Bich Minh Nguyen’s autobiographical essay “The Good Immigrant Student” can be summarized as follows.
Nguyen grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where she, her sister, her father, and her extended family “stuck out” in a mostly white neighborhood because they were Asians. Her early schooling involved bilingual education. Ironically, Nguyen and her sister already knew English but needed help with Vietnamese. Eventually they ceased attending bilingual classes. As she grew older, Nguyen increasingly perceived Grand Rapids as a city dominated by whites. Nevertheless, Nguyen writes,
I was an insufferably good student, with perfect Palmer cursive and the highest possible scores in every subject.
Yet she was also completely shy and obedient, especially since almost all her classmates were white. Although she therefore secretly admired kids who were disruptive or rebelled (one of whom eventually included her sister), she was signed up for a special program for talented children – a program she loved because it encouraged individuality. One teacher there made an especially positive impact on her life. Participation in the program made Nguyen less shy and more confident. Thanks to the program, she began to look forward to college. For the time being, however, she attended an academically challenging high school, at least until a move to a new neighborhood meant attendance at a highly class-conscious school.
As she grew older, Nguyen became more apathetic and less self-conscious. Nevertheless, she recalls the discrimination she and other immigrant students commonly experienced, and she suspects that immigrant students even today often feel as alienated as she did.