Op-Ed: I’m an Asian American Harvard grad. Affirmative action helped me land a great job—but its benefits can make Asian communities more polarized
Jenny Chen, co-editor of Voices of the Oppressed: The Voices of Asian and Asian American Women, was just accepted into the Harvard Law School program on Immigrant Rights and National Interests, where she hopes to pursue her law career.
She’s not one to celebrate. Though she has a law degree, Chen, 32, was an Asian American woman raised in a diverse family—and an immigrant to the United States.
“Many Asians feel we’re a little different and we’re not represented at the level we should be,” she says. “Affirmative action helps to change that.”
Chen, who grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, is the daughter of Taiwanese immigrants who were college students in the 1970s and 1980s. Her parents had never heard of affirmative action—and neither had she. But they did know the importance of education, a belief she’s kept since she went to school in the late 1990s.
In that time, she says, Asians have been taught from their parents’ generation to be self-sacrificing, but also to be responsible for others. They were told that Asians were the most likely group of immigrants to stay here and become citizens. “I always felt that Asian Americans are the most self-sacrificing group because we’re so afraid of failure,” she says. “But as [President] Barack Obama said at the 2008 Democratic National Convention, we’re willing to risk failure for a better life.”
Chen wanted as much control over her own economic success as she could. She wanted the same options that she could afford as a white college student—but she didn’t believe she could have them, since affirmative action was still so new. Plus, she says, “I was too shy to apply to an all-white