American Values: Beyond the Hyphen

Hold my Drink Podcast Blog, Episode 35

Our common destiny as Americans is greater than our hyphenated identities. -Wenyuan Wu

I remember him sitting after work in his olive-green Air Force flight suit at a high-top stool at our kitchen counter in Beavercreek, Ohio. My dad looked down at me as I sobbed, trying to find ways to console me. You know, he said, Burma has tigers.

After coming home to tell us that he was taking the Air Force Attaché position in Rangoon, I thought my comfortable little world was crumbling. But hold up, tigers? Perhaps Burma wouldn’t be that bad after all.

As it turns out, it was the watershed event in my life.

My appreciation of different cultures, and more importantly our many simple similarities, started young. I went on to get several degrees in International Relations, to learn Chinese and to live in China and several other countries in Asia. My application essay for a graduate program in International Relations focused on “Asian values”, primarily rooted in Confucianism. On the surface, there are some fundamental differences between these and what one may coin “American values”. Most notably perhaps is the idea of individualism. Confucian values are more rooted in a communitarian identity with the family being the nucleus.

Despite these generalized differences, much like I found in my experience in Burma, there are basic ties that bind us in our common humanity that transcend culture.

In a previous lifetime, I worked with Chinese immigrants coming to the United States for educational opportunities. As Wenyuan reminds us, the Chinese community or the larger Asian community is not a monolith. And yet, there is a general trend within these communities that value education, and arguably one of the reasons that, in general, Asian Americans tend to out-earn and academically out-perform all other ethnicities. Yes, yes, I know that the “Model-Minority Myth” is dangerous (I repeat, not a monolith) but these pesky statistics remain to be discussed and debated.

Enter into the cultural conversation new educational initiatives around discrimination, and you catch the attention of not only of many within Asian communities, but the greater national interest. As Wenyuan tells us, “Emphasizing education is not Asian – It’s American.” Despite different cultural backgrounds of all Americans, the traditional American values of merit, liberty and equality are a driving force for many in the educational landscape.

As schools scramble to address racism and discrimination (a critically important objective), they have adopted policies that some argue dismiss these values in search of equity. That is, the objective to create equal outcomes, versus equal opportunities. To do so, many schools have adopted Ibram X. Kendi’s position that disparities in outcome, must be the result of racism. And so, in order to combat these disparities, some schools have changed their grading policies and lowered academic expectations, others are doing away with gifted and talented programs, and still others are proposing turning math and science classes into activist test-tubes to dismantle white supremacy.  

Caught up in this fervor are those whose disparities in professional and academic achievements make them “white adjacent”, which includes those in Jewish and Asian communities. Never mind that there are also those in black and Latino communities who would be lumped in this category were they to question anti-racist pedagogy. There’s even a new slogan word for this growing hodgepodge of interconnected interests and concerns across racial and ethnic lines – multiracial whiteness.

It would be foolish to argue that everyone has the same access to the “American Dream”, however, the concern is that we are moving further away from rectifying this with the blunt tools being introduced into the educational world under the guise of social justice. As we continue to hyphenate our identities and insist upon it in our educational institutions, it becomes harder to realize and honor both our cultural differences and our common destiny as Americans.

In the Hold my Drink — navigating the news and politics with a chaser of civility and Counterweight podcast, Episode 35, we speak with the Executive Director of the Californians for Equal Rights Foundation, Wenyuan Wu. Wenyuan’s grassroots group was instrumental in voting down Prop 16 in California, which aimed to repeal part of the state constitution to keep discrimination illegal. The Foundation is currently working to expose initiatives in public education that seek to center racial identity and racial essentialism in K-12 curricula. We speak with Wenyuan about education, educational activism in Asian communities, and what it means to be an American. All discussed with La Croix Pamplemousse sparkling water (which as Wenyuan says is a sign of her successful assimilation into American culture!), a MacDonald’s $0.99 Diet Coke and a spiked lemonade.

Hold My Drink welcomes all people with all kinds of beverages to join us as we discuss what it takes to imagine a new American identity, together.

Find us on Apple Podcasts and Spotify, or watch the conversation unfold on YouTube, and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

What Wenyuan is reading

Skewed History: Textbook Coverage of Early America and the New Deal, National Association of Scholars

Common Sense in a Senseless World, Thomas Sowell


What Jen is reading

CFER’s Wenyuan Wu on CRT: What It Is, How to Spot It, and What Parents Can Do to Push Back

Revenge of the Gods, City Journal, Christopher Rufo

How California is Embracing Mandatory Racial-Injustice Study for ALL of its 1.7 Million High Schoolers, Real Clear Investigations, John Murawksi

Dr. Wenyuan Wu is the Executive Director of the Californians for Equal Rights Foundation, a non-partisan and non-profit organization dedicated to the cause of equal rights. Dr. Wu previously served as Executive Director of the No on 16 Campaign. Prior to that, she was Director of Administration at the Asian American Coalition for Education (AACE). She holds a Ph.D. in International Studies from the University of Miami and has authored a book (Chinese Oil Enterprises in Latin America: Corporate Social Responsibility) as well as many book chapters. In her official capacity, Dr. Wu has been interviewed by the Wall Street Journal, French Le Figaro, The Epoch Times, NBC News, NPR Boston, Boston Globe, Quartz, Ed Source, Inside Higher Ed, College Fix, and other prominent news sources. As a writer, she has been published on the CalMatters, Orange County Register, and Oil Price, among other outlets.

*Californians for Equal Rights Foundation recently launched a CRT tip line for those concerned to report evidence of Critical Race Theory in education programs.