As an Asian-American living in a predominantly immigrant community in Northern California, I’ve found that I’m defined by my numbers. At the college prep center I attend on a weekly basis, I’m often told that because I’m Asian– because of my race– I’ll need to score higher and achieve more. By Asian standards, I’ve never been a particularly good student; while my fellow peers were scoring full marks, I was scoring “less than average,” average being excellent.
I’m not good at math. I quit piano lessons in eighth grade. I prefer to draw, instead of compete in Speech and Debate. My peers used to call me a “B-sian”– the worst insult you could be called in my neighborhood.
The “model minority” myth is one that I’ve lived with for more than a decade. I’ve seen the children across the street head to their violin lessons, their tennis practice, and their mathematic programs. Posters of Harvard, Yale, and Princeton have been on our bedroom doors as reminders of what we could become if we work hard enough. James Truslow Adams defined the American Dream as “that dream of a life in which life should be fuller and better for everyone.” In that sense, the American Dream was our ideal. We believe that if we work hard enough, if we maximize our potential, our dreams would be fulfilled. And for some of us, it is true. I’ve seen kids winning quintessentially “American” competitions every day. I’ve seen my peers being featured in local newspapers for their accomplishments, and I’ve felt pride in the collective achievements of my race.
Yet, the stereotype of success still needs to be confronted. I’ve had the privilege of living in a very well-off bubble, a closed-off society that’s limited itself to one type of success: the quantitative kind. But there are other communities that are not so fortunate as mine, and that’s something that needs to be acknowledged. A survey by the White House has shown that 12.6% of Asian-Americans in the United States live below poverty, in juxtaposition with the national average of 12.4%. Asian-American poverty has gone fairly unseen throughout the years, as has racial discrimination. The video #thisis2016, centered around the various forms of racism towards Asian-Americans–both direct and indirect–has garnered more than 110,000 Facebook shares, along with responses from the Asian-American community. We need to confront the fact that yes, there are communities out there that don’t share the same economic benefits as our vision of the “model minority.”
We need to accept that there is an implicit sense of oppression present in the perpetuation of this stereotype.
The “model minority” stereotype does nothing but render discrimination against Asian-Americans invisible. http://t.co/s8hwEz242v
— Room for Debate (@roomfordebate) October 16, 2015
It’s difficult to fully describe how much this misconstrued concept of success has permeated my life. But I do know this: in our conversations about the diversity of American society, we must also take into account the diversity of Asian-Americans as a part of the whole. Yes, there are many of us, but we are not all the same. In my community, I’ve had the privilege of knowing peers who were math geeks, aspiring doctors, and future engineers. But I’ve also known kids who were writers and artists– kids who just wanted to tell a story. To accept the “model minority” stereotype as it is is to forgo the identities of these people. To preserve this notion of success is to limit achievement to just one type out of a spectrum of possibilities. So I want to show the diverse narratives of these descendants. I want to tell the true story of Asian-Americans as a whole.
I hope you do too.