Asians Face Barriers


Never before have I felt compelled to write to a newspaper in reaction to an article published therein. But after reading Dante Ramos's "Confessions of an Affirmative Action Maybe" (January 25) I felt that I had to respond. I, too, am Asian-American--Chinese-American to be exact--and I, too, come from a comfortable upper-middle-class background. I, too, agree with affirmative action in principle. And I, too, worry at times about its application. But this letter has little to do with affirmative action itself. It has to do with Ramos's tacit assertion that Asian-Americans do not deserve to benefit from affirmative action.

Ramos writes that, "Stanford, to its credit, at least restricts its [affirmative action] program to Blacks, native Americans, Mexican-Americans and Puerto Ricans." To its credit? I fear that Ramos has resided a bit too long inside Harvard's ivory tower, and that he has forgotten--if he ever understood--what life is like outside. Not all Asian-Anericans have the benefit of sharing Ramos's comfortable middle-class background and the advantages it has brought him. What of the children of Asians who have never had the good fortune to attend college and can barely make ends meet? What of the American-born children of recent immigrants, who have struggled all their lives because English is not their first language?

I know people who would never have considered higher education if it hadn't been for affirmative action; they saw it as something which lay beyond their reach., I have tutored eighth graders who can barely read at a third-grade level because the Asian languages which are their mother tongues are so different from English. Don't you dare tell me that their ethnicity has not left them at a disadvantage. And if they every apply to law school, Mr. Ramos, I hope to God that they get the benefit of affirmative action.

I admit to knowing little about specific law school admission criteria, but I can say with reasonable confidence that there is not a preponderance of Asians in the field. I am pre-law, and I cannot count the number of times people have tried to dissuade me from attempting to become a lawyer. Do you, they asked, really want to spend the rest of your life fighting stereotypes about passive Asians to get your cases? Do you really want to be some law firm's token Asian? I have friends who were pre-law, but who shied away from a profession where the quiet Asian "model minority" stereotype is a decided disadvantage. I have others who simply think it is out of their reach. These are the people who benefit from affirmative action mailings.

What I sense from Ramos's article is an undertone of guilt. He doesn't want his admission to law school to be "tainted" by affirmative action. He doesn't need or want its help. Fine. But I suggest that he find other ways to assuage his conscience than by declaring that Asians should not qualify for affirmative action. Socioeconomic barriers are not the only barriers. And there are Asians for whom those socioeconomic barriers are as strong as they are for any Black or Latino. Believe it or not, there are Asians out there who need affirmative action, Mr. Ramos. You and I and those that share our advantages are the lucky ones.