With the fall semester under way, parents, students and administrators
remain in limbo on many fronts, distracted from the larger goal of a
good education. Proposition 227, for instance, continues to be
implemented, sort of implemented and not implemented — even though 61
percent of California voters (including a slim majority of Asian
Americans) made it law this June and courts backed their decision. Some
districts, including Los Angeles, have restructured their language
programs to meet the mandate’s requirements. San Francisco is continuing
its bilingual programs unchanged, saying that a federal settlement
forces it to do so. And many Bay Area districts are hoping that the
state will grant their requests for waivers.
If that happens, the fight and wait might be worth it. But we hope the
schools bucking Prop. 227 have a Plan B in place now to address the
needs of the state’s 1.4 million limited-English speakers if those
educators are unequivocally ordered to abide by the law.
The aura of uncertainty extends beyond bilingual education, of course.
Another debate that’s just been put off some more is the 4-year-old suit
against racial caps at Lowell High and other San Francisco schools. It’s
true that since the suit was filed, measures have been put into place
that have ameliorated some of the tension that led to it. For example,
Lowell no longer has admissions cutoffs that required Chinese Americans
to achieve a higher GPA and test scores than those of other races;
instead, it permits factors like family circumstances to be considered.
As a result, Lowell maintains an uneasy 43.3 percent proportion of
Chinese Americans — putting it in technical violation of the race caps
the litigation is attacking. That fact and the unresolved lawsuit itself
have continued to be a source of anxiety for many parents hoping to send
their children to San Francisco’s best public school. It’s time for
Of course, Lowell isn’t the only institution grappling with the
question of whether to potentially exclude some applicants to free up
space for those from more underrepresented groups. At the University of
California at Berkeley, now in its second year of an affirmative action
ban, 40 percent of the incoming freshmen are of Asian descent.
Disconcertingly, Asian Americans were the only group to be
over-represented on campus in the wake of Proposition 209, which forbade
such public programs. That fact, of course, raises the specter of
anti-Asian sentiment and the need to address it with power proportional
to our numbers. Though more Asian Americans are heeding the call to
political activism, their potential clout as a pan-ethnic force hasn’t
coalesced. Instead, Asian American activism is dispersed over a huge
range of agendas, some focused on specific ethnic identities and others
not focused on race at all. And even within those groups with a common
purpose, power struggles are causing more factionalization.
We realize that Asian Americans, like everyone else, are going to
differ on a lot of things. Still, we bet most would agree that there
continue to be issues that unite us — the need to puncture glass
ceilings, the need to be heard in Washington, the need to make sure that
children aren’t tormented with jeers of “chink-ee” or “dirty Jap.” No.
one has to set aside specific ethnic heritage to work toward such goals.
In bringing together our sometimes disparate voices, activists should
remember to focus not on discord, but on consensus.