem all they knew what to do was to submit to "what's cool" -- a truly ephemeral and shallow concept. (Some came across to me as very pretentious around each other, too.) In the process, therefore, hip hop did become antagonistic to academics, at least in that Vegas context.

Like you, I also think that that NaFFAA study has b.s. data (see my comment here: http://www.asianjournal.com/home/7593.html?task=view). From what I gathered, it's statistically impossible to claim that Filipino dropouts in LA constitute a majority. So I think that factual assertion is not just alarmist; it is also wrong.

Happy New Year, bro, and hope to see your digital persona more often!

MV said...

Happy new year The Filipino. I'm up late, on West Coast time it seems (as I write from the East).

That's a fair critique. But I would like you to clarify what you mean by "Pinoys who were into hip hop". Did they listen to it? They were fans? They acted a certain way? Did they dress a certain way?

I guess my questions concern hip hop "membership", and whether the profiling of a group may be attributed to more style or swagger (or rudeness??), rather than the social and cultural space of hip hop--the disciplined dance practices, the poetry circles, the sharing of new music within a network, the debating of lyrics...in short, the more "geekier" side of hip hop.

If not for this social and cultural space, then hip hop can merely be coded as what I mention in the article... the "ghetto fabulous" blackness imprinted onto Fil Am youth.

MV said...

hello again.

RE: academic "achievement"

I think my intention there was to emphasize that college for many Fil Ams was not just about grades or traditional benchmarks of achievement. Rather, the social life also fostered success in college, and ultimately in life outside of college.

I'm trying to re-vision the notion of "achievement", be it academic or not, as more than just test scores and gpa. One can be a B- student, but succeed in other areas of school, and it doesn't have to be math or science.

What is just as bad as a student with a failing GPA is a student with a perfect GPA but who can't write, make an argument, or have a robust opinion about the world.

Julicious said...

Great article. Very thought-provoking. I don't see why they didn't at least incorporate some teachings of the Filipino heroes along with the American ones. I wonder how the educational system is in Hawaii a state which has unquestionably held onto its cultural customs.

mv said...

Hi Julicious. Yes, of course Filipinos (in the Philippines) were taught about Filipino heroes, during U.S. governing and after. In fact, Jose Rizal was refashioned by U.S. educators to become the very peaceful (and conveniently very dead) national hero.

Hawai'i, however, has its own issues with cultural customs. Displacement, gentrification, and settler colonialism just to name a few episodes that have changed or destroyed Hawaiian "cultural customes".

The Filipino said...

I'm back, bro! ;-)

In college, I read: "Do not let academics interfere with your education." I took the advice "seriously," to the dismay and great disappointment of my mother during graduation ceremonies when she finally found out I did not do as well as I could have. ;-)

I did learn much more outside the classroom (and am thankful for it) but, to a certain extent, I guess I'm still regretting not pushing myself more to excel academically in college. You and I know many doors close to an average graduate, including good grad schools and choice employers -- that's the practical aspect of education in today's world. So while I'm really in favor of a "well-rounded" college experience to be a well-rounded person, what I don't want to do is to risk the appearance now of minimizing academics and the idea that one really has to "work." Because when you think about it, the "job" of a student is to study.

I admit this is more of a Confucianist's mindset -- the idea that to be virtuous, you do your job and you do your job well. If you do, another Confucianist reward awaits: the happiness of parents, which redound to the child's happiness. Because nothing pleases a student's parents more than knowing that his child is learning the "traditional" way.

Many young Filipinos are drawn to hip-hop, both the shallow and the more profound as you described it. It's because hip-hop is seen as "cool" and "fun" because friends are around; on the other hand, studying is not -- it's a solitary, almost painful process, but a worthy pursuit nonetheless, if nothing else, to prove to one's self that he/she can handle "pain" and being alone and, yes, learn. So even if the NaFFAA study has holes, I think it is still advisable to emphasize the importance of academics because if anecdotal evidence is to be believed even just a bit, there are many of our your kababayans who are indeed failing, and some of them find it very difficult to recover from said failure. Because academic learning (or absence of it) is not done in a vacuum -- it really has repercussions in life, both for the present and the future.

Note that I'm writing this as a father now. I would love for my kids to learn from outside the four walls of a classroom and have fun in college, but not "too much," if you know what I mean.

MV said...

Hey The Filipino. I agree with you, there is no doubt. In fact, I confess that I have been an overachiever since like middle school. so school has always been important for me, and I don't mean to diss it. I don't think anyone in this debate is arguing for underachievement.

My argument hinges around the disparaging of hip hop, and essentially, as Geo says in his own commentary in this debate, bourgeois elders' chastising young Fil Ams for "acting black." I am trying to recuperate a Fil Am fluency in hip hop, and yes, in Fil Ams associations with blackness. Its quite offensive to me and to many Fil Ams who grew up with and are who we are because of hip hop and the people associated with it. Its a giant community of folks, and the LA Weekly article got it wrong to imagine that its just that small circle of club promoters.

Anyways, no one is arguing for anyone to not do good in school. Its simply the dichotomy the Asian Journal article creates between hip hop over homework. That's the kernal of the debate.

And yes, something needs to be done about the poor grades, etc. among Fil Ams. Why would anyone argue otherwise?

third said...

I know one thing that everyone on this blog agree that we need to bridge the Filipino American Students' academic gap and that NaFAA's study is not rigorous enough to make a valid claim on Hip hop as a contributing factor to academic achievement gap. I'm from Seattle so I know the folks who did this study. I also happen to be involved in another study at University of Washington College of Ed on APIA's state of academic achievement in 2008 that discredited NaFAA's claim on this particular issue.

@The Filipino: your statement "Pinoys who were into hip hop got into big trouble with police authorities (some landed in jail), and definitely academic authorities." is problematic because how can you make a clear connection between Hip hop and deviant acts? Filipino American youth can listen to country and rock and still commit deviant acts. being "cool" is subjective to an individual's perspective. any music genre can be antagonistic.

Most adults of a certain age can recall how their popular culture choices as youth were dismissed and even denigrated. Blaming American popular culture for low student achievement is a misunderstanding of Filipino American student experiences. It is the alienation they experience in schools and their difficulties in gaining a positive ethnic identity that draws them to find meaning elsewhere. Hip hop is a cultural phenomenon that many youth embrace, because it allows personal creativity and recognition through individual expression. For some it is a positive and successful activity that promotes their staying in school. As an "oppositional style" it is a sign of deeper schooling issues among youth.

MV said...

Thanks for the comments The Filipino and Third. This engagement is exactly why this site was created.

I'll comment in a bit, but I have to say that the floating concept of "hip hop" seems to prove unwieldy as we each use it in our arguments.

MV said...

And aside from hip hop's definitional vagueness (I thought I was transparent, but...), I think what is important here is the arguments' emphasis on education. I want to clarify that I am addressing education beyond academics. Academics is part of education, but I'm trying to extend it.

Perhaps really studying Geo's lyrics in "Commencement Day" (actually that whole album) would be helpful.

Third, how can i contact you? I'm fidna be in Seattle in Feb.

GO Seahawks!!!! best story in the NFL all year!

third said...

Big up MV!

I'm assuming you know Geo and Freedom and them. my email is redrum@u.washington.edu. When in Feb?

If you have time I would like to invite you to our class. I created a class at UW using Hip hop to discuss concepts of White Supremacy, Patriarchy, Capitalism, Colonialism, etc. I'm using the elements of hip hop to scaffold these concepts. Our class also focus on local artists and hip hop movement in Seattle (pre sir mix a lot days). Pioneers from this side of town come to class and present. From emcees, to djs, to bboys, to graff artists, to spoken word artists.

I can also share with you our study we conducted. WA state Commission on APIA affairs is using them.

The whole nation was caught off guard when we beat the Saints. Who dat?!? and sports center was hatin'! haha

MV said...

As KRS-One/the teacher would say:
"Hip is to know, it's a form of intelligence. To be hip is to be updated and relevant.

Hop is a form a movement. you can't just observe a hop, you gotta hop up and do it."

And as Zoro from Wild Style said to answer his cynical brother who says there's nothing for him in the Bronx projex: "Yeah there is. There's this", as he points to the colorful graffiti art in his room.
--
Who da who da who? I like the Saints, but I love even more a good underdog story. Seahawks were my middle school mascot, so i have a special place for em. I'm lightweight on Pete Carrol (USC, ugh), but for a first year coach, what an amazing miracle story.

elizp said...

I’m late to this discussion, but since it isn’t likely that much has improved, better late than never. I’m riffing off the NaFFAA report since, as a sociologist’s spouse, I have a window on the academic disciplines that design, collect, and evaluate SES data. Several anecdotes come to mind:

1) Last year, Indiana University hosted migration & urban sociologist Alejandro Portes, who presented continuing work on U.S. immigration and the structural features of the second-generation: http://themester.indiana.edu/themester2010/events/portes.shtml. Among his findings was that Filipino Americans (unlike most children of immigrants) are downwardly mobile. Why? Portes could only speculate on explanations due to the thin social science literature on FilAms.

2) Whenever social scientists ask about my Humanities work on FilAm culture, it never fails that the interest of the demographers gets piqued, and they want to talk about what they’ve seen about FilAms -- particularly, that FilAms behave differently from Asian Americans. In fact, the Asian-American category is incoherent until FilAms are removed. When I ask if their findings are worth publication, they reply that they are noteworthy but so contrary to what is believed about Asian Americans that it would be difficult to get such work through the review process. Their wariness is not misplaced. One demographer who specializes in race/ethnicity did submit a FilAm paper; the reviewers told him that while his data & methods were good, they simply did not believe the results.

3) As a faculty spouse, I’ve met about a dozen FilAm graduate students and professors. All are good sociologists, and just a couple study FilAms. One graduate student, after learning of my own writing, admitted that while an interest in Filipino American studies had motivated him to go into academia, he chose not to pursue them because such projects would have to be vetted by Asian Americanists, many of whom are invested in panethnicity. In his opinion, doing so would be politically treacherous, not worth the compromises, and generally a bad career move.

Together, these anecdotes describe the state of social science research on Filipino Americans as non-existent. Everyone agrees that the data on FilAms is insufficient, but graduate students are not touching it, and experts are not letting it through the publication pipeline.

What is to be done? One obvious solution would be to get editors at the journals that are obvious candidates for FAS to make soliciting and developing such papers a priority. But before a journal issues a call for FAS papers, you need a cohort of scholars who are willing to take up the topic. And FilAms in the social sciences need to believe that the routes to getting FAS accepted are not as hierarchical, narrow, or, frankly, dependent on Asian Americanists as they perceive. There are “normal,” real-science social scientists who can mentor grad students interested in FAS; and since FAS has inherent overlap with all kinds of fields & topics -- education, work & occupations, gender, organizations, etc., -- it is very possible to reframe FAS for a broader and receptive social science audience.

The NaFFAA report, in using publicly available data, conducting surveys, and admitting to its limited funding, design, and scale, gets points for ambition. (The real b.s. is the Asian Journal article, which draws conclusions that the report does not support.) But NaFFAA is not an academic institution or think tank and does not have the resources to explore the observations of other social scientists (like Portes above). As commendable as NaFFAA’s research efforts are, it cannot initiate such projects alone.

third said...

you're right, NaFFAA is not an academic institution, but the folks that did the study are in academia. it still should be somewhat rigorous.

mv said...

hi Elizp,

Thank you for your thorough comment. I agree. I'm not sure with the fil am grad students you are interacting with, but i know there is a cohort of emerging Fil am social scientists, educators, and humanities folks who are invested in critiquing Asian American panethnicity and don't seem constrained by an Asian American academic careerist hegemony. I feel sorry for the student you mention who felt compelled to stay within those discursive domains. Soon enough, we will be reading more books by some young Fil Am writers who will challenge assumed frameworks of race, nationhood, belonging, etc. I'm very excited and proud of these folks.

As for NaFFAA, one young scholar who is involved with social work and non-profit work mentioned that we must keep in mind NaFFAA, like so many other ethnic-based "advocacy" groups must use "data" to demonstrate their representative groups' need for social services.

Anonymous said...

Excuse me, MV. I would like to use your blog post in my high school research. So, may I please reference this post in my research and may I have your name so that I can credit you properly? Thanks.

Anonymous said...

these students and their parents should understand that they are studying in the U.S not in the Philippines. In the Philippines, students pass their academic subjects easily without efforts..how? by being a teacher pet ..

Anonymous said...

In our school district and neighboring school districts, the students that have historically excelled in Math, Science, and English (English Language Arts) are students classified as "Filipino". Despite a heavy Latino population, GATE (Gifted and Talented Education)/Accelerated classes consist of mostly Filipino-American students, most if not all do well very academically and are college-bound. So, are these high-achieving students in the minority? Although statistically at the university level, Filipino-Americans may not excel as high as other "Asians", overall they are "above average" students. So, it is shocking to hear that many Filipino-American students are not meeting academic standards, despite socio-economic status.