Diane Tran, truant honor student: complicating the model minority myth

There was an uproar last week when Houston honor student Diane Tran was sent to jail for truancy:

Abandoned by her parents, Diane Tran works a full and part time job to support two siblings while being a honor student taking AP courses and college level courses, but was jailed for a night and fined $100 after missing more classes from sheer exhaustion. [...] After Tran’s parents divorced, they moved away and she now lives with the family of one of her employers.

The charges have been dismissed and people all over the world have donated over $100,000 to help her with her expenses. Tran’s story reminds me of the Boston Globe profile of George and Johnny Huynh late last year. That was another story of impoverished Vietnamese American high school students from a broken family, achieving despite the odds. While these bootstrap stories reinforce the model minority myth, they also remind us that many Asians in the US, particularly those groups who came to the US as refugees from the Vietnam War, live below the poverty line and do not have the same mobility trajectories as affluent Chinese, Japanese, and Indian Americans.

From the White House:

  • Asian Americans living below poverty: 12.6% (U.S. average living below poverty: 12.4%).
  • Poverty Rates of Hmong: 37.8%; Cambodian: 29.3%; Laotian: 18.5%; Vietnamese: 16.6%.
  • The high school drop-out rate among Southeast Asian Americans is staggering: 40% of Hmong, 38% of Laotian, and 35% of Cambodian populations do not complete high school.

  1. Kim

    That is seriously messed up.

  2. Bloody hell. They fine people for truancy? She probably didn’t need to turn up to some of the lame arse classes. She also probably has really nice teeth. Forge a note from your parents saying you need to go to the orthodontist. I did this for 3 years and my teeth are still not straight ;) poor chook.

  3. Josie

    We, in America, take free public education for granted. After returning from Indonesia, and seeing how the majority of schools are private, education is a luxury. It is definitely a privilege and not a right there, unless you have the means to support yourself through school. This girl is doing what a lot of Asian families have had to do to help support their siblings–sacrifice.

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