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When I grew up, the media offered very few Asian-American role models to admire; but when an occasional Asian girl hung out for a few minutes of TV or pages from a book, the character exuded racial stereotypes.
Take the Short-lived American Girl Doll (2007-14) Ivy ling, the best friend of the white girl who loves STEM and strives to satisfy the heavy ambitions of her parents. Consider Harry Potter’s “yellow fever” sweetheart, Cho Chang, because a Chinese girl can only be thin, belong to Ravenclaw and have an alliterative and monosyllabic name. Or even meditate Lane kim of Gilmore girls, whose frugal mother maintains a strict curfew and despises a career other than law or medicine.
These manual examples of the “model minority” reveal how much America has incorporated the Asian-American Pacific Island community into the subplot – as well as the extent to which we ourselves contribute to the main plot of the story. white America.
The problem with these characters – and the myth of the model minority, more broadly – is not that they are inaccurate. Just like the stereotype implies, I memorized the multiplication tables in grade one. While my peers would be rewarded with ice cream after the recitals, I would receive the sweetness of a violin CD and a lecture on my hectic pace. And yes, I ate rice every night for dinner.
At its core, the problem with the model minority myth is that it is incomplete, neglecting the socio-economic, cultural, and educational diversity of our community in favor of STEM, lanky bodies, and strict parenting.
The myth of the model minority also threw our immigrant ancestors headlong into the American dream, nullifying any possibility of cultivating a political ego. Our manifest destiny did not involve dominating the western frontier through political and economic ingenuity; it meant bus tables at our family’s mom-and-pop dim sum restaurants, spitting out words in a foreign language in hopes of getting a college degree. To engage in politics was to distract oneself from practical success.
So now, in the face of violent hatred, the myth of the model minority places Asian Americans particularly at risk, as those inside and outside our community are feeling the impact of racism.
The bipartisan support of the AAPI community is a sign of hope. Last Thursday, President Biden signed a bill which responds to the incredibly high number of hate crimes against Asian Americans since the coronavirus outbreak – passing a 94: 1 vote in the Senate and 364: 62 in the House. However, it was not until 2021 that the government recognized our age-old struggles. We must do more.
Society must demodel our minority group by recognizing the great diversity of our community. While many see China as a synecdoch of Asia, Asian Americans have emigrated from various parts of East Asia, as well as Southeast Asia and South Asia. A study by the University of California, Irvine showed that while the South and East Asian groups outperformed all other racial / ethnic groups in terms of socio-economic outcomes, Southeast Asians have low success rate due to their refugee status.
Additionally, to see the AAPI community behind the American filter, it is essential that allies proactively learn about Asian culture.
As a first generation American kid, I couldn’t belong to anywhere. At school, I assimilated into traditional white culture, becoming unsure of my ‘otherness’. At home, I wasn’t Asian enough –– I choked the Mandarin words out of my mouth like unfamiliar spices, my chubby physique, and my algebra illiteracy unsuitable for athletic and academic standards.
I soon realized that if all I felt for my culture was shame and neglect, then the sacred cultural traditions of my ancestors would disappear. In 2016, I started to research and record the legends, customs and dishes of Chinese festivals. In the summer of 2020, I published my four-year project Swept, blessed and braised. Using the holidays as a goal to study wider Chinese theology, philosophy, literature and cuisine, I strove not only to inspire other first generation Chinese children to learn more about the stories behind. – extend our celebrations, but also to generate enthusiasm in other children of various ethnicities. backgrounds.
Within our own AAPI community, we can demodel the myth of the minority by leaning into uncomfortable conversations about racism and our role in America. Influenced by the lack of democracy in our home countries, we often neglect our responsibilities as citizens and fail to realize our inherent ability to influence the course of our country. And because America wrote our narrative as a minority group “unlike others,” we moved away from the racial plight of other ethnic groups – namely the black community.
By engaging those most prone to violent hate crimes and those least literate in the language of racism – the elderly and parents – we are preventing the deadly consequences of political silence. Meanwhile, by pushing our community to support the social justice movements of other minority groups, people of color can come together and begin to rewrite their own stories.
Last spring I created a brochure on how to identify, report and prevent hate crimes in New Jersey. Along with several Asian friends and allies, I translated the brochure into five different languages - English, Traditional Mandarin, Simplified Mandarin, Spanish and French – and distributed these brochures to libraries, homes for the elderly and language schools. from northern New Jersey. Chinese immigrant enclaves.
Speaking to over 250 people at a vigil for Asian lives in Basking Ridge, New Jersey in April, I realized how I had started to break free from the complicity and obedience of characters like Ivy. Ling, Cho Chang and Lane Kim. Instead, I pushed myself and other Asian children on personal missions of self-discovery. I’m ready to find myself outside of this subplot, to write my own story.
Michaela Wang is editor-in-chief of The New Observer, a tri-state newspaper written by and for teenagers of Asian and American descent; author of “Swept, Blessed and Braised”, on the customs, cuisine and history of traditional Chinese festivals; and creator of a recent hate crime pamphlet for the New Jersey immigrant community. She is a senior at Newark Academy in Livingston, New Jersey.