For me, the topic of college admissions has been one drenched heavily with racial issues. Despite only applying to one school, and being admitted into that one school, I can't help but to feel like I've had something taken from me. I wanted to go Harvard like the 34,303 other kids my age, but honestly I was too scared. I was too scared that without Early Decision or some other acceptance boosting factor to negate my Asian-ness, that I wouldn't have a chance at getting in. Living in an upper middle-class suburb with several normally "disadvantaged" minority groups, this disparity could not have been more prominent. I had evidence. It was my faith in myself versus the precedence the seniors a year before me had set.
I wasn't always scared of my race, though. While growing up in semi-rural Georgia, being Asian didn't mean that much to me. My parents weren't very strict on me academically, and I wasn't seriously bullied in school or anything because of the way I looked (actually in most cases, I was the bully). My mother ran some local businesses, and that imposed some social restrictions on me (I had to help out on the weekends instead of going to the movies with everyone else), but for the majority of my childhood, I don't think the standards I was held to significantly differed from the others. The way I was raised didn't seem explicitly linked to the race I happened to be born into. Honestly, at that point, it didn't even matter. Maybe it was because I lived in rural Georgia, and maybe it was because I didn't have internet until the 8th grade, but regardless of physical or virtual separation from the rest of the world, I didn't feel much different from anyone else.
In high school, I moved to Florida, and though there still weren't many Asian kids (3% to be exact), I became more aware of my racial identity, and the stereotypes associated with it. I hated it. I didn't feel like an individual anymore, everything belonged to the stereotype. Despite my parents not knowing what the SAT was, I excelled academically, but the stereotype took this away from me. It wasn't my accomplishment; it was the accomplishment of my tiger mother and her sending me to non-existent college prep classes and non-existent piano lessons. It was expected, and I had done nothing special, but at that point, it was okay. I didn't care what others thought as long as I knew I was in firm grasp of my own accomplishments.
But in college admissions, I had to care about my external perception. What would the admissions officer think when they saw my name at the top of the application? To me, they saw wire-frame glasses, ill-fitting jeans, and an awkward, introverted demeanor. A kid that wouldn't contribute to the "diverse" community that the school sought and would just lock himself up and study all day. That terrified me. I wasn't that kid. I hated that kid, and I didn't want to have anything to do with him. But it's not like the admissions office has much to base their judgment off of, and other than that handful of essays I wrote to try and steer them in the right direction, there's not much more I could have done to show them who I was, who I am. Luckily, my story had a happy ending, but sometimes I wonder if I could've had a happier ending. Maybe I wouldn't have had to settle. Perhaps I didn't have to play along with my self-fulfilling prophecy. But I don't know, I never will, and sometimes it leaves me feeling a bit angry, a bit frustrated, and terribly disappointed in myself.
It's my fault that I didn't have the courage to apply to Harvard, but affirmative action didn't make it any easier. I want to blame it for all the frustration I went through that fall semester of senior year and all the crushed dreams my graduating class had to cope with, but regardless of how much I've seen, I don't know the truth. No matter how much data you give me, no matter how many stories I'm told, I can't know. No one can.