Reflecting on my own experiences as a first generation Asian American college student, being called a “model minority” can be more harmful than helpful.
When I first immigrated to the United States, I found myself outperforming my peers. I took pride in finishing my multiplication table in less than a minute and was too excited to learn long division. I wrote narratives and reflections in cursive earning perfect scores from my teacher.
Since English was not my first language, I struggled socially. When I could not fully understand what my friends and teachers were asking me, I would just nod yes and hope that they could dismiss me from that conversation. But academically, I was deemed “above average”.
This led me to earn the label as the “smart Asian girl” in class up until middle school.
Things changed in high school when I was no longer the only smart Asian girl in class. I was surrounded by many Asian American peers who also took pride in that same identity. Being an overachiever and taking as many AP classes in one academic year was all our sly little agenda. We all wanted to attend the best and the most prestigious college hoping to be successful one day– and make our families proud.
Now as a college student, I understand that many still perceive Asian American students as the “model minority”. We are categorized as the students who get the best grades, those who set the curve, and those who never struggle. We are the “model” and the cookie-cutter type that all students should try to emulate. Sometimes we are even notorious for spending very little time studying and somehow still keep a perfect GPA.
All these expectations and assumptions is what makes the “model minority” a myth. To characterize all Asians and Asian American students to be high achieving and successful makes it difficult for those struggling to ask for help. The pressure imposed upon by society including educational institutions whose teachers and professors alike dismiss such sentiments hurt these students.
Many students are reduced to a stereotype and the failure to live up to being the “model minority” student makes these Asian American students on campus an outcast.
The “model minority myth” also negatively impacts Asian American students who identify as First Generation and Low-Income. Although many Asian families come from educated backgrounds, this does not equate to wealth and high income.
Such stereotypes ultimately exacerbates the struggles that many of these students face–academically and financially. Often times, they have to work multiple jobs during the school year whilst having to keep up with their academics. Being the “model minority”, Asian Americans are expected to succeed regardless of the adversities they face.
Looking at the larger picture, the “model minority” stereotype is not only a simplification of one racial group within the education system but has also been used to weaponize Asians against the Black and Brown community.
“If Asians are able to succeed, why can’t you?”
Statements as such create resentment between these communities and fuel anti-academic attitudes placed upon African Americans and Hispanics. By accepting the “model minority” title, we perpetuate racist and discriminatory attitudes to fellow minority groups.
The effects of the “model minority myth” extends beyond our own educational spheres, communities, and racial identities. We can begin to address these sentiments and confront the problems that come along with it. By educating ourselves and those around us about the negative implications of such stereotypes, we can undermine these harmful identities and take a step towards change.