Stanford University panel examines what it means to be Asian in America | May 19, 2023 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - May 19, 2023

Stanford University panel examines what it means to be Asian in America

Perceptions of identity, disparities and the consequences of erasure still haunt Asian Americans

by Sue Dremann

Early in KPIX CBS news anchor Ryan Yamamoto's career, an assignment manager told him he would have a great career in broadcast journalism but that he needed to work on his "accent."

"I was thoroughly confused," Yamamoto said. "Maybe I need to enunciate more or maybe I was speaking with some kind of California 'Hey, dude' accent that I needed to drop. So I asked him, 'What do you mean, my accent?' He says, 'Well, you know — your accent. Your accent.'"

Yamamoto didn't have an accent. He and his parents don't speak Japanese. He never learned the language, yet, the implicit racial bias in his colleague's perception was revealing.

"Finally, you know, I just yelled at him and I stormed off," he said during a virtual panel discussion on May 16, titled, "What does it mean to be Asian in America?"

Convened by the Stanford Center for Asian Health Research and Education (CARE) and moderated by Yamamoto, the panel examined the challenges facing Asian Americans, gaps in medical research, the disparities that have worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic, and what can be done to remedy the problems.

The panelists included Dr. Malathi Srinivasan, associate director at Stanford Center for Asian Health Research and Education; Dr. Richard Pan, a pediatrician and former California State Senator and chair of the California Asian American and Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus; Neil Ruiz, associate director of race and ethnic research with the Pew Research Center; Russell Jeung, professor of Asian American Studies at San Francisco State University and co-founder of Stop AAPI Hate.

In health and health care, underrepresentation has negatively affected Asian communities, Dr. Srinivasan said. Problems that Asians are facing with diabetes and heart disease, for example, are not recognized because of how data is aggregated and extrapolated.

Looking at individual ethnic groups within the "Asian" category, however, reveals stark and important differences. If one looks at all Asians and coronary artery disease, Asian men have about the same incidence of heart disease as non-Hispanic whites, and women have slightly less. Separating out people who are South Asian, Asian Indian, however, the risk of coronary artery disease is almost twice the risk compared to Filipinos and Vietnamese. People who are of Korean or Japanese ancestry have slightly lower risk. Korean women have very low rates of heart disease overall. The same types of things are true for diabetes.

Genetic factors, such as differences in metabolism between ethnic groups, also affects the dosage of medication for things such as cholesterol to bring down cardiovascular risk.

"If you are Chinese, Japanese or Korean, you need less of the dose to have the same effect, whereas you might need a higher dose for Asian Indians. And when people were giving a medication called Plavix, we were seeing excess bleeding with people for South Asian and more strokes and cardiovascular events like thrombosis with people who were Korean," she said.

However, she noted: "Only about 7% of National Institutes of Health funding goes toward Asian research. And that's partly because the people who make the funding decisions didn't have Asians at the table. And this is happening because of implicit bias. Who's in the room really makes a difference on what gets done," she said.

Dr. Richard Pan, a former lawmaker, and practicing pediatrician, said that having data is important for lawmakers who need to show that a problem exists. But oftentimes, there is no data on Asian Americans.

A study of more than 1,000 scientific articles about health found that less than a quarter even identified Asians as a distinct race ethnicity. Of those papers that did, only about 10% reported any outcomes for Asian Americans, he said.

"So now we're talking about 2.5% of all the papers that even have any outcomes for Asian Americans and even a smaller percentage, of course, breakout subgroups (of Asians)," he said. "This is the researchers themselves not collecting the data and not reporting it. ... I don't know how many conferences I have gone to and I have paper after paper, abstract after abstract presented and like, where are the Asian Americans? There's no results."

Pan has challenged the presenters who claim the numbers of Asian participants are too small.

"You know, we're actually the third largest racial ethnic group in California, so there's no excuse for anyone who's conducting research in California to not report results for Asian Americans," he said.

Pan said one problem is the underrepresentation of Asians among department chairs, deans and vice deans in academia. People in senior leadership positions often direct research and oversee institutions, he said.

Pan asserted that research that doesn't include data on Asian subjects should be rejected.

"That needs to be the new standard for reporting. Because the problem is that if we're not mentioned, if we have no results, then we cannot make change. We cannot make policy. We do not get our issues addressed. We are erased. And that is a fundamental problem."

Not a monolith

The diversity among Asian Americans was highlighted in a new study by the Pew Research Center, the largest study of Asian Americans' lived experiences that the center has done to date. It involved 264 participants in 66 focus groups, said Ruiz, who was one of the co-researchers.

While pan-ethnic labels such as "Asian" and "Asian American" are commonly used throughout the country, the survey shows that when describing themselves, just 28% use the label "Asian": 12% using it on its own and 16% using the label "Asian American."

More than half of participants — 52% — said they most often use ethnic labels that reflect their heritage, either alone or together with "American," to describe themselves, such as "Chinese" or "Chinese American," "Filipino" or "Filipino American."

About 10% of Asian adults said they use "American" on its own.

Asian adults also see more cultural differences across their group. When asked to choose between two statements — that "Asians in the U.S. share a common culture," or that "Asians in the U.S. have many different cultures" — nearly 90% said U.S. Asians have many different cultures. Just 9% said Asians living in the U.S. share a common culture.

But Asian adults also reported shared experiences. One in five said they have hidden a part of their heritage — ethnic food, cultural practices, ethnic clothing or religious practices — from others who are not Asian out of fear of embarrassment or discrimination.

The survey also showed that Asian Americans have identical shared American values as with non-Asian Americans

"We know there's a myth. There's a myth out there that we're forever foreigners. Well, we have the data to show that we're no different on (shared American) values," Ruiz said.

Russell Jeung said that Asians are a racial group that feels the least sense of belonging in the U.S., even though they are just like other Americans in their beliefs and wanting to belong in America.

"Historically, we have been shaped by this stereotype that Asians are the 'yellow peril.' We're the 'dusky peril' to be avoided. This stereotype is the idea that Asians will come from the East and invade the West, and we threaten the very existence of the West," he said.

The stereotype has continued to this day with hatred and backlashes against South Asians during the war on terrorism, Islamophobia, Muslim bans and mass deportations of South Asians, Arabs and Muslims.

The pandemic only stoked that animosity, he said.

"We knew when COVID-19 was coming that Asians would get blamed for the disease. We get scapegoated and face racism, both interpersonally and in terms of policy, and that's why we created Stop AAPI Hate," he said, referring to the coalition that tracks and responds to incidents of hate, violence, harassment, discrimination, shunning and child bullying against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States.

"Even though we're such a diverse community, we're facing similar treatment and we're facing similar discrimination," he said.

Heightened disharmony with China also has him concerned that there will be heightened racial profiling.

"If there's any conflict with China, the backlash against Chinese and those who look Chinese will be severe," he said.

Half of Asians in America feel unsafe today because of their race, Jeung said, citing a study commissioned earlier this year by The Asian American Foundation.

"That's sort of the norm; that we have a sense of fear that's shaping where we go, where we want to live, who we hang out with. And so I think racism is a pretty significant stressor on our communities," he said.

To read the Pew study, visit


Posted by Ugh
a resident of Midtown
on May 19, 2023 at 7:53 am

Ugh is a registered user.

What a great article. Yes, Asian discrimination still exists, especially in the school system where Asians are still perceived as the yellow peril. Just look at all the “math wars”.

Posted by Wei Zhao
a resident of Mountain View
on May 19, 2023 at 9:10 am

Wei Zhao is a registered user.

Asians are often viewed as passive and non-confrontational which might explain why their specific health issues are overlooked.

The traditional Asian diet of vegetables and minimal meat reduces many of the cardiovascular ailments that countless white and black Americans suffer from.

High blood pressure is common among Asians because they use too much soy sauce which is high in sodium.

Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 19, 2023 at 9:38 am

Bystander is a registered user.

I think we have got to the stage where tribalism is getting out of hand.

It doesn't matter where immigrants come from, they all bring a little of their own culture with them and then pass that down to their children. People who are raised in a different culture from their parents, will be different from those who are raised by American born parents or parents raised in a different foreign country and immigrated here.

MLK's words about raising children who are judged by the content of their character rather than any type of skin color or in this case ethnicity, should be remembered. Sadly, his words are forgotten it seems and tribalism and articles like this prove it.

America has always been a melting pot since the first settlers came here. Some came for religious reasons, others came for a better life, while others came against their will. The fact that America was a penal colony and thousands came here for punishment of petty crime is another forgotten truth.

Can we stop with putting people into boxes? We all have characteristics from those who raised us. We don't need any more division and blame. We are all different and that should make America stronger as a nation, not reason to divide us into different tribes.

Posted by Consider Your Options.
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 19, 2023 at 1:11 pm

Consider Your Options. is a registered user.

My husband and I are both "Caucasian," a descriptor that also covers people from a lot of places. His Jewish family, illiterate peasant farmers, came here with nothing, fleeing Russian persecution. Their sons were about to be forced to the front line of a Russian war to be used as cannon fodder because they were Jews. On arrival here, they faced religious discrimination and worked for many years plucking chickens in a poultry processing plant. They struggled to save money living a very impoverished existence--though much better than what they'd had in Russia. One of the sons, my husband's grandfather, excelled in public school when he wasn't working. Though he couldn't afford college, he saved money he earned in that processing plant and opened a very small toy store, a family business that enabled one of his two children, his daughter, my husband's mother, to graduate from college. She married a college professor (who also was a third gen immigrant and the only child to get advanced education in his nuclear family). In the fourth generation, all three of her children graduated from college. Immigrants struggle--sometimes for generations--to make their way.

Racism/tribalism can manifest many ways, including religious persecution. Tribalistic prejudice is a ubiquitous, perennial human problem in every society around the globe. It rears its ugly head more in less homogeneous populations, like the U.S. Thankfully, here, freedom of speech enables us to discuss it openly and seek solutions. This is not so in many other places.

We can learn to appreciate each other as individuals to defeat Tribalism, an insidious societal disease. Without the struggles of my family's immigrant ancestors, we would not have been able to create a happy and safe home for our Jewish family. Let's focus on celebrating the richness diversity lends to our society. We all benefit when everyone has the opportunity to be a joyful, welcomed and productive contributor to our society.

Posted by Joshua
a resident of Nixon School
on May 21, 2023 at 12:47 am

Joshua is a registered user.

@consider your options

Not sure what you being Jewish has anything to do with this article? Yes, stop categorizing people by their race, religion etc… we are all humans.

However I do think that one of the blatant discriminatory policies towards Asians is colleges limiting Asian applicants to a certain percentage and they need higher scores to get in. I don’t think I need to go into detail, you’re probably aware of reverse discrimination.

Posted by Cale Winslow
a resident of Woodside
on May 21, 2023 at 1:08 pm

Cale Winslow is a registered user.

The most academically qualified students should always receive priority when it comes to college admissions, especially at the most desirable colleges and universities.

Affirmative Action and mandated ethnic quotas serve no purpose and are social entitlements.

Admissions of scholastic Asian American students with outstanding ACT/SAT scores and exemplary GPAs should not be restricted just to ensure that a student with lesser qualifications can be admitted just because of their ethnicity or socio-economic background.

For the less academically qualified, there is always junior college and a two-year transfer program or athletic scholarships (if applicable).

Why should a gifted Asian student be deprived of attending UC Berkeley or an Ivy League school just to accommodate another student who shouldn't be there in the first place?

Posted by Jennifer
a resident of another community
on May 21, 2023 at 5:58 pm

Jennifer is a registered user.

"There is evidence that Asian students with high grades or test scores often get rejected, but this is due to colleges wanting more than grades alone. High grades are the baseline, and thousands of students with perfect grades are rejected each year in favor of students that schools deem more interesting."

Asians also apply to schools that are harder to get into which increases the rejection rate. I don't believe any college admits someone because of their ethnicity or socio-economic backround alone. That doesn't make any sense.

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