Dispatch from the Floor of the Model Minority Factory
Lawrence-Minh Bùi Davis, Founder
The Asian American Literary Review
Hard work is a glue, and he worked longer hours than anybody I’d ever known, from doors opening to doors closing, 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. every summer day the Center was open, six and sometimes seven days a week, year after year after year. I liked him immediately. I used to call him the best boss I’d ever had. He was, for a long time. Frequently I’d close with him, and we’d sit around on top of those little kid-sized desks like two off-duty cops, exhausted and a little punchy, drinking cheap canned coffees he’d brought back from Taiwan for the staff. For reasons I wouldn’t figure out until much later, I saw in him someone I needed badly to be a good boss, a good person, someone I could be friends with, someone who could see a friend in me. I guess he saw a friend in me because I was always there, because he prized hard work over all else, because he prized my PhD-in-progress, and maybe too because he was lonely, even with his wife working beside him all those long hours. The immigrant work ethic fundamentally renders you lonely, even in the midst of fellow immigrants.
The work was private education, primarily prep classes for the Scholastic Aptitude Test, commonly known as the SAT, still the standard ticket for high school students of every race and region and class to gain access to American college education. The business was called Straight A Learning Center — owned and operated by Danny and his wife Ellen, who’d emigrated together from Taiwan in the early ‘90s. Straight A first opened its doors in 1998; I joined the Center in 2007, teaching a few classes that first summer, going full-time the next few summers, eventually going part-time bordering on full-time year-round.
Straight A came to offer a real future for me, money, security, and possibility of growth, as well as the opportunity to help young people from Asian American communities throughout Maryland’s Montgomery County and nearby northern Virginia. The Center promised a new kind of educational culture, and perhaps most importantly to me, because I’m Asian American myself, a way to support and give back to my communities.
But it all went wrong…
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