The complicated relationship between Asian Americans and affirmative action

The complicated relationship between Asian Americans and affirmative action


Lauren Gurley

In most places, my hair and my skin color don’t stand out in a crowd. In the past, people have mistaken me for Mexican, Italian, Hawaiian, and Israeli. Although sometime this has felt like a privilege and a reason for pride, at other times it has become a source of confusion and guilt. This is the reality of my mixed race identity: half-Japanese and half-white, I still couldn’t tell you whether I technically qualify, or even identify, as a person of color.

Five years ago, I applied to college in the US and was forced to face this confusion head on during the university admissions process. 2010 was the first year that the Common Application offered the option for applicants to select two or more races. This has been both a blessing a curse for schools that have long wrestled with students who identified as multi-racial. A decade ago, such applicants at Emory University would have had their race literally chosen for them by an admissions officer.

But my problem was first and foremost a personal one: How did I identify? Growing up in a very white, yet liberal-leaning community in Southern California, I always wanted to identify with my Asian half in order to stand out. I would squint my eyes in photos to appear more Asian, and ask my mother to pack me bento-box lunches. On standardized tests, I always checked the “Asian/Pacific Islander” box…

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