Deconstructing the AAPI Identity and the Myth of the Model Minority

All opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Her Campus Media.

As the pandemic developed, so has racism against Asian Americans. This sentiment against Asians has always been prevalent, but the pandemic brought these feelings out in full force. The former President’s action did little to help heal this division. Instead, he only strove to further widen the gap between a white population and an Asian-American one. From the travel ban to China to referring to COVID-19 as the “kung-flu,” his casual displays of racism only encouraged his supporters and fueled the flames of xenophobia. 

Growing up Vietnamese in a predominantly white school pushed me to assume a new identity. I did my best to blend in, Americanizing my name, staying under the radar, keeping on my teachers’ good side, and striving to excel at my classes. I avoided speaking in Vietnamese in public and stopped bringing my mom’s food to school. I was constantly trying to be perfect, afraid of messing up and showing others I didn’t deserve to be there. I know now this burden of perfection as Imposter’s Syndrome. 

The first realization that I really needed to reexamine my identity as an Asian-American in a deeply divided country came in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. Watching that horrible video of the Asian cop who was unperturbed by his white coworker’s actions brought up a myriad of feelings, shame being predominant The video so perfectly summed up the experience of being a model minority. We are the shining beacon of success that white folx compare other minorities to — “If the Asians can become successful, why can’t you?” We are perceived as the meek, submissive, law-abiding citizens that would never dare to dream of disagreeing with this country’s (in)justice system. 

Asian-Americans are able to directly benefit from white privilege: we have the social status of being treated like a white person while being able to claim a voice as a member of the BIPOC community. A lot of Americans don’t even regard Asians as people of color. This is not a happy little accident nor a societal overlook. The concept of the model minority was insidiously, meticulously designed to control and oppress all minorities. If we (the minorities) spent all of our time and energy tearing each other apart, we would not have the power to oust the system that put us there in the first place. 

The model minority was a concept I had prior knowledge of, but I  never imagined it extended to the degree of becoming complicit in police brutality. I began to research, forcing myself to uncover how deep the divisions of race ran in the United States. I came across the term Yellow Peril Supports Black Power. For so long, history and politicians have tried to pit BIPOC communities against each other. This division is especially prevalent among older Asian immigrants. I soon discovered the stigma against other communities of color ran deep in my family.  My mom and I had some extremely tough conversations about the history of race in the United States and I began to truly understand how effective the propaganda against the Black and Latinx communities truly was. 

Then came the election of 2020. The culmination of months of campaigning and outreach. Would the former President get what was coming to him or would his divisiveness be rewarded with another four years? The results of the election brought a myriad of feelings. Relief and joy that the country could finally begin healing, but also horror at the breakdown of voter ethnicities. Out of all Asian American ethnicities surveyed, only Vietnamese Americans leaned red. As progressive as my family is, they are still racist. It took the better part of the summer to reconcile with that fact and an entire semester to begin productively speaking to them about it and unlearning stigmas together. 

The attacks on elderly Asians in the Bay Area during the Lunar New Year unlocked yet another urgent fear for the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. A time of renewal, celebration, and family was marred by violence towards the elderly. It was around this time that the media finally began picking up on anti-Asian violence. In major US cities, anti-Asian hate crimes spiked by 150%

The mass shootings in Atlanta on Tuesday, March 16th shed a long-overlooked light on the fetishization of Asian women. For too long, Hollywood and the media have been touting the image of Asian women as exotic, submissive, and sexually charged. Not only is this disgusting, but it perpetuates a dangerously false narrative. Reality often disappoints and coupled with toxic masculinity creates pernicious standards Asian women are held to. These standards have devastating consequences. 

To hear a sheriff of a state capitol say a mass shooter was “having a bad day” is utterly disgusting, horrific, and an entirely new level of low I didn’t think even the police department could stoop to. The mass shooting was a hate crime at best and domestic terrorism at worst. Imagine my surprise and appreciation when I opened up my social media and saw the BIPOC communities standing in solidarity with the Asian community. The unity across all communities was incredible and inspired optimism for the future. 

It’s easy to advocate for others because there is a distance between your cause and your emotions that you are afforded. This privilege becomes inconsequential when it is your own community that is being attacked. The luxury of being indifferent, of being able to separate your jumbled emotions from empathy for others, your stoicism from your advocacy is ripped away when you are reminded of how inconsequential you are. Of how easy it is for the world you thought you knew to be yanked from your feet. 

There is an arrogance in believing that you are safe.

Racism against Asian Americans isn’t new. In fact, the entire history of the American expansion of the West Coast was built on stolen Chinese labor in an effort to replace enslaved Africans. The Chinese Exclusion Act, The Japanese American Internment camps during World War 2, and the eradication of an entire Filipino neighborhood in San Francisco are just some examples of anti-Asian sentiment in the United States. 

While the struggles of the Black and Asian-American communities are deeply intertwined, this does not make them equal. It is up to us to bridge these barriers and destroy the division that exists between communities of color. We can not resort to pointing fingers, comparing traumas, or discriminating. These methods have divided our communities for far too long and it is about time we eliminate them. 

For resources that help support the Asian-American community, click here.

For resources that help support the Black community, click here.

To enroll in a bystander awareness harassment training course, click here, and to report a hate crime to the FBI, click here.