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Asian-Americans Defying Traditional Stereotypes

SAN FRANCISCO—When Dith Trang and Rodney Kim get together after school, academics are the furthest thing from their minds.

Described by friends as "shiftless and dumb," Lin Bu is one of a growing number of Asian-Americans helping to dispel the myth of the hardworking, motivated Easterner.

Instead, the two ninth-graders go to Trang's house to listen to rap music, eat Doritos and get high.

"Don't make assumptions about us just because we're Asian," says the bespectacled Trang, passing his friend a joint. "Not all of us care about college."

With poor grades and atrocious study habits, Trang and Kim are among a growing number of young people who are challenging people's traditional notions about Asian-Americans. No longer content to be thought of as successful, intelligent, hard-working and family-oriented, an ever-increasing number of second- and third-generation Asian-Americans are beginning to fail miserably.

"This is the next logical step for us," says Ken Chang, president of the Bay Area Asian-American Association. "People assume all we're able to do is emigrate to the U.S. with nothing and before long establish thriving businesses and careers through hard work and determination. Well, that's just not true."

"People look at me and figure I'm smart, just because I'm Chinese," said Lin Bu, 27, currently unemployed and not looking for work. "Well, I'm not. I am stupid as hell."

"It just makes me so mad," said Jin-Duk Soo, 19, who passed on going to college to focus on fixing up his car and picking up chicks. "I just want to party, not achieve."

Particularly under fire are long-standing stereotypes about cultural superiority in academics. While some young Asian-Americans are simply refusing to take calculus in college or high school, others are going so far as to stage a "math strike" to protest the unfair generalizations.

"The other day in class, my math teacher asked me to calculate the value of a sine curve," said Jen Tashikara, 16. "So I'm like, 'Forget it, old man—I'm Asian.'"

Recently, at Westlake High School in Oakland, Asian-born students held a mass "Fail-In," refusing to answer any test questions correctly. Among their test answers: "Hydrogen is an adverb," and "The President of Russia is 2.6."

But despite recent progress, Asian-Americans still have a long way to go. According to the Census Bureau, nearly 95 percent of Asian-American high school seniors go on to college, a number Chang calls "alarmingly high."

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