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What do you want to be when you grow up?

Young Asian Americans in STEM and Medical Professions

Most of my family members have occupations in the STEM fields or medical field or health care professions. STEM includes science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

When I was younger, my family pushed for me to go into these types of fields. I pushed back, saying that I wanted to go into the arts. They pushed back too. My dad would constantly remind me that “the money” is in more “practical jobs”, urging me to look into becoming a computer engineer or a doctor. I knew that those types of jobs weren’t for me.

While my eldest sister was pursuing a higher education at UCLA, she declared pre-med right after high school. It wasn’t until the end of her third year that she realized she did not have a passion for medicine. She switched her major to International Development and received a certificate in Interior Design.

My family was disappointed when she decided not to pursue a medical profession, but eventually she was met with understanding and support.

I feel as though this is very common within Filipino and other Asian American families and households.

Historically and stereotypically, Filipinos dominate the nursing profession. According to Rodel Rodis, a writer for Inquirer.net, Filipino nurses were recruited by the United States to help care for soldiers in the United States Army. http://globalnation.inquirer.net/74321/why-are-there-so-many-filipino-nurses-in-the-us While many Chinese and Japanese nationals were restricted from entering the United States, Filipino nurses were welcomed into the States because their services were desired, and essentially needed during wartime efforts. This was especially true during World War II, where the Philippines played a vital role as an ally of the United States.

Filipinos nurses were also encouraged to migrate to the United States after the war, by being given special tourist visas and an opportunity to become citizens after employment, Rodis says. This caused more and more Filipinos to seek nursing careers, in order to move to the United States in the hopes for a better life.

This experience was not isolated to Filipinos.

The United States recruited and influx of Chinese students who showed exemplar technical skills and were hand picked by the Chinese Nationalist government (Hsu, 2012). These “several thousand” students migrated to the States while other government laws prohibited “Asiatic” immigration, influenced by wartime hysteria.
It is not surprising to me that many young Asian Americans feel the pressure to go into STEM and medical fields because our ancestors (and the United States) felt that way too. It was the only way for many Asians to come to the United States in the hopes of a better way of life.

With the arrival of Asian migrants into the United States, Asians have shown their hard work, specifically in STEM fields, in order to succeed and make it in a new country that they would find to call home. Because STEM fields have been proven to provide Asian Americans with comfortable living situations, families push their children into the same fields, as a way to set them up for success.

This ideal may have trickled down into our Asian American values, inherently making young Asian Americans to choose STEM fields because they feel like they need to in order to achieve a good societal status.  

Is there a way we as young Asian Americans can reverse this and possibly pursue careers in the fields that we want?  

I believe that young people should and can do anything that they feel passionately about, especially young folks of color. But I do not believe that we can do it all by ourselves. With other systemic and institutional forces working against young people from marginalized communities, we, as young people, need guidance, support, and mentorship. These can come in any form, but these coming from our family members would mean so much more. Family influences and acceptance can ultimately help young Asian Americans pursue the careers that they want.

I am very blessed that my family, especially my mom, supports me 100 percent in anything that I want to do, especially my passion for writing and activism. But I know that some of my Asian American peers are not as fortunate.

As 2017 begins, it is clear to see that times are changing, but so much more can be done. The need for Asian Americans in various fields has been growing, especially if we want equal and accurate representation in our institutions. Getting passionate young people in other fields, and helping them flourish within them, could do so much for our Asian American community as it grows.

Multiple fields, such as the arts, are lacking in Asian American representation, which finds its root in the STEM success model. With support from our elders and family members, young Asian Americans can make waves within the arts, government, business, and other fields as well.

Although this transition or reversal may be difficult, it can be done. And I will be here for every step of the way.

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