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What Asian American Parents Should Teach Their Kids


Purdue Asian American AssociationI recently read a blog post from an educator who expressed disappointment that so many Asian American students go to college without any sort of Asian American identity.

Vijay Pendakur is the Director for the Office of Multicultural Student Success at DePaul University. He writes:

Lovely parentals, I’m just going to come out and say it…why aren’t you teaching your children to identify as Asian American?  Why aren’t you packing the bambinos off to college with a racial identity toolkit to accompany that new winter coat?  Oh, is it because you yourselves don’t identify as Asian American?  Perhaps you’ve misplaced your racial identity toolkit along with last year’s Halloween decorations?  

I won’t repeat Pendakur’s suggestion for parents. Nor well I even attempt to tell parents how to raise their own kids. But I will tell you about my own experience with my kids and their identity.

I have two currently attending college. I’ve done a terrible job passing on our Chinese heritage to them, and like their father, neither of them knows how to speak Chinese.

Both spent their early years, my son until seventh grade and my daughter until 2nd grade, growing up in a predominantly white city hundreds of miles away from their grandparents. In fact you could count the number of Asian Americans in their grammar school on one hand. The year we moved closer to grandparents was a difficult transition for the both of them. Both went kicking and screaming, upset that I was uprooting them from their friends.

We moved to a city with a large Asian American population. Both sets of grandparents exposed them to all that Chinese culture has to offer. However, like the kids Pendakur writes about, my kids had no sense of being Chinese American or being Asian American. They both made comments to me during their high school years questioning why I involved myself in Asian American organizations. They asked why I was separating myself. I explained to them I wasn’t separating myself, but just advocating for those who’ve been denied opportunities because of their race or ethnicity. It was something both had trouble seeing at the time.

I’m glad my children brought these issues up with me. It was an educational opportunity and it provided something to discuss at the dinner table besides the typical what did you do at school today and the typical response, “nothing.” I don’t know if I did anything to encourage those sorts of conversations other than live my life the way I wanted to live it.

My youngest one commented to her mother just this week how impressed she was at the diversity of the student leadership on her college campus. That excited her because she now knows that she too can assume a role of leadership. There’s nothing holding her back.

My son developed his identity working in the office of multicultural student affairs at his college campus and mentoring freshman. It was the job he was assigned under the campus work study program. He’s spent countless hours mentoring children from low income neighborhoods in the hopes that they’ll someday have the opportunities he’s had to succeed.

The moral of the story is my kids have and are still developing their Asian American identity. It’s nothing I really said to them. I think it has more to do with the opportunities I provided them and the exposure I gave them to life’s ups and downs.

If you’d like your children to develop a strong Asian American identity, nothing you say to them will likely convince them. The best way to open their eyes is to let them experience it for themselves.  Open up their world. If they haven’t been exposed to the Asian American experience, chances are they will find it difficult to identify with it.

Read Vijay Pendakur‘s blog and share your thoughts on this subject.  If you have kids, how old are they, where are they with their Asian American identity and what if anything did you do to encourage it? What about your own personal experience? How did you develop your identity and what role did your parents play?








  1. Re: What Asian American parents are forgetting to teach their kids before they head to college: I take my kids to the Midwestern Chinese Family Camp every year, since we like in an extremely undiverse area. This may have helped them. They made me promise to take them every year forever, so I know that they like it.

  2. Re: What Asian American parents should teach their kids: I found this because I follow AsAmNews via Twitter. Thanks for linking to Vijay’s article. I had to respond w/ my own personal experience: http://wp.me/p3EQKe-15M and thank you for sharing yours. And it’s not too late to talk about being Chinese, what that means to your two kids!

  3. I read this article. I hear ,do we have identity crisis? Who is Americans ?like president Obama said there is no Chinese American Japanese American African Americans we are Americans . I have renounced my citizenship became a American.we must teach our children where we came, our culture etc, adopted to many American culture, thanks giving is one .

    I strongly say I migrated etc I am an American.

    Please please inform me who is American.

    Thank you for reading my mail. Happy thanks giving

    BV Amrutha


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