Editorial: America’s Dream Team missing key players

Intel winners, from left: Akhil Mathew (third place), Erika DeBenedictis (first), and David Liu (second)

Last Saturday, Pulitzer-winning New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman wrote a commentary that we got excited about. It was titled, “America’s Real Dream Team,” and it detailed a swanky, black-tie event that Friedman attended in Washington, D.C.  The event was the 2010 Intel Science Talent Search, which honors the top math and science high school students in America.

Now, these kids have the kind of smarts that make adults feel pretty inadequate. Friedman cited an example where, before dinner, he stood by a story board and asked a 17-year-old about the project that made her an Intel Science Talent Search finalist. The student explained that her research involved using “spectral analysis and other data to expose information about the chemical enrichment history of the Andromeda Galaxy.”

The student was Namrata Anand. Taking first place was Erika DeBenedictis who won $100,000 from the Intel Foundation. Second place, with a prize of $75,000, went to David Liu. Third place, with a prize of $50,000, went to Akhil Mathew.

Yes, most of the 40 brightest scientific minds in America are from immigrant families from Asia.

Asians and Asian Americans are definitely not strangers to hard work and they value education immensely — so much so that the nerdy overachiever has become a stereotype for Asian Americans.

But note that most finalists had Chinese and Indian surnames. Where were the Filipinos, Vietnamese, and Cambodians? Do they not work hard and value education, too?

Southeast Asians and Pacific Islanders are younger immigrant groups and, compared to immigrants from East Asia, a greater number of them come to the United States due to political unrest and war in their home countries. They also come from developing countries that are less economically advanced than China, India, Japan, or South Korea.

Many Southeast Asians and Pacific Islanders are struggling in school. Since people have a tendency to think that all Asians succeed academically, the kids that struggle are unseen.

This is why it’s immensely important to develop support systems for these kids, systems that include peer counseling and tutoring because our young people should take responsibility for this. Community leaders don’t necessary know what is going on in our schools, but students do. We need young leaders to take the initiative. Overachieving students shouldn’t just think of themselves when they are climbing to the top. They need to help support the rest of their community.

We need more collaboration within the Asian Pacific American community. Though Seattle boasts a multi-ethnic Asian community unlike any other in the country, the truth is that we don’t integrate enough. There needs to be more communication and organization between groups so we don’t make the same mistakes other groups have made.  ♦

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