- “Am I Really Asian?”Educational Experiences and Panethnic Identification among Second–Generation Filipino Americans
I remember being at an Asian American Student Union meeting where all the leaders of the different student organizations attended a workshop. For one of the activities, we all had to stand in a straight line. Then a facilitator would read statements and people had to either step to the right if they agreed and to the left if you disagreed. One of the statements was, “Filipinos are Asian American.” I stepped to the left. It must have been weird for people to see me do this since I was the president of the Filipino American student organization.—Aaron, twenty–seven, second–generation Filipino, University of California alumnus
Aaron admitted that he thought little about the differences between Filipinos and other Asian Americans before entering the University of California (UC).1 A few months into his freshman year of college, he could no longer ignore them. Although Filipinos are the largest Asian American population in California, they are far outnumbered by East Asians within the larger UC system.2 Besides this gap in representation, Aaron noted that the respective stereotypes he heard about Filipinos and other Asians differed. Asians were stereotyped as studious science majors, while Filipinos were more inclined toward liberal arts fields and were seen as comparably less focused on their academics. As he spent more time in college, Aaron distanced himself from an Asian American identity. Sociological perspectives on identity suggest Aaron’s response to be counterintuitive, given the close (though problematic) association between [End Page 295] Asian American identity and educational achievement.3 Researchers argue that children of immigrants tend to adopt socially advantageous identities—those linked to economic, political, or cultural benefits.4 Aaron’s story suggests the need to examine the educational arena as a “local context of integration” that influences how children of immigrants negotiate their ethnic and racial identities.5
This article examines how second–generation Filipino Americans’ educational experiences and school racial context influence their sense of Asian American identity. Drawing on fifty in–depth interviews, I discuss how many Filipino Americans negotiate their individual and collective experiences in relationship to Asian American panethnicity, a process that shifts between high school and college. Within existing research on children of immigrants, studies focus primarily on mechanisms shaping ethnic or national origin identity, while saying relatively less about the factors affecting orientations toward panethnic categories.6 Interdisciplinary perspectives within ethnic studies and cultural studies have addressed the social construction of Asian American identity more directly. Previous scholars have highlighted Filipino Americans’ cultural and political marginalization since the inception of pan–Asian identity in the 1960s, citing their distinct colonial history and socioeconomic patterns as explanations.7 Others have discussed how this schism opens the possibility for Filipino Americans to panethnically align themselves with groups beyond Asian America, including Pacific Islanders, Latinos, and people of color more broadly.8 Ultimately, this article focuses on the educational arena as a key site of Filipino American racial formation. Specifically, I argue that the micro–level interactions and racial stratification of educational spaces mitigate how second–generation Filipino Americans negotiate their panethnic ties with Asian Americans, as well as other racial groups.
Identity Patterns of the Immigrant Second Generation
Scholars of immigration have long considered identity to be a key measure of immigrant incorporation. Chicago School sociologist Robert Park argued that assimilation was an “inevitable” stage of the race relations cycle, an endpoint at which immigrants and their children would acculturate [End Page 296] seamlessly with native–born whites.9 His contemporaries further asserted that the rate of assimilation depended largely on whether immigrant groups distanced themselves from their ethnic culture.10 While such arguments adequately characterize the experiences of early twentieth–century European–descent immigrants, they cannot necessarily be applied to the identity experiences of contemporary immigrants and their children, who overwhelmingly hail from societies in Latin America and Asia and lack the white racial privilege necessary to identify as “unhyphenated” Americans.
In response, contemporary immigration researchers have posited the segmented assimilation framework, which dispels the notion that ethnic identity hinders one’s incorporation. Rather, they argue that...