The stigma of success

America is becoming more Asian and so is Boston, both for the better. The current Boston telephone book lists more Chans than Currans, more Nguyens than Noonans and more Trans than Thorntons. With origins spread across the world's largest continent, Asian-American immigrants are . . . squeezed into a single stereotype. Among minorities, they seem conspicuously diligent, tagged as ``overachievers'' and stigmatized with success.

As the Irish have borne the leprechaun's burden, Asians have been tagged as coolies. In America's popular culture, Chinese-Americans have been relegated to the local laundry or the take-out restaurant.

The academic achievement of recent Chinese, Vietnamese and Cambodian immigrants has, in a curious way, penalized Asian-Americans. In affirmative-action programs, theoretically designed to recruit talented, but disadvantaged students, several major universities now refuse to consider Asian-Americans as minorities. . . .

By definition, a stereotype is hackneyed thinking, a lazy generalization of one example of a race or species. For every valedictorian who escaped the genocidal horror of Cambodia, thousands more still suffer from its effects. For every former busboy who rises in the business world, thousands find their way blocked by lack of language skills.

A city that has welcomed immigrants for centuries needs to welcome each group with new understanding. For all Bostonians to be free, all Bostonians must shed stereotypes about their neighbors.

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