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A preemptive strike against an Asian Registry in Connecticut

March 7, 2018 GMT

HARTFORD — A bill that would prohibit public schools in the state from compiling a so-called “Asian Registry” is expected to get strong support Thursday before a key legislative committee.

“I firmly believe any mandatory registry of any ethnic background by schools or any state agencies is fundamentally un-American,” Amy Shen Cobb, a Chinese American citizen from Stamford wrote in written testimony to the General Assembly’s Education Committee.

The committee will hold a public hearing on the bill and several others, beginning at 10 a.m. Thursday in Room 1A of the Legislative Office Building in Hartford.

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Although no such data collection currently exists in Connecticut, Cobb and dozens of others from across the state are fearful that Connecticut could go the way of Rhode Island, Minnesota and other states in creating registries that they say may unfairly target Asian-Pacific Americans.

“It raises an alarm and concern that this could possibly occur in Connecticut,” said State Sen. Tony Hwang, R-Fairfield, who along with several other lawmakers including Sen. George Logan, R-Ansonia, pushed to have a hearing on the bill.

The bill would prohibit the collection of disaggregated student data on specific ethnic subgroups — such as Chinese, Japanese or Korean — unless required by federal law or collected uniformly across the entire student population.

Hwang said although data collection is useful in attempts to identify and fight achievement gaps between students, the fear is that it can also be used to single out Asian Americans who may be perceived as overachievers.

“For Asian Pacific Americans particularly there is a heightened distrust of a registry because this country has not always been favorable to (us),” Hwang said. “It is the only ethnic group to have been subjected to an exclusionary act. The only ethnic group to have been interned during the course of war.”

Hwang also points to a current lawsuit accusing Harvard University of discriminatory admission practices against Asian Americans as evidence that the concerns are more than historical in nature.

“We support fairness,” Hwang said. “If you collect this data for education purposes it needs to be done across ethic groups. Not just Asians.”

Others don’t even like that caveat.

Hong Chen, a Westport resident and teacher at Staples High School, said in written testimony that everyone should be protected from a registry of ancestry origin.

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He wonders how the information might be used.

“I believe that America is a land of equal opportunity and equal protection, regardless of national origin,” Chen told the Education Committee. “To me the Asian Registry is a cruel mockery of the ideals this nation stands for.”

In Connecticut, the only disaggregation that occurs is what is required by the federal government and is used to ensure educational equity for all students, according to Peter Yazbak, a state Department of Education spokesman.

“While some states are discussing and some have even passed legislation further disaggregating within racial, ethnic, and linguistic populations, (Connecticut) is not considering this level of disaggregation at this time,” Yazbak said.

One voice in support of the measure came from Jacinda Tran, a PhD student at Yale University who called disaggregated data crucial to her work on Southeast Asians.

The broader field of Asian American Studies tends to obscure the specificities of ethnic group under the umbrella of Asian America, Tran argued.

“Anti-data disaggregation continues to marginalize already vulnerable populations. serve populations better,” Tran said.