Asian Identity

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Stuyvesant is famous for its unique set of racial demographics. The statistics are well-known; over 70 percent of Stuyvesant students are Asian (in sharp contrast to the racial composition of New York City, where Asians account for only 11 percent of residents).

Stuyvesant’s racial make-up stems from the sudden surge of Asian immigration to America following the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965, which removed the quota system in place since the 1920s. Soon after, Asian immigration to the U.S. increased drastically as many left war-torn countries such as Korea, Vietnam, and Cambodia. The loosening of Chinese immigration restrictions in 1977 led to waves of Chinese immigration to America. New York, declared a sanctuary city by former mayor Edward Koch in 1989 and teeming with job opportunities, was a popular destination for immigrants.

Stuyvesant has served as a home for talented, low-income students since the introduction of a competitive entrance exam in 1929. Until the 1970s, this meant primarily Jewish students. According to “The Plot Against Merit,” by Dennis Saffran, white enrollment at Stuyvesant dropped from 79 percent in 1971 to 22 percent today. The percentage of Asian students, in contrast, has steadily increased from six percent at Stuyvesant in 1970 to 50 percent in 1994 and is now close to 73 percent of the student body.

The Asian majority at Stuyvesant fosters a sense of connection between Asian students. “I consider myself more comfortable speaking with students of the same ethnicity since the morals and values that we’ve grown up with will most likely be similar,” Korean-American junior Edward Lim said.

Freshman Sammi Yang agrees, finding common ground with fellow Chinese-Americans in the expectations their parents have for them. “I can relate to them more because our parents grew up with the same values, so the pressure we have on us might be the same,” Yang said.

Junior Jennifer Lee echoes this statement: “The majority of Chinese parents are very strict,” she said. “So sleepovers and staying out late [are] unheard of, and so it’s easy to make connections when you’re under similar circumstances.”

The bond formed between Asian students is intensified by how students’ perceptions of themselves change in and out of school. Senior Brian Leung, a Chinese-American, said, “I feel [I am] a part of the majority at Stuy, because I am and identify as Asian. Outside of Stuy, I feel [I am] part of the minority.”

Others feel as if they are part of the majority even outside of Stuyvesant. “I’m part of the majority inside and outside of Stuy because Asians are prevalent everywhere,” Korean-American freshman Jessica Kim said. This is also largely based on the demographic in students’ residential neighborhoods.

Claire Shin, a Korean-American freshman, said, “Outside of Stuy, [I am a] minority because I live in a mostly Indian neighborhood.”

In contrast, South Asian students predominantly consider themselves a minority at Stuy. “I consider myself part of the minority at Stuy because while I may technically be South Asian, I am not Korean, Japanese, or Chinese,” freshman Palak Srivastava, an Indian-American, said. “Outside of Stuy, I consider myself part of the majority because outside of Stuy, people are more diverse, and the majority is made up of diverse ethnicities.”

Bengali-American freshman Fariha Mabud said she considers herself to be part of “a bigger minority” both in and out of school. “I'm kind of surprised at how many ‘foreign’ people's conversations I can understand in NYC because they're speaking in Bengali,” she said.

There is also tension in how Asians are perceived in America and how Americans are viewed by the rest of the world. Mabud frequently deals with negative stereotypes of Americans when visiting Bangladesh. “My family in Bangladesh tends to assume I'm supposed to be loud and rowdy. But if you’re a brown person in America, you're considered a terrorist,” she said.

In identifying as American, most students maintain strong connections to their culture. For Lee, who is Chinese-American, culture is something that can be molded to form one’s own sense of identity. “With every culture, your perceptions on life—daily life, political views, things like shoes in the house—[are] impacted by your ethnic culture. Having traditionally Chinese immigrant parents, I don’t have baseball and SuperBowl Sundays, and in that way, being American and being Asian [have] clashed a lot. But I’ve always been very proud to be American I’ve always been very proud to be Chinese, and [I] try to bring them together and take parts that I love and respect from both cultures to form who I am,” she said.

Lim considers himself both American and South Korean, though for him, the two are divided. “The interesting thing is that Korea outlaws a dual citizenship status, so one day I’ll have to officially list myself as American or Korean,” Lim said. “I mean, I'm definitely going to choose to be an American citizen, as it's the only logical thing to do. I don't see a future in Korea, despite it being my homeland, as I barely know the language and have settled myself in America. That being said, I did really want to keep my Korean citizenship [...] I think Stuy really solidified my position, as American citizenship is so important to pursuing an education and a career in America. There are so many opportunities here for jobs and schools, and I want to make as much use of these opportunities as possible.”