The Model Minority

By: Patti Roldan

I do not think a lot of people understand what it means to be part of a model minority group. Asian Americans are constantly depicted as this exceptionally intelligent group of people – constantly working their asses off, staying up all night to get that A on their next assignment. They are considered to be highly intelligent, proficient in math and science and always at the top of their classes. As far as stereotypes go, I can see why a lot of people do not understand why we make such a big fuss over it. It is not like we‘re being labeled as stupid or anything right? Smart or not, an ethnic group shouldn‘t only be considered as one way or another. I do not think people realize how much pressure it puts on someone to expect that they always do well. Asian Americans are killing themselves mentally and sometimes even physically just to abide by these “social” standards. But why? I honestly think people who stereotype Asian Americans in just this way are really ignorant “especially if they do not know the history behind it. Yes, a lot of Asian Americans are as smart as they are ―supposed” to be and yes, as far as stereotypes go, they are more than likely to be true. But sometimes they are not. I know the stereotypes will probably never go away and that Asian Americans are pretty much the model minority group. I also know that when people do say stuff about how intelligent or how hard working they are, it‘s not really their intention to cause any hard feelings. To some extent, I do feel like it is an honor to be classified as someone so successful, sometimes even a compliment. But I wish that more people knew the essence of its meaning. Asian Americans are not born to be smart – they work for it like anyone else would. The model minority stereotype goes back to the twentieth century. It is not your typical stereotype – there is some cold, hard history behind it – and I think if more people were aware of this, they would not be so quick to judge.

86% “of Asians, age 25 and older . . . are high school graduates.” 1 49% “of Asians, age 25 and older, . . . have a bachelor‘s degree or higher level of education. Asians have the highest proportion of college graduates of any race or ethnic group in the country.”2 Furthermore, 20% “of Asians, age 25 and older, . . . have an advanced degree (e.g., Master’s, Ph.D., M.D. or J.D.).”3 it is an impressive record. But if we only think in modern times about how successful Asian Americans are, we are missing a big part of the point. Going back to its roots is essential in understanding why Asian Americans are the model minority group and ultimately why they are so successful now. When Asians first came to America, the Caucasian inhabitants who were already there did not see or even want to see anything in them but a new, fresh source of labor. Plantation owners in Hawaii “did not want the children of plantation laborers to be educated beyond the sixth or eighth grade. They wanted the schools to offer vocational training, not literature courses.”4 However, unluckily for them, teachers who had originally come from the mainland to public schools in Hawaii taught “children of immigrant workers . . . about freedom and equality, reciting the Gettysburg Address and the Declaration of Independence.”5 They learned that being a plantation worker wasn‘t all that life could be about. “Seeing their parents suffer from drudgery, low wages, and discriminatory barriers, many second-generation Asians did not want to be tracked into plantation employment.”6 And, as Asians transitioned from being sojourners to settlers, 1st generation parents wanted more for their children than the life they were living. They worked not only for the sake of working, but also for a better future for their children.

For 2nd generation Asians, being at the top of their classes was not optional. They had to prove themselves here and let America‘s “original” inhabitants know that they were just as good as anyone else – and their parents would not let them forget that. Ronald Takaki‘s book, Strangers from a Different Shore, emphasizes this view in a quote from a plantation worker to one of his children: “I‘ve worked my fingers to the bones for you boys to get yourself an education . . . If you cannot be better than they [whites] are, try to be their equal anyway, because that way, one of these days, you can be up there too.”6 The earliest generations of Asians saw education as a way of assimilation, but more so, as a way of staying. If they could show everybody that they were more than a good source of labor, it would help them to become fully American.

So for people who do not know this part about Asians in America, I think it is important that they take a step back. Education was not only important, it was imperative. And today, I think Asian Americans still have that mentality. I know for myself, as a Filipino-American, I was raised to always strive to do well in school. My parents were a huge influence on me. I remember rushing home after middle school to do my homework. When I was done, I would lay it on the dinner table for my parents to correct and it was only then that I felt like I could play. This happened until I was in fifth grade. That was when I started realizing that not every parent checked their kids‘ homework like I did. I did not know if it stopped because I was embarrassed about it or because I just wanted to be more independent, but starting in sixth grade, I wanted to be my own checker and get good grades on my own account.

I know it was not like that for everyone, however. I knew that most kids who were not Asian did not have their parents constantly checking their homework. I think this is when I started realizing that Asians valued getting good grades a little more than people of other ethnicities. An article by Dr. Soo Kim Abboud and Janke Kim entitled ―How Do Asian Students Get to the Top of the Class?‖ helped me understand the difference a little bit better.

Non-Asian children often equate the final ring of the school bell with freedom from learning and education. Therein lies the difference between many Asian children and their peers. Many non-Asian children view their roles in the classroom and at home very differently. Unfortunately, many children are not taught that the role of student is one to be assumed during and after school hours. On the contrary, Asian students rarely shed the role of student. Regardless of their roles during the day, Asian parents transform into educators at night. The Asian parents we knew placed the utmost importance in their role as educators, and their children reaped the benefits.7
I know, for myself, this is very true. I tend to plan things around school, because to me, education still comes first. I think if it was not for my parents, however, I would not feel as strongly. And I think this is where the model minority stereotype hurts more than inspires a lot of people.

In another article entitled, “Asian Americans’ Raising Suicide Rates – Three Students Take Their Lives'” (2009), the author Andrew Lim reports how “Three Chinese-American students at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have killed themselves in the last three months.”8 Asian Americans feel a pressure from all sides to do well in school. it is expected from their parents, from their classmates and some even feel that it‘s their duty to maintain such a high standard.

People often assume that students with excellent academic performances have excellent psychological well-being. The model minority myth may motivate Asian American students to achieve higher test scores; but with often unfair and unrecognized burden, pressure, and discrimination, they may struggle emotionally feeling overwhelmed and socially disconnected. Parents and educators must attend to and properly assess for the mental health needs of their students, regardless of their academic achievement.9
I think it is horrible for Asian American students to feel like they have to take their lives because they feel like they are not good enough for their parents or for society, that because they cannot get straight A‘s or maintain a perfect GPA, they are not fully, in this case, Asian. Asian American students have set their own standard that I think is totally different from what everyone else thinks is average. To most students, a B is a totally fine and acceptable grade, but for most Asian-American students, it is sub-par. It is almost set in stone at this point. And if that cannot change, something else has to.

The whole situation is pretty complicated. I know my parents only wanted the best for me and that is why they pushed me to work so hard. it is a completely different situation from the first generations of Americans, but I feel like the idea is still the same. Although we do not have to worry about being sent “home” or being seen as just laborers, we feel like there is some sort of status quo that we have to maintain, some sort of homage to our ancestors. There is a fine line between working hard and killing yourself over maintaining good grades. Furthermore, to call Asian Americans the model minority group must make those who are not as smart or feel like they don‘t live up to this standard feel like shit. To them, it is dehumanizing to be on the level they are at and they have to work doubly hard to not only get on the level of most students, but on the level of Asian Americans. And one can only imagine the pent up anger and frustration this builds up inside, not to mention the smart remarks their peers give them. When I meet Asian American students at school, sometimes one of the first things they say is “I‘m not your typical Asian.” And they say that because they are not as smart as they think they should be. I think it is just horrible. A person shouldn‘t be defined as Asian American because of how smart they are. And just because they are not as smart as most people perceive them to be should not make them less “typical.”

What I think needs to happen is for people to have more of an awareness for this stereotype. A lot of people have different views on the subject, but from my own personal experience and from what I see happening all the time around me and in the news, being called a model does not do a lot of justice for Asian Americans as pretty as the name sounds. I just wish people did not have to beat themselves up all the time for not getting straight A‘s in every subject. I wish they did not have to feel less “Asian” because they do not have the “ideal” intellectual capacity. I think it sucks. And to top it off, we have people putting us down because we are not super proficient and science and we are not always at the top of our classes. I think those kinds of people and even parents need to be more sensitive in how they approach this situation because it pretty serious. Behind the color of our skin and the shapes of our eyes, we are just human. And while we are the same in that sense, it is all these differences that make us special. And that is how we should treat everyone else – as our counterparts, as our friends and as special.

 

References
1 L.E, C.N. “14 Important Statistics about Asian
Americans.” Asian Nation.
C.N. Le, 2008. Web. 13 Oct 2010. <http://www.asian-nation.org/14-statistics.shtml&gt;.

2 L.E. C.N ―14 Important Statistics about Asian
Americans”.

3 L.E. C.N ―14 Important Statistics about Asian
Americans”.

4 Takaki, Ronald. Strangers From a Different
Shore. 1. New York: Back Bay Books/Little, Brown and Company, 1998. 172. Print.

5 Takaki 173.

6 Takaki 173.

7 Abboud, Dr. Soo Kim &Kim, Jane. “How Do Asian Students Get to the Top of the Class?.” Great Schools, Involved Parents. Successful Kids. GreatSchools Inc, 03 Oct 2007. Web. 13 Oct 2010.
<http://www.greatschools.org/parenting/teaching-values/parenting-students-to-the-top.gs?content=481&page=all&gt;.

8 Yoo, Brandon. “Asian Americans’ Rising Suicide Rates — Three Students
Take their Lives.” New America Media. Pacific News Service, 13 Aug 2009. Web. 13 Oct 2010.
<http://news.newamericamedia.org/news/view_article.html?article_id=c2b8f3a43bbe3e0445f23274028d24a7&gt;.

9 Yoo, Brandon. “Unraveling the Model Minority Myth of Asian American
Students.” Education.Com, 2010. Web. 13 Oct 2010. <http://www.education.com/print/unraveling-minority-myth-asian-students/&gt;.

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