My parents were always pushing for all of my siblings and me to “go to school and get an education.” Being the “good” daughter that I was, I did what was expected of me. I never once questioned my parents and their motives behind their views on education. I just went to school and got good grades. I grew up in Long Beach, California, where we have the largest concentration of Cambodians outside of Southeast Asia. I assumed that many of my ethnic peers were heeding educational demands from their parents and family. I mean, my parents came from a war-torn country and migrated to the United States, hoping to provide a better life for their children. In theory, this sounds like many immigrants stories, from various origins and backgrounds. Being first-generation Cambodian American, I wanted to rise to the occasion.
Finishing college was always a given. People got degrees all the time, right? It never occurred to me that, as I breezed through my undergraduate years, the majority of my ethnic peers did not graduate from high school. According to U.S. Census Bureau estimates from 2006-2010, “only 13 percent of Cambodian-Americans in Los Angeles County have a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared with 47 percent of Chinese residents and 44 percent of Caucasians” (quoted from Hinojosa, 2014). I was made more aware of these alarming statistics when PBS broadcasted a documentary episode called “Pass or Fail in Cambodia Town.” In the episode, investigative reporter Maria Hinojosa discusses how Asian Americans are the best-educated and highest-income ethnic group in the United States. They are often referred to as the “model minority,” suggesting that all Asian Americans are successful in school and in life. But Southeast Asian Americans have some of the lowest high school completion rates in the nation. The documentary notes that 35.5 percent of Cambodian adults do not have a high school diploma or equivalent (Hinojosa, 2014). I was floored. I asked myself, how could this be? Many of my friends graduated high school like I did. Where did these statistics come from? As I continued my educational journey through college and graduate school, I reflected on my background and I used it as a catalyst to further my studies.
I came to understand that I fell into the stereotypes that are associated with mainstream Asian Americans. My family came to the U.S. to give their children better opportunities. I had an educational standard I adhered to because of the expectations of my parents. I needed to succeed. What I failed to recognize, however, is the fact that as Cambodian American, I am not part of mainstream Asian American communities. Growing up, I felt I had to defend or point out that I wasn’t Chinese or Filipino. Oftentimes, when I corrected people about my ethnicity, they didn’t readily recognize or know where Cambodia is. Unlike other established Asian American communities, Cambodian Americans have a history that is relatively new, as most Cambodian immigrants arrived only in the late 1970s. Wallitt (2008) stresses this point further: “While most modern immigration to the United States consists of voluntary migrants in search of better socioeconomic lives for themselves and their families, Cambodian Americans, in contrast, were refugees who were dislocated by genocide, starvation, and war.” The “elite” of the country—the wealthy, educated Khmer, including those who were trained at passing on Cambodian tradition and knowledge—were executed, as were their families. Those murdered included the intellectuals, teachers, artists, dancers, writers, doctors, politicians, and monks (Wallitt, 2008).
I did see fewer Cambodian Americans as I attended college. When I started graduate school, I was the only Southeast Asian student in my department at Illinois.
There is a great generational gap that also divides the community. Along with having to assimilate into a new culture, there is a silence that stretches between older and younger Cambodians. The war is something that many older Cambodians do not discuss with the younger generation. The older group tends to hold on to their cultural customs and the younger group is intent on learning American ways. This makes it hard for both sides to come to an understanding. This rift between generations affects the children of refugees and, in turn, their educational goals. In “Cambodian Americans and Education: Understanding the Intersections Between Cultural Tradition and U.S. Schooling,” Akiba (2010) notes that Cambodian Americans have unique sociohistorical and political characteristics and are often associated with academic underachievements. Wallitt (2008) also points out that “what is further complicating the situation is the parents’ lack of knowledge about the American educational system.” An American Educational Research Association article published in December 2007, written by Ngo and Lee, explores the struggles of Southeast Asian groups and finds that many refugees had lower English proficiency, less experience with formal education, and also fewer transferrable skills. Ngo and Lee (2007) further assert that most Cambodian American students in K-12 schools today are born and raised in the United States and many struggle with language learning. Compared to Vietnamese Americans and Hmong Americans, Cambodian Americans appear to score lower on standardized tests and earn relatively low grade point averages (Chhuon, Hudley & Macias, 2006). Poverty has been identified as a particularly significant barrier to academic success for Cambodia American students (Ngo & Lee, 2007). “Cambodian-American College Students: Cultural Values and Multiple Worlds,” written by Chhuon, Hudley, and Macias in 2006, reviews literature on the reality of underachievement of the Cambodian American population. In the article, the authors cite various sources and found that “[p]olicymakers usually overlook Cambodian students as a unique ethnic group, attending instead to the positive statistics that aggregate Asian-American students into a single group of successful students” (Chhuon, Hudley & Macias, 2006).
I speak for myself when I say that my parents’ emphasis on education was my foundation. I am disheartened to learn that many of my people have not attained the same results. Growing up in Long Beach, California, I recall there were a lot of people like me. We all went to school, shopped at our local Cambodian grocery stores, dined at the same ethnic restaurants, and yet who knew what really happened in the privacy of their own homes. For as long as I can remember, my parents kept telling me that I needed an education to improve my lot in life. I listened to their advice intently and took it. At the same time, I did see fewer Cambodian Americans as I attended college. When I started graduate school, I was the only Southeast Asian student in my department at Illinois.
As I continued on with my studies, I felt the growing need to give back to and empower my community. Because I was beginning to see the impact and lack of education standards within my community, I decided to be committed to at least trying to improve the image of Cambodian Americans. I focused my studies in archives and public librarianship. By being ensconced in the public library sphere, I am able to work with and assess the needs of the community. I wish to bring a ray of light and hope to those who are not able to help themselves and to continue to share my story and experiences. In a Long Beach Press Telegram article, Dulaney (2015) writes that “in 2010, the Chancellor’s Office of the CSU (California State University system) brought together Asian-American Pacific Islander community leaders to talk about strategies for reaching young people. The result was the Journey to Success program to educate AAPI students and parents about college and financial aid.” It is encouraging to know that universities like California State University, Long Beach are now acknowledging specific, unique issues faced by Southeast Asian Americans by initiating changes and are lobbying support for future educational needs of Cambodian American students.
Christina Nhek, M.S., 2014
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Graduate School of Library & Information Science
Editing assistance provided by Molly Higgins and Alyssa Jocson Porter.
Akiba, D. (2010). Cambodian Americans and education: Understanding the intersections between cultural tradition and U.S. schooling. Educational Forum, 74(4), 328-333. doi: 10.1080/00131725.2010.507117
Chhuon, V., & Hudley, C. (2011). Ethnic and panethnic Asian American identities: Contradictory perceptions of Cambodian students in urban schools. The Urban Review, 43(5), 681-701. doi: 10.1007/s11256-010-0172-8
Chhuon, V., Hudley, C., & Macias, R. (2006). Cambodian-American college students: Cultural values and multiple worlds. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting Meeting of the American Educational Research Association (AERA). San Francisco, CA. Retrieved from ERIC: http://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED492597
Dulaney, J. (2015, Jan. 19). Why Cal State Long Beach officials are lobbying support for Cambodian students. Long Beach Press Telegram. Retrieved from: http://www.presstelegram.com/social-affairs/20150119/why-cal-state-long-beach-officials-are-lobbying-support-for-cambodian-students
Hinojosa, M. (Anchor, Executive Producer & Managing Editor). (2014, Nov. 6). Pass or fail in Cambodia town [Television series episode]. In America by The Numbers with Maria Hinojosa. Boston, MA: WGBH.
Ngo, B., & Lee, S. J. (2007). Complicating the image of model minority success: A review of Southeast Asian American education. Review of Educational Research, 77(4), 415-453. Retrieved from: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4624907
Wallitt, R. (2008). Cambodian invisibility: Students lost between the “achievement gap” and the “model minority.” Multicultural Perspectives, 10(1), 3-9. doi: 10.1080/15210960701869298
by Jennifer Garrett, Michael Qiu and Jungwon Yang
The Minnesota Institute for Early Career Librarians (MIECL) is an intensive, one-week professional development program intended for librarians from underrepresented groups in the first three years of their professional careers. Several APALA members attended the 2014 Institute last July and offered to share some of their takeaways in a series of web articles. This is the second installment in which Jennifer Garrett (North Carolina State University), Michael Qiu (University of Southern California), and Jungwon Yang (University of Michigan) discuss leadership, emotional intelligence, and organizational culture.
For part one in the series, please visit:
We heard that Emotional Intelligence (EI) was one of main themes of the MIECL program. Does the knowledge of EI change your understanding of leadership and self-awareness? How do you apply EI in your workplace?
Jennifer Garrett (JG): As a new professional, applying the lens of Emotional Intelligence in how I understand myself, in addition to how I monitor the emotions of others, has made me a better leader and colleague. EI has become part of my toolbox and has truly changed how I interact with others in the workplace. An overarching focus of MIECL was to introduce tools and theories to help us better understand ourselves. Being knowledgeable of EI has made me more cognizant of my own emotions and how I label and discriminate between these emotions to others and myself. This is definitely difficult! However, I believe recognizing the difficulty involved in perceiving, reasoning, and managing emotions is a key component to being an effective leader.
Michael Qiu (MQ): As we learned about Emotional Intelligence, I developed a better understanding of the struggle individuals in leadership positions face with people from different backgrounds and experiences. We can all remember those leaders that we thought did a “good job” versus the ones that “struggled or did poorly.” I have a better appreciation for all of the struggles and issues they may have encountered trying to work with so many different individuals. After learning about EI, I now understand that leadership is not a task to be taken lightly and it can involve a balancing act of different emotions and people at any one time. The best leaders are able to take everyone’s strengths and best utilize those strengths for the advancement of the group, project, or unit. As an early career librarian, at my first professional position, learning the lay of the land and how my institution works is a challenge. Applying the concept of EI has allowed me to adapt to different situations more easily and better understand the individuals I am working with.
Recognizing the difficulty involved in perceiving, reasoning, and managing emotions is a key component to being an effective leader.
Jungwon Yang (JY): Before I attended the MIECL, I thought that leaders were people who had great willingness and vast knowledge to accomplish new ideas. But, this program showed me that performing emotional intelligence, in fact, was a pivotal element to be a good leader. In particular, it was a great discovery to me that social awareness — that is, understanding organizational culture and having empathy toward my colleagues’ feelings — was helpful for succeeding in my work performance as well as in group performance. Since I am working at a large-sized academic library, I often have a chance to work with colleagues from different units, which have different unit cultures. After the program, I found out that thinking about other people’s feelings and their own cultures made it a lot easier to work with them than before.
What were some of the major themes that emerged in your discussion of organizational culture and how have you integrated what you learned into your workplace practice?
JG: The discussion of organizational culture at MIECL was one of the most eye-opening of the week. In being asked to describe our organization’s culture to one another, this really helped make me more mindful of the uniqueness of my institution, while also appreciating the similarities that exist across organizations. Additionally, DeEtta used the iceberg metaphor to help us understand that the values and beliefs that make up the bulk of organizational culture, are often not visible from the surface. One of the main themes that emerged during this activity, is that we only learn to navigate these deeply held assumptions, over time. Following this discussion, I began to realize that I was largely navigating my organization’s unspoken characteristics without being as mindful of them as I should. Once I returned to work, I began drafting my personal and professional learning goals. Being able to place these goals in line with the seen and unseen culture of my organization has made me more successful.
MQ: I believe two major themes emerged in this discussion. The first is even though we think we are all different and unique, there are common, underlying issues that are present in every organization. So if organization x thinks they are the one and only going through a problem, I bet that there are at least another dozen organizations with the same problem. Whenever I have a problem, I know there are others I can consult and lean on who have been through the same situation. The second theme is that understanding organizational culture is important for understanding the implications when taking on new projects, roles, and/or positions. As we have new projects come up in the library, knowing the organizational culture has allowed me to step up and take charge of these projects. These new responsibilities help shape my career and prepare me for the future.
JY: As new librarians, we sometimes struggle with getting respect from our colleagues about our own ideas. During the discussion, we talked about how to resolve the problem in our organization. A useful lesson was that we needed to understand our own organizational cultures to communicate with our colleagues effectively. More importantly, even if our idea was not taken seriously by people right now, we learned that we did not need to be frustrated. Organizational culture is not static. It changes over time. So, our ideas can be adopted in the future when the issue emerges in a different way. As Pasteur said, “chance favors only the prepared mind.”
Editing assistance provided by Molly Higgins and Manlia Xiong.
This third essay continues APALA’s advocacy fatigue mini-series. Written by APALA member Cynthia Mari Orozco, who is also the 2015 APALA-sponsored ALA Emerging Leader, this reflective piece is about seeking inspiration and support beyond the library world. Librarianship, as a helping profession, exacts high emotional costs. Because of this, renewal is a crucial aspect of self-care and, therefore, professional development. Library advocacy is one area in which we can strongly see the professional and the personal working and developing each other.
In anticipation of APALA’s 35th Anniversary & Symposium, we take a closer look at the very human aspect of advocacy work—fatigue.
~ Melissa I. Cardenas-Dow, APALA Web Content Sub-committee Chair, 2012-Present
Phil Yu, a.k.a. Angry Asian Man, says it best: “Stay angry.” For me as a librarian, this translates as “Stay angry… at inequity in access to information, surveillance in ebooks or censorship.” In relation to library and information activism, this could extend to “Stay passionate… about user-centered services, diverse books and open access.” These examples barely scratch the surface of the many issues for which librarians advocate or combat against.
But being angry, or passionate, requires an incredible amount of effort, time, and strength. It can be extremely taxing to sustain one’s energy. While we still care, a number of factors can beat down on us and cause us fatigue. Maybe an innovative library program you propose isn’t supported by your colleagues or administration. Maybe you hear a colleague oppose the idea of user-centered services. In my professional life, I have come to rely on a number of networks to sustain and invigorate my passion and energy, both in non-library circles and within the greater library community.
Shortly after I started working at my current institution, I also became involved with a local group called Tuesday Night Project (TNP), which describes itself as “an Asian American grassroots and volunteer-based organization fiercely devoted to bridging communities by providing programming and interactive spaces for people to connect through artistic expression and strong, creative, community partnerships.” Its main program is Tuesday Night Cafe, which hosts a free, twice a month (April through October) curated program of multidisciplinary visual and performing art, as well as an open mic. I’m usually tired at the end of my work day, but on these particular Tuesdays, I make an effort to go up to Little Tokyo in Los Angeles and dedicate some of my time to this incredible space. Despite often coming into the space tired, preoccupied with projects I’m working on, and maybe sometimes a little demoralized, I’m instantly reenergized by the passion and love that emanate from this space. I surround myself with artists and art lovers, community organizers, educators, students, friends, and everything, everyone, in-between. I talk to people from a wide range of backgrounds, about what they’re doing in their lives, and I become inspired by amazing people, projects and collaborations. I also have the opportunity to talk about my library ideas without resistance. My ideas are not met with discouraging comments like, “It won’t work,” or “There’s no money for that” or any other obstacles. Instead, I consistently get positive energy and genuine “That’s incredible!” or “You got this!” For me, the Tuesday Night Cafe space provides an additional forum outside of my institution to ask faculty and students from other universities about their insights on library services. This brings me non-libraryland perspectives into conversations, which can be extremely valuable.
Everyone needs a cheerleader. Surround yourself with positivity and people devoted to making incredible things happen, even if they’re not in libraries. Through my experience with TNP, I’ve gained emotional sustenance, perspective, and friends. Determine what communities, spaces, and individuals complement your professional and personal self to support you now and into the next phase of your life. Ideas and innovation flourish with support. Break out and build a network of support that works for you.
Editing assistance provided by Jaena Rae Cabrera and Melissa Cardenas-Dow.
APALA is an organization invested in librarians and library workers as people. A significant part of librarianship is advocacy, whether it is on behalf of our organizations, our fellow library workers, or the communities we serve through our libraries and other civic organizations. In anticipation of APALA’s 35th Anniversary & Symposium, we take a closer look at the very human aspect of advocacy work–fatigue.
This second essay in APALA’s advocacy fatigue mini-series, written by APALA member Annie Pho, is about impostor syndrome. She writes about how impostor syndrome relates to librarianship, advocacy and activism.
~ Melissa I. Cardenas-Dow, APALA Web Content Sub-committee Chair, 2012-Present
When I was first asked to write an article about being an activist librarian, I was really surprised that someone asked me to write about activism in libraries at all. I have never called myself an activist. To me, activists are very organized, well-spoken (and outspoken), proactive in spreading the messages of their cause, and inspire others to be better. While I do care about social justice, I often find myself struggling with the right response to those who critique social justice movements. I consider myself someone who is constantly trying to learn how to be a better citizen, not necessarily someone who inspires others. That’s when I realized the depths of impostor syndrome—always feeling like you are impersonating the role that you currently fulfill. Impostor syndrome is an issue in our profession, and something that permeates many spaces in librarianship.
What is Impostor Syndrome?
Impostor syndrome was first coined by Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes, who studied the feelings of inadequacy of high achieving women. While women are not the only ones who suffer from this syndrome, it’s not surprising that librarians (a profession that is predominantly female) battle this syndrome. The Geek Feminist Wiki defines impostor syndrome as “a situation where someone feels like an impostor or fraud because they think that their accomplishments are nowhere near as good as those of the people around them.” The negative effects of impostor syndrome can include “generalized anxiety, lack of self confidence, depression, and frustration related to inability to meet self-imposed standards of achievement” (Clance & Imes, 1978). Feeling these effects over a long period of time is exhausting and leads to burnout.
So what does it mean to be an impostor activist? Or more importantly, what does it mean to be an activist? The word activist suggests a sense of authority or knowledge, the ability to organize, and have the right response to naysayers. I constantly feel like I am not doing enough, especially in comparison to those whom I consider to be great activists, those who seem to have a lot of impact in their communities. There’s no way I could do the same. However, thinking like this has a negative impact on your self-esteem and can really hinder your own ability to be the person you want to be. People often express the sentiment that it’s hard to even try to advocate for any social cause because in the end, it doesn’t matter. That change is too hard to create and it’s easier to ignore it (if you have the privilege to do so). It’s extremely difficult to measure any impact that an individual can make on larger societal issues. It’s not always something tangible that you can see. As a result, I think this also adds to the impostor syndrome in seeing yourself as an activist.
Getting Over Impostor Syndrome
It wasn’t until a friend (and someone I look up to as an activist) told me that activism means different things to different people. It was then that I began to understand that there is no one way to be an activist. You can contribute to the cause in many different ways. Organizations might need people to do data entry, or to write, or to design graphics. It’s important for me to remember that even doing a little thing is better than not doing anything at all.
There are a few tactics that you can use to combat impostor syndrome. A recent study published in College & Research Libraries looked at impostor syndrome among librarians and recommended that those who have these feelings should distinguish between feeling incompetent and actually lacking the skills needed to do the job. This is an important distinction, figuring out what is just how you feel versus what you are actually capable of. Asking for feedback and communicating with peers can also help quell these feelings. I participate and sometimes moderate the #critlib Twitter chats, which helps me connect with other librarians who have an interest in critical librarianship. Talking to the #critlib community gives me plenty of things to think about and keeps me connected to the activist librarian community.
I’m not sure if you can ever truly get rid of impostor syndrome, but I think it’s something that you work on over time as you build upon your experiences (and your self-confidence hopefully). For me, building community helps me realize I am not alone and that we are all continually trying to learn and improve ourselves as activists. All we can do is try to be better and do good for the world.
Perceived Inadequacy: A Study of the Imposter Phenomenon among College and Research Librarians by Melanie Clark, Kimberly Vardeman, and Shelley Barba
The Imposter Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention by Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes
Editing assistance provided by Jaena Rae Cabrera and Melissa Cardenas-Dow.