When Samantha Oh began work as a Bergen County sheriff’s investigator this summer, she made history as the first female Asian-American to join the county force as a sworn officer.
The 36-year-old mother of two also joined a small but growing legion of women police officers of Asian ancestry in New Jersey who have challenged traditional gender roles and overcome cultural stigmas associated with police work in order to pursue their dreams.
Many went to college and attained bachelor’s degrees. Some left successful, well-paying careers in other industries for law enforcement — decisions that were resisted by family members who often place a greater emphasis on professional careers.
“For second-generation Asians, their parents really came to America so their children can be successful and they put all this money into education, and they go into industries like banking and become doctors and lawyers,” explained Angie Chung, a sociology professor at the University of Albany who specializes in second-generation Asian-Americans. “If they end up doing a job that they don’t consider respectable, it feels like all the sacrifices they made did not pan out into anything.”
Those sentiments could be part of the reason Asians in certain regions have gotten off to a slower start in the profession.