On News Gorilla, Ed Susman, former city editor of the Hartford (Conn.) Times, writes about handing out American flags to newly arrived immigrants. It was a community service thing and a nice photo for the paper. One day, he gave a flag to the first group of Vietnamese refugees.
No one spoke a word of English, but I managed to communicate with the 12-year-old daughter who spoke some French and I hadn’t forgotten all my French from high school days.
Flash forward about 4-5 years, during the last days of the Times, and this young Asian woman shows up at my desk. In flawless English she thanked me for the flag so many years past. She was now graduating high school, had a scholarship to some school I would never have even applied to and was either valedictorian or salutatorian or something major in her high school class.
He asked why Asian students outperform native-born students. The girl said that after the flag picture appeared, a school official came to the door and told her mother to register the four children for school. Her mother explained she could afford only to register the two boys. She was told there would be no fees; education is free.
The girl told me that after the school official left, her mother gathered her children around her and said, “It is true that the streets are paved with gold in this country. They give away education. If any of you ever misses a day of class I will beat you so hard you will never sit down again.” The girl said that grades less than a B were similarly punishable. All the girl’s siblings were at the head of their classes.
An English teacher in San Jose once told me that all her best students were Vietnamese. This was a few years after the refugee influx. I said, “How can that be? They all speak English as a second language. How can they be the best in English.”
“They work harder,” the teacher said.