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Why the Model Minority Myth is Damaging

     Some of the biggest core values my dad instilled in me were the importance of hard work and sticking with something all the way through. I think he drilled those ideals pretty far deep into my brain because I pride myself on my work ethic and drive ever since I was little. One of my classmates in elementary school told me: “You’re lucky you’re so smart because you’re Asian.” This comment puzzled my third grade self, because, yes, it was a compliment. He did call me smart. But also I tried in school and I did all of my homework, it wasn’t something that came naturally to me. I wasn’t born super intelligent or gifted, I just worked to earn good grades (as hard as a third-grader can really work I guess). Seemingly, it was a good stereotype, right? Wasn’t it a good thing to be categorized into a racial group of people who all ended up being successful in life? 

     I wanted to belong to my identity as an Asian American, but I felt like that identity squared me away into a box and limited the range of personality traits that I could have. I didn’t want to exemplify a stereotype, but I also didn’t want to be white-washed. Finding where I belonged was confusing in that sense. The stereotype, at least what I saw in the media, was that Asians were naturally gifted, straight-A students who excelled at science and math. If they weren’t that, then they were musical prodigies, never going a second without practicing to play the violin or piano, with their tiger moms breathing over their shoulder every second of the day. Hollywood representation surely didn’t help… since there wasn’t really any in the first place. The only Asian American characters were very passive and shy, never the main character, and never given the space to be bold.  When I was researching ways to get into selective colleges my senior year, I came upon an article that told me not to put “stereotypical Asian activities” on my resume, such as piano recitals or math team. Regardless if this article was statistically correct or not, I was kind of upset that being “too Asian” might hinder my abilities into getting into my dream schools.

     Sure, this stereotype made me confused as to where I fit in, but I didn’t realize the true damages of the model minority myth until I did some digging and researched it. I think we’ve drawn a lot more attention to harmful stigmas surrounding the Asian community, including the model minority myth and the fetishization of Asian women. This media attention has all come from the horrible hate crimes Asians have been facing amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, and it’s quite upsetting that it’s taken so long to draw attention to these issues. Grassroots organizer, Cayden Mak, says “People don’t think Asians will fight back, and it’s easy to target people who you don’t think you’ll have consequences for targeting,” and I couldn’t agree with her more, since Asians have long been seen as passive in America. 

     The main problem with the model minority myth is that it categorizes all Asians into a homogenous group. The myth fails to recognize all the different cultures and backgrounds that can be categorized into ‘Asian.’ Sometimes, South Asians can be left out of the narrative in regards to the Asian American community. In addition, people only tend to see Asians in high paying jobs, when the reality is that people forget about the Asian Americans working in low-wage jobs, such as nail salons, restaurants, salons, and factories. 

     Additionally, racism against Asians is downplayed because of the model minority myth and this can also be used to drive a wedge between Asians and different racial and ethnic groups. It can perpetuate systemic racism because of the idea that Asians as a minority group are able to achieve economic  success, so why can’t the rest of the minorities? This could explain why the North Thurston Public Schools district in Washington tried to separate Asians from other students of color and lump them together with whites. Also, people still fail to remember that Asians weren’t always welcome in the US… let’s not forget about the Chinese Exclusion Act or the Japanese Americans who were placed in internment camps. At least in my experience, I think we tend to minimize Asian American’s struggles, and I have grown to laugh off microaggressions instead of correcting people.

     The attention the Asian American community has received recently is long overdue, but we can move forward with the momentum we have. We must focus on seeing people for people, instead of the preconceived notions we have and the stereotypes that we might have. There NEEDS to be more Asian American representation in Hollywood and representation in history curriculums.  Yes, it may seem amazing to be a part of a group that is automatically deemed smart, but this can be damaging because every single person is different and you can’t assume something about somebody based off of their race. We must make an effort in educating one another in order to end this continuous battle.

Michelle Tasaki is a sophomore at Baylor University and grew up in Maui, Hawai'i-- bringing her island lifestyle to the middle of Texas. She has a passion for social justice issues, loves exploring the outdoors, and curling up to read a good psychological thriller once in a while. She has a love for all things fashion and thrifting, and is pursuing a degree in Public Health within Baylor's Honors Program with aspirations to attend law school post-grad.
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