That Smart Asian Student: The Model Minority

Growing up, I had all of these expectations set by my parents, my teachers, and my peers. I was one of the smarter students in my classes, I never found my work too difficult, and I spent free time being tutored outside of school to make sure I stayed ahead and my skills were sharp. My parents expected me to do well because they always pushed me to strive to be the very best I could be. Everyone else, however, assumed I would succeed because it was simply expected of “that smart Asian student.”

The Model Minority, as defined by teachingtolerance.org, is a myth based on stereotypes. In relation to the Asian American community, this defines us as individuals with gifted intelligence or skills, strong work ethics, and high obedience towards their elders. While these traits may appear admirable and good characteristics to have, the model minority myth takes these traits and emphasizes them to an extent where that is all that can be seen in an individual and what can be assumed by a specific group. People tend to forget the other details that define a person when they are in the light of the model minority myth. In my own experiences, people around me assumed that I was naturally gifted in school and on the path to enter into a STEM centered career like medicine or engineering. Even my parents assumed this of me and pushed me to work harder. In Episode 2 of The SituAsian Room, we discuss the Model Minority Myth with our guest, Julia Lopez, and how it can impact one’s mental health. Especially within the Asian American community, the expectations of the model minority myth suppress discussions about stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses to eventually make the individual feel like “they’re just being lazy” or “just making excuses for themselves.” So when it came to telling people about problems I had or thoughts about my future, I was shocked by how difficult of a time I had trying to explain what I was feeling, and that’s exactly the problem. Students will experience these moments and they should not feel ashamed or hesitant to share what they are feeling with their parents, their teachers, or even their fears.

So how do we put an end to the Model Minority Myth? There’s a myriad of paths that can be taken. One of the easiest would be to continue to raise awareness through conversation. I used to feel awkward, sometimes I was even embarrassed, when people would ask questions about the stereotypes that “define” me. Having a little patience and an open mindset allowed me to expand my knowledge and teach others more about the Asian American & Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. Talking more about these different topics and issues not only raises awareness and education, it also normalizes these topics in everyday conversation. Sharing our own stories also allows us to dispel myths like the Model Minority and truly embracing our individuality. The AAPI community is so beautiful and diverse and it is extremely important to showcase our cultures and be proud of our heritage. Exploring more about the AAPI community through media, books, and even activists working to make a difference are ways we can grow closer to achieving racial equality and put an end to stereotypes like the Model Minority.

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