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Chinese Americans fear racial preferences today

I received two mass emails in the past month urging me to petition against Senate Constitutional Amendment 5 (SCA-5). And they obviously worked because the bill died in the womb. Here's how one email started out:

Hope you have all heard about SCA-5, which if passed, will reduce the ASIAN students enrollment at [University of California schools] by 60% from its current 38% to around 16%, purely because of being Asians.

The passage of SCA-5 as a state proposition would repeal the prohibition on consideration of race or gender in public education programs. This type of consideration is called affirmative action and was repealed in 1996 under Proposition 209.

Now imagine being a Chinese parent in Cupertino, Fremont, Palo Alto and other affluent bay area ethnic enclaves. Your kids live in a pressure cooker of AP classes, language immersion, sports, music, and legions of paid tutors and advisers. You hear stories about kids getting into elite schools because they started a company, wrote a book, have a patent, or performed groundbreaking cancer research. All your Chinese peers are no longer content with their sons and daughters being 1-2 years ahead in math or science so they sign them up for junior college courses before they can drive. And with each passing year, you read how the UC admissions rate keeps dropping as applications increase. 

An aspiring tiger mama reads an email like this and would seriously freak out. You mean you're going it make it EVEN HARDER for my precious not-so-genius tiger cub to get into UC Irvine just because he's CHINESE?

Putting aside the misinformation in the email (before prop. 209, the Asian population at UC flagship Berkeley campus was 37% and now runs around 44%), I can understand why Chinese American parents are upset about what is going on.  

I'm unsure where I stand on using race and a gender as a factor in university admissions. It's a complicated issue. But it doesn't feel like fear should be one's main motivation for opposing racial preferences. And I can't help wondering how many of these parents, if transported back 20 years, would protest against affirmative action when it would have benefited their children. 

We want it both ways


  1. Pretty sure that twenty years ago the UC system had quotas limiting the asian population, since that's what prop 209, passed in 1996, prevented. Do you mean 40 years ago? Did affirmative action EVER benefit asians?

    1. No they didn't Fred, I'm pretty sure I got into Berkeley on test scores alone and I specifically remember there weren't quotas. The percent Asian population in the UC system grew more in the ten years before Prop. 209 than afterwards. I can't find the source but I will.


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