Civic Engagement of Asian American Youth



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Background: The current study aimed to analyze the civic engagement of Asian American youth specifically college student leaders. Civic engagement means connecting with other individuals to work for the common good or for endeavors beneficial to community members. Asian American youth civic engagement is less studied as compared to other ethnic groupings such as the African and Hispanic American youth (Kahne & Sporte, 2008; Seif, 2010). Purpose: The research aimed to conduct a qualitative study on civically engaged Asian American youth. It addressed the following questions: What are the perceptions of civically engaged Asian American youth about their civic engagement? How have the school, family, and community influenced the development of the civic engagement? The study analyzed the various facets of the youths’ civic engagement; namely, how and why did they become involved in the civic activities, the influences of family, school and community on their civic involvement, challenges they encounter in their civic activities, how do they balance the demands of their civic activities and schooling, the impact of their being an Asian American on their civic involvement, and their plans for the future. Methods: In-depth interviews using a semi-structured protocol were conducted with 15 Asian American student leaders at a Tier One urban university in Southeast Texas, which has become a major destination of Asian Americans in the South. The participants were aged between 18 and 22, with a mean age of 20. The interview transcripts, observation notes, and fieldwork journal composed the study data. The study used the grounded theory as research design to formulate theories to explain the various facets of the Asian American youth civic engagement. Following the critical framework, the research investigated the link between the participants’ perceptions and experiences of civic engagement and the structural context where they take place. The research data were analyzed using the constant comparative method, which entailed comparing parts of data with one another to identify similarities and differences. Data featuring similar characteristics or categories were grouped together. Labels representing key ideas were assigned to the categories. The categories were further analyzed to draw up themes. Findings: The findings generated the following themes about Asian American youth civic engagement: 1) social and institutional support develop civic engagement, 2) the virtuous cycle of civic engagement, 3) various forms of family support enhance youth civic engagement, 4) civic engagement as source of empowerment, 5) civic engagement not bound by ethnic concerns, and 6) the long-term impact of civic engagement. Conclusion: Results show that social and institutional support enhance the youths’ competences that lead to their civic engagement. Youths’ development of competences lead to their civic engagement which in turn results in the further enhancement of their competences. Immigrant parents who were not civically engaged imparted to the student participants values such as being helpful to others that molded the latter’s civic engagement. Asian American youth regard their civic engagement as source of empowerment. They thrive because of the support of their fellow Asians, regard their ethnicity as advantage in a context that values diversity, and observe their civic engagement subverting negative stereotypes against Asians. The youth’s civic engagement is not bound by ethnic concerns as they deal with issues that not only benefit their ethnic grouping. Their civic involvement affects their predicted adult civic engagement.



civic engagement, youth, Asian Americans, social capital, positive youth development