Being Asian American in Today's America

Canal Street Station Signage Ana Paula Nardini / Pexels

Growing up, I was always conscious about my race. I grew up in a relatively white, affluent community where minorities were not always equally represented. My ancestors came from China and South Korea, so I identify as half Chinese, half Korean.

When people ask me where I am from, I say my hometown in America. When they say where are you actually from, I say I was born in America. And when they say, where did your family come from, I say China and South Korea. They always act surprised when I say I was born in America, and after it happens about 100 times, it starts to bother me. Also, as a side-note, I have gotten numerous jokes about my last name…when I say Oh, spelled o-h…they then say, “oh” (yes, I know that is my last name).

I would like to say that these were the only forms of racism weaving into people’s thoughts, but there was one particular moment that stood out to me. I was in an architecture class in high school, and the class was talking about taking the SAT. I was on my computer, attempting to draw in AutoCad, when a student next to me said, “Emily, you must be really good at math.” I sat there stumped because, well, I am not the greatest at math. Another student added, “Yeah, she’s good because she’s Asian!”

Generally, when people think of Asian Americans, attributes like “hard working” and “academically superior” rise to the surface. These attributes are generally considered good. Asians are considered “the minority role model” of society. Asian students have strict parents who care about grades, live in affluent suburbs, and play the violin. Even though these attributes are considered “positive,” these are stereotypes, meaning they do not reflect the overall picture of the Asian community in America.

In New York City, the number of Asian Americans who are homeless is increasing. Many Asians live in poverty-stricken areas. According to the Huffington Post article “Asian Americans Have Highest Poverty Rate in NYC, But Stereotypes Make the Issue Invisible” by Kimberly Yam, more than a quarter of Asian Americans live in poverty in New York City. Many come from refugee communities. Asian communities, especially in the city, are not receiving adequate resources. Most programs do not cater to their language barriers. We also need to preserve and embrace individual cultures and identities.

When it comes to race in America (which is diverse and complex), we need to be conscious of our biases. Get to know and understand everyone’s unique backgrounds. After all, you may even find that an Asian high school student is not that good at math…