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No Models in Minorities: Growing up Chinese American

My mom likes to tell me how she made sure I never had bangs cut as a child. As a young Chinese girl, why would I want to look like the stereotype? What happened instead is that I became the stereotype.

I fit into it so nicely. I was a quiet, studious girl who sat in a little corner and kept to herself. I didn't talk to a lot of people, and I definitely was never loud. And some people were not afraid to admit it. My absolute favorite instance was when in high school, I slipped into class late. I did not get penalized for two reasons. One reason was that my teachers weren't that interested in keeping on top of things like that. The second reason is that according to my friend, I am an invisible person. She actually told me something along the lines of, "you fit into the background and nobody really notices you that much." Thank you, sweetheart. That was really appreciated. (But it was also kinda true.)

People I hardly knew and barely talked to automatically seemed to know my personality: sweet and smart. I was always getting good grades in my classes and I was pretty polite to people I don't know. And when I moved on to junior college, I was taking STEM classes. My first year was mostly chock full of chemistry and precalculus. Meanwhile, I had also met a friend on the first day of orientation that was adopted from China just like me! I thought that was amazing, given the fact that my high school and hometown was literally 99% white. If not 99.99% white. I think I was maybe the only Chinese girl in that school, and only of the maybe two or three Asians who weren't foreign exchange students. Anyway, this friend of mine eschewed any sort of Asian stereotype. She loved swimming and liked to talk about how her (white) dad loved math while she HATED it. She liked her writing classes, was originally planning on going into court reporting, and there was even a picture on Instagram posted with her holding her middle finger up, the caption being "Not your model minority." When an Asian teacher I had was joking about how he could probably just stroll into the Math Learning Center and grab a calculator because he was Asian, she went on a rant about "upholding the stereotype."

It often seems like a cool thing to make sure you are the opposite of whatever stereotype someone has placed upon you, and I have spent a good long time wishing I did not fit the stereotype so well. In fact, sometimes I wish I had gone into an English or communications major. But I ended up going into biology instead because I felt like I could do more with a STEM degree and I was prouder of my skills in STEM than my skills in English because when I was growing up, STEM careers were celebrated more than anything else. But had I been an English major, I wouldn't have been the stereotype and I always feel comfortable and happy when I'm writing. I can't say the same when it comes to science classes. I also read a book written by a Chinese American woman who dropped out of med school to pursue a career in journalism, and while I have no plans to drop out anytime soon, I admire her for following her own path instead of the path other people had decided that she needed to take.

But after some self reflection, I came to a realization. It is okay to have some stereotypical characteristics. That doesn't make you any less than. You shouldn't feel pressured to feel as though you should be a stereotype, but you shouldn't feel pressured to not be a stereotype. It sounds cliche, but you should be whatever you feel like. The problem lies in how other people choose to perceive me, not in my own personality. Stereotypes become an issue when you feel as though you can judge somebody's entire personality from what they look like or just a few of their characteristics. People are so much more than they seem. When you really get to know me, you find out how sarcastic and (occasionally) witty I am, how dumb I can be, how I like writing about fantasy and poetry and listening to music and playing tennis, how I can get lost in politics, and how I have my issues like everyone else. Stereotypes are wrong when they are unfairly pushed on people, but nobody should be shamed if they do meet a stereotype.

Finally, you have probably heard of how Asians are called "the model minority". Why? Because Asian immigrants have always tried their best to assimilate into American culture and they were sometimes educated enough to get decent jobs here. In other words, they did their best to fit into white culture as much as they could in order to get ahead and that is why they were celebrated by the dominant race in America. Is this actually a good thing? No, it just speaks to the classism and racism that has always been a part of America. Asian Americans were known for getting far because they had the resources to fit in as much as possible.

In our society, no matter how much we talk about individualism, fitting in is an important part of success and societal acceptance. And this goes to stereotypes as well. Cultures are lost when one minority tries to fully assimilate, and individuals are lost when someone changes themselves to fit some ideal in our society. Whether it's cool to be a part of a stereotype or not, doesn't matter, what matters is what makes you happy. Racial minorities have been dealing with these identity crises for ages. How do I embrace my culture? How do I fit in to a Eurocentric culture? Who am I if I do not feel fully American or fully Chinese? How do I make sure I do not fit a negative stereotype? And hopefully, we minorities can work to reclaim our culture as well as our own selves in a world that either shames, or ignores them, as well.

Junior Majoring in Molecular and Cell Biology Loves reading, writing, history, philosophy, cool science stuff, listening to music and thinking about things
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