Martinez: Americans we can all admire

July 17, 2012 

If you’re looking for an American who embraces hard work both in the classroom and on the job, believes marriage is the foundation of society and feels a personal obligation to raise productive and respectful children, then look for an Asian.

That’s my personal assessment after reading “The Rise of Asian Americans,” a comprehensive study of the population by the Pew Research Center. I took interest in the study after learning Asians have surpassed Hispanics as the largest immigrant group streaming into the United States. Of the 17 million Asians in the U.S., 60 percent were born overseas.

I have become an admirer of Asian-American success. When visiting family in southern California, I take notice of the plethora of Asian-run small businesses ranging from nail salons to medical practices. When young people ask me to recommend a parenting book, my choice is “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” by Amy Chua, who is a Chinese-American.

Most important, when it comes to educating children, it’s hard to ignore that five of the top 10 most productive education systems in the world (PISA 2009) are in Asia. Thankfully, the Asian high regard for education has immigrated to our shores. Half –49 percent – of all adult Asians in the United States have earned a bachelor’s degree or higher. That’s right, 49 percent. In contrast, only 28 percent of all U.S. adults have a bachelor’s degree or better.

As expected, this devotion to education and the hard work required to obtain it has made Asian-Americans richer, better employed and more optimistic than the rest of American society. But will it last? I think it will, primarily because of the Asian-American emphasis on family.

Pew determined that being a good parent is regarded as one of the most important things in life by two-thirds – 67 percent – of Asian-Americans. That’s 17 points higher than the American population as a whole. Having a successful marriage comes in second with Asians, with 54 percent regarding it as one of the most important things in life. That’s 20 points higher than the general public.

This high regard for marriage and parenting is probably why 80 percent of Asian children, defined as 17 and younger, are living in a household with two married parents, according to the Census Bureau. The impact of this commitment on child rearing is clear. Only 15 percent of Asian women have children out of wedlock compared with 40 percent of American women who are single when they give birth.

Chua’s book gave the rest of us a window into the Asian parent’s expectation – no, make that the Asian parent’s demand – that their children not only succeed, but also excel in the classroom.

Her book unleashed a firestorm of criticism that she was too tough in raising her accomplished daughters. Yet, little of that criticism came from fellow Asians. That may be because, according to Pew, 62 percent of Asian-Americans (66 percent of those with college degrees) think American parents don’t put enough pressure on their children to do well in school.

That gets an “amen” from me and, I suspect, from every teacher reading this column.

The Asian devotion to marriage, parenting and education may remind some of an America that used to be. It’s a remembrance noted by the Pew study’s authors.

They wrote that Asian family and personal values “represent something of a throwback” to an era prior to 1970 when more U.S. adults were married, fewer babies were born to unmarried women and more children were being raised by two married parents.

It was an odd observation, almost a longing, given this study is essentially a survey.

Regardless, the study is informative at many levels, particularly for the knowledge that the term Asian is not homogenous. There are vast differences between the Indian, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese and Filipino cultures.

Learning about those differences is another reason the Pew study is well worth the read.

Contributing columnist Rick Martinez (rickjmartinez2@gmail.com) sinews director at WPTF, NC News Network and SGRToday.com

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