Ethnic identification and social interaction: A study of Asian-American students at a Philadelphia high school

Stacey Jeanne Lee, University of Pennsylvania

Abstract

The purpose of this study was to understand the formation of ethnic identification among Asian American students at Central High School. The original assumption was that inter-racial relationships influenced ethnic identification among Asian American students. While the data supported this initial assumption, it also suggested that intra-Asian relationships, gender and class influenced ethnic identification.^ The researcher conducted an ethnographic study at Central High School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Central is an elite academic public high school with competitive entrance requirements. The primary means of data collection were interviews and participant observation.^ The study included a discussion of the inter-racial relationships at Central, and an analysis of the ways in which Central mediated these relationships. The data suggested that although Central is desegregated, it is socially factionalized. Additionally, the data suggested that although Central claimed to be committed to equality, its system of meritocracy perpetuated inequality. At Central, White students were the insiders. Their insider status was maintained through the institution of meritocracy and by social values based on White middle class standards. Within such a system, Asians and Blacks are outsiders who must compete to gain entrance into the insider group.^ This social situation influenced the development of ethnic identification among Asian students. Asian ethnic identification fell into three primary categories: Korean, Asian and Asian American. Korean students chose to identify solely as Korean and not as Asian or Asian American. They used their higher social class to separate themselves from other Asians. They tried to maintain Korean identity while accommodating Whites. Other Asians (e.g. Cambodian, Chinese, Vietnamese) had some level of panethnicity. They referred to themselves and other Asians as Asian. Their panethnicity was based on the belief that at Central and in the U.S. in general Asians share experiences of racism. Despite this belief, they did not directly confront racism. Like those who identified as Asian, the students who called themselves Asian Americans believed that all Asians share commonalities. Unlike those who identified as Asian, the Asian Americans believed that racism should be confronted. These students saw the model minority stereotype as being central to racism. ^

Subject Area

Education, Sociology of|Sociology, Ethnic and Racial Studies

Recommended Citation

Stacey Jeanne Lee, "Ethnic identification and social interaction: A study of Asian-American students at a Philadelphia high school" (January 1, 1991). Dissertations available from ProQuest. Paper AAI9125704.
http://repository.upenn.edu/dissertations/AAI9125704

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