California youth from smaller Asian American and Pacific Islander ethnic groups experience high rates of bullying and feelings of cultural invisibility in school, a new report has found.
The report, produced by the nonprofit Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC) and scheduled for release Thursday, is based on a 2016-17 survey of 813 Asian American and Pacific Islander youth and young adults, as well as five focus groups across California.
The survey found that 50 percent of Cambodian, Laotian and Iu Mien (a Southeast Asian ethnic minority) respondents said they have not taken classes about their culture, ethnic history and identity; 85 percent of Samoan respondents said they felt invisible and unrecognized because they haven't seen their cultural identities represented in classes; and 50 percent of youth reported being bullied in school with stereotypes of their racial or ethnic identity.
Gabriel Garcia, a coordinator at SEARAC, said the Asian American and Pacific Islander Coalition Helping Achieve Racial and Gender Equity (AAPI CHARGE) and its partners conducted the survey because, while they anecdotally understood the challenges youth face, they did not have figures to reference.
“These smaller Asian American and Pacific Islander communities just do not have the visibility when it comes to their educational challenges,” Garcia said. “So every step that we can take to bring visibility to these communities to their experiences in school will bring us closer to educational equity that we would be advocating for.”
Two additional issues survey participants reported were a lack of culturally relevant support at school and intergenerational educational challenges, with many reporting that their parents did not complete high school or college.
Lailan Huen, program manager for Asian Pacific Islander Student Achievement at the Oakland Unified School District, said in an email that the findings reflect what's being seen generally in public school districts and that the data is critical for shifting policy and programming to better support targeted groups of students.
"It shines a light on and lifts up voices from communities who are not reflected in the 'Asian' categories on data dashboards, communities who have for too long been largely invisible in the eyes of schools and educators,” she said. “We cannot continue with only universal programs and expect to reach our goals for equity, without giving students who need more access and support those resources to achieve standards and thrive."
Stanley Pun — program manager at Oakland-based nonprofit AYPAL, which helped design the survey — said in an email that the findings are significant because, while the model minority myth may apply to certain groups of Asian Americans who have had generations to adjust to the United States, other communities struggle with trauma from events such as the Vietnam War, the Cambodian genocide and the legacy of colonialism in the Pacific Islands.
The report offered several recommendations to address the findings, including developing ethnic studies curricula that reflect the diversity of Asian American and Pacific Islander communities, requiring faculty and staff to undergo training on diversity and inclusion, and implementing restorative and transformative justice models in schools to address bullying.
“We need these narratives to be uplifted so that policymakers understand that there are Asian communities in need of support in the areas of education, employment, restorative justice, language access, mental health, etc.,” Pun said.