The Asian Work Ethic

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May 26, 2021

In the Asian-American community, two cultures continuously clash against each other. For the duration of my life, I have lived on this battlefield of two lifestyles. The Asian lifestyle offered continuous reward at the cost of hard work and grit. The American lifestyle provided me with the resources and freedom to obtain the rewards and goals presented. The Asians’ ability to adapt continuously to the environment and their unrelenting work ethic combines with American opportunities to allow for the growth of the Asian-American community. Whether the Asian work ethic is a tradition or a learned skill we happen to have, I believe it to be the brightest point of our culture.

My dad used to tell me many stories as a kid. One was about the California Gold Rush which was the first mass immigration of Asians to America. Supposedly, the Americans had taken all the easy gold from the surface, leaving only tiny slivers of gold left in tiny cracks and crevices. Despite this, the Asians toiled with sweat on their brows and diligently dug out the remaining gold and had ultimately gotten more gold as a reward for their persistence.

Another was a poem about rice farmers from an elementary Chinese textbook. It compared each grain of rice in a bowl to a drop of sweat from a farmer’s forehead and was intended to discourage children from wasting food. I, however, took from these stories that hard work and perseverance was the key to get what I wanted. Slowly, I came to realize what my parents were trying to teach me through their household policies.

While typical American families give their children a lot of freedom, the family I grew up in prioritized guaranteed long-run benefits at the expense of part of my youth. After all, knowledge and skills would allow me to get a job, live a stable live, and make more contributions to this world, whereas video games and parties would not. That is not to say that no freedom was given to me. Rather, freedom was encouraged as I would be an adult one day and needed to train to be independent. Everything was done in the most efficient manner to shape me into a well-rounded person and secure my future. So, while my classmates were out partying and goofing around, I was preparing for the next test or competition.

However, this is obviously not something that makes me special. I am not a leading expert in the very well-defined and professional area of “hard work”. In fact, even within the confines of my small town, there are many students preparing just like I am and doing better. I am certain that Asian American teens on the east and west coasts have achieved a level I cannot possibly fathom, using the Asian work ethic day and night and becoming generation-defining geniuses. Despite this, I know that each of us have developed a unique set of skills and experiences that we will use in the future. My mathematics may be lacking compared to one student, but I can play violin, run fast, and provide community service. Even if someone overshadows me in every academic, artistic, and athletic subject, my unique experiences that shape my outlook on life will be different and potentially useful in the future.

During my time in middle school and high school, I have noticed that the number of Asians participating in debate and forensics has gone up significantly. It seems tiger moms and dads have found yet another way to make their kids stand out in college, but it is not my concern what other kids’ parents think. What interests me the most is the ability of Asians to recognize an opening and take it. The abundance of information and resources in America means Asians can fully utilize almost every opportunity they find to give their kids a brighter future. Additionally, compared to countries like China or Korea, competition in America is very low, meaning that the next generation of Asian students have a firm grasp on every area their parents want them to.

Some may call this exploitation or opportunism, but that is clearly not the case. The same information and resources are available to everyone in America, not just Asians. It is just that most Asians put very high priority on education like some others put on athletics. If an Asian wanted to be a quarterback, they would have the same opportunities as any other American.

However, the key point of the Asian work ethic is not to beat everyone in competitions, it is to be able to set a goal and follow the path to the end. Perhaps that goal is to beat everyone in a competition, but it could also be to raise a family, live a comfortable life, and make significant contribution to society. That is what makes this tradition so powerful. What we prioritize will differ depending on what our goals are, but we will excel at what we prioritize.

It is not like diligence is a trait unique to Asians, Asian-Americans just seem to have a lot of it. Whether that is due to the harsh natures of the countries we emigrated from or our family centered values, it is clear this part of our culture is making ripples in America today. The earliest Asian-Americans immigrants toiled on the transcontinental railroad of America, and now, we have cemented our place in modern civilization as a group who will go above and beyond in their work.

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