Ethnic and Panethnic Asian American Identities: Contradictory Perceptions of Cambodian Students in Urban Schools

Vichet Chhuon, Cynthia Hudley

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5 Scopus citations


This article examined the various ethnic identities of Cambodian students, a group often perceived by the larger society through the lens of the model minority stereotype but often endure low expectations from teachers and counselors in their local high schools. Our findings suggested that a Cambodian identity was often considered a stigmatized label and students identified as Cambodian were essentialized into the discourse of urban low achieving and culturally deficient minority students. Cambodian students' identities in the less selective academic programs were often quite visible to teachers. This characterization was often coupled with a panethnic representation of Asian American students in selective programs who were considered motivated and supported by advantageous home and cultural values. In these contexts, teachers preferred to discuss Cambodian students in panethnic terms, ignoring students' ethnic backgrounds, described their Cambodian students as part of their "bright Asian students" group. Overall, this study extends other works on Asian American ethnicity and panethnicity by focusing on the conflicting identities that affect the schooling of Cambodian students. These analyses complicate further the static notion of Asian American students as model minorities by emphasizing the fluid, problematic, and contextually-based nature of the construct.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)681-701
Number of pages21
JournalUrban Review
Issue number5
StatePublished - Dec 2011


  • Asian American identities
  • Cambodian (Khmer) students
  • Panethnicity
  • Schools-within-Schools
  • Southeast Asian students


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