"How're you not good at math? Aren't you Asian?"
The life of most Asian children fits the stereotypes the western world has made perfectly. Expectations of excelling in anything and everything; academics, sports, SAT, etc. Though exaggerated, it is true for the most part.
In a conversation with my design teacher today, he explained the plight of other asian kids prior to me, with him. And I learnt of the term investment plan. Of course I always knew what it meant, I just never knew it was a word that could be used for humans too. He explained that a lot of Asian countries don't support their citizens after they retire, thus the parents push their kids to excel in school, so they go to a good college, get a good job, meet good spouses and then earn enough to support themselves and their parents. An investment plan. They work them like horses.
When I use the term Asian I recognise the fact that maybe not every asian has a similar story, however most of them do. It isn't a racial issue, its mostly about the population vs competition. Taking for example the US, the population isn't much and neither is the competition. India and China have no much of both that aren't just competing for jobs in their respective countries, they're competing for jobs abroad too! In the book 'The World is Flat', Thomas Friedman mentions how 100,000 Indians applied for one IT job in the US, and that was just the Indians. There is a quote to describe this situation,"Remember, in India, when you are one in a million, there are 1,300 other people just like you." These horses have to work to death to even stand a chance to run in the race.
Being Asian myself, I have felt the pressure first-hand and can provide a clear idea on the pressure of being Asian and being a kid from the Western world. I do not deny that other countries don't have competition, that their parents aren't hard on their children or that the expectations aren't high. It may be so. However from my personal experience, the Asians in my school would breakdown if they got a mark less than the perfect score, It was A for average unlike the western concept of A for the highest you could get. For the westerners if they got a B, their parents would be so proud of them. It runs in the culture so there isn't much room to comment on it. It's much more than grades, it's about societal respect, whose friend's son or daughter got better grades, it's about familial competition, whose son or daughter did better, whose going to carry the legacy and whose going to be the black sheep? It's much more lax in the Western world and though an occasional A would make their parents ecstatic, it's important to understand that the main difference is that Asian parent would consider it the least and expected.
I remember when my Belgian friend and I sat for our final math exam together. She attempted all the questions that would give her a passing grade and after that she submitted her paper. The teacher asked whether she wanted to attempt the questions that would give her a grade within the 90-100 percentile and her response is still clear in my mind. "Why do I have to? I don't want to. I passed anyways so it doesn't matter" Well you see, Asians don't have that liberty, we can't not do our best and the best simply because we don't want to. We have to do it because if we don't then someone else will do it better than us and we already have more than enough people who are ready to jump on the same seat I have my eyes on. I cannot simply pass, I must be the best, because there are 1300 other people just like me who want the same spot.
When they go home they're competing with a billion people less than who I'll be competing with, and while it doesn't make it easier for them, it certainly makes it harder for me.
These are simple facts, life is tough for Asian kids, it's tough for everyone. It's just that compared to some, we just have more social expectations, parental expectations and then hardships like population and competition for jobs towards particular sectors like IT and Math. Now it would be easy to push it away by saying, "Well, you chose to have more kids and increase the population so it's obvious the competition would increase". Very well, all I would like to point out is that while the Asian kids and their parents worry about their jobs being taken away, your jobs aren't that safe either. Our vision isn't so narrow and everyone wants to go abroad. Now between these well trained kids who always got A's and excelled in math and technology (public stereotypes, do not involve my personal opinion), how would a kid who's happy with B's or simply passing stand a chance for a job?
Though I mostly wrote this addressing the common stereotypes regarding Asian kids, it's important to understand that a lot of it true. The very idea of being Asian has a lot of pressure as there are billions of other people who are just as capable or more capable than you, they're all eyeing the same job as you. If you had a 1 out of 100,000 chance before, it changes to 1 out of 3,000,000,000 when you're Indian (it would be higher if I counted Asians). It isn't a matter of concern to many and I try not to make it so, however it is important to understand it or at least know about it. Ignorance isn't an excuse for being unaware and uneducated about your surrounding and the lives of the people around you.
So yes, I have to be good at Math, or just anything I do, mostly because I want to get one among the many limited jobs and lead a successful life rather than living an average one. I do not believe in exceptions, and since I know I'm not special when I come from a country with 1.38 billion people, I'm at least going to try and live a better and more accomplished life than most of them. And if that requires me to fit in the stereotypes, I will gladly take on my role as an Asian.