My mother was once the princess of the Lower East Side- cleaning counters, taking calls, handling three meals on the flattop grill at once. She wore a red apron, a collared shirt, and the warmth of my grandfather’s Chinese takeout restaurant. In the day, she studied aero-engineering at Queens’ Aviation high school and at night dug sketches of wedding dresses and street wear into thick, toned paper. My father was the prince of Washington Heights- carrying the weight of 12 family members in a corner of a tenement building, abuela next door always sitting with her legs out of the fire escape, walking over the Washington Bridge every weekend to work at a bakery in New Jersey. At night, he tapped love messages in Morse code and built big plans and flickered on and off the light switch, pretending that days and years were passing overhead. My grandparents taught algebra, literature, Chinese, and morals back in rural China- taking an airplane to America exchanging their lives of comfort for the long days of a seamstress, oil burns and ectoplasmic restaurant grease of the restaurant business, and the eyes and ears of an alien. They carried traditions and dialects of the language, making sure that I wear red on the Lunar New Year and that the home fills with Chinese folk music on cassette tapes. But where do I stand? I am not my parents and I am not my grandparents. As a part of a new generation that was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York raised with both English, Chinese and the growls of the subway intercom, a blink-182 cassette always playing in the background, and on dreams of high school worthy of a John Hughes film but also being conscious of my pin straight hair, my glasses, my love for math, and anything that as a 10-year-old girl would make me every “other Asian girl.” So where do I draw the lines between my roots, the Asian American stereotypes, and who I will end up being? Because god forbid I am another “other Asian girl”.
Let me ask “What is wrong with “other Asian girls?”. Now at the grand age of 16 years old, the prime time to clear up some old questions before I make more problems to solve in a couple of years, my answer is that there is no problem with “other Asian girls”. The Asian girl stereotype is characterized by academic intensity and social passivity; it is usually caught through micro-aggressive actions and conversations- ones that are not explicitly meant to come off as racist because the speaker does not know that what they are saying can make the other person feel like they do not belong.
Over the summer of 2015, I worked at an office that communicated in Cantonese, Taiwanese, Mandarin, and English. It was an incredible learning experience for me and helped immerse me in my languages on the professional level. A group of high school and college students from NYC or from China worked from 9 A.M. to 5 P.M. every day for two months in these different languages, never expecting which dialect of Chinese to call common ground. Even there, where race was never the topic of discussion in our work, stereotyping finds its way around the workplace. While working, I always find myself to be intensive when leadership is needed. As the office deserted for lunch, I was left alone with the buzzing air conditioner and a boy that was in my grade said to me “You are not like the other Asian girls.” Stereotypes in the Asian community have become so prevalent that it can be embedded in our foundations and the distinction between a “joke” and a micro-aggressive statement is lost. I understood that there was no intended negative connotation from his part and that he even meant it as a compliment, but “positive” stereotypes are damaging differently than outwardly negative stereotypes. A common stereotype for Asians is that we are all “school smart.” Well, I mean at least we are not being called out for incompetence, right? No. What does not having a 5.0 average say to Asian Americans about our place in the Asian community and how can the stigmas behind “positive” stereotypes hold us back individually? Getting lost in the vagueness of race and grouping all Asian Americans under a set of standard is damaging because if you do not live up to the stereotype, suddenly you are detached from your culture and race; but, if you do meet the characteristics of the sweeping stereotype, you have lost your individuality.There is confusion between the pressures to conform, subversion induced choice, choice led by personal truth, and subconscious conformity. Stereotyping plays as a third-party character in development.
The Asian American fight is lost between the ubiquity of popular culture and the mass audience’s attention turning to stories that cover violence, fear, and shock. This goes to say that just because the fight to inform about Asian American culture and understanding of stereotyping is not casted across billboards and headlines, it does not mean that members of Asian community are not aware of our odd place as a model minority. Lack of visibility is one problem; inaccurate and poorly researched depiction of Asian Americans is another. The issue with Asian girls in the modern world is that although not systematically oppressed, stereotypes are set into the mind. It is not something that can be seen; and sometimes, it takes a while to catch up on recognizing the walls we build around ourselves to begin with.
The Asian girl stereotype given to “other Asian girls” is a portrait of the quiet and passive student who always manages to pull off excelling grades, the “tiger mom”, and characteristic affiliations with anime and wire framed glasses. Young girls who grow up being held to these stereotypes can feel confined to them and those who do not fall into these stereotypes are negatively labeled as“white-washed.” There is no comfort zone presented unless we create them. We must be proud of our languages and thick culture, our parents’ heavy accents, and find that our hobbies, music preferences, friends, and morals do not make us any more, or less, “Asian.” We must not be ashamed of being loud or quiet and good at math or bad at math. Most importantly, we cannot let others refer to our community of Asian girls as “other Asian girls,” because it provokes the jaded stereotype and is ignorant to our diversity.