The Asian-American dream is falling apart

Growing up in a Chinese-American family, I was raised in a culture where it is normal for parents to pay for tutors, piano and martial arts lessons to help their children get into college. The idea is that a good education, with financial assistance by our parents, would lead to a fulfilling career, a house and family.

Many thousands of Asian-American parents make this commitment, which assumes that in return they will be cared for in their golden years. But for Asian-American millennials, especially in California, that desire to do our part is becoming elusive.

It’s not for lack of achievement. According to the Census Bureau, 54 percent of Asian Americans have a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to just 33 percent of the total population, and have average incomes $15,600 higher.

Still, I have friends, including many accomplished professionals, who 10 years into their careers, are forced to ask their parents to help with unexpected health, car and veterinary bills. The problem is compounded by the rising cost of housing; one-third of those ages 18 to 34 cannot afford rent and still live with their parents. Too many millennials, not just Asian Americans, share the same embarrassing experience of needing financial assistance from parents entering retirement age.

Some blame millennials for spending their money on expensive coffee and avocado toast, instead of choosing to buy a house. In reality, most of my friends are thrifty and make their own toast, but they’re still unable to afford a house.

I come from a family of immigrants who came to America, worked hard, got their college degrees and saved up to buy our first home. If the American dream is homeownership and a stake in their community, we found a way to make it happen. My parents saved and saved and saved some more, only spending on my education.

But today that sacrifice does not seem enough. During a phone call to my mother, I burst into tears when I came to the realization that at the age of 32, I probably couldn’t save enough to purchase my own house. My gracious mother said, “Don’t worry, I get it, times have changed and I already have plans for you.” I felt like the luckiest girl alive to have a culture that thinks about and plans for future generations, but sadly many others will be left behind.

Now that the Legislature has completed cap-and-trade legislation, it is imperative that our housing supply and affordability crisis take center stage. California is where every generation who dreamed of owning a home had the chance to make it a reality. We need to be bold and continue to give everybody their opportunity.

As a millennial, I want to be able to make my own way and be there for my parents and community. In a state as great as California, I don’t think this is too much to ask.

Elena Lee Reeder, former press secretary to Assemblyman David Chiu, is principal of LeederStrategies, a Sacramento communications firm. She can be contacted at