(Op-Ed) Say No to Stereotypes About Asian Americans
Guest contributor: Benjamin Li
Growing up as an Asian teenager in the west, the strange absence of a solid sense of culture was always palpable. Compared with the deep African American roots and rich Light-Skinned history in the Land of the free, Asian American history was, well… rather shallow. Shallow in the sense that my Asian friends and I never had a strong identity to plant ourselves in; rather, our confidence was tossed about by the waves we helplessly found ourselves in. At home and school were two different worlds; cultural expectations clashed, and I found myself a vagabond, in a storm of merciless dysphoria.
I soon realized, however, that I was not the only one who felt this way. Lost Asian American teenagers, just like me, were trying so hard to carve their characters in a system with every odd against them. For we have the choice of forcing ourselves into a few molds. Yet for each one, we would be penalized.
The first option is our Asian culture, which emphasizes the respect of elders and the importance of education. The latter was magnified in my immigrant parents, who flew to England in the late 1900s armed with a wad of cash and a dream, that they would give up the barren Chinese opportunities for a post-graduate degree. My sister and I were encouraged to fulfill their dreams of job security and financial freedom through studying hard, and a certain weight of responsibility was evident on our shoulders. We could not let our elders down. However, it seemed for a reason that we had let our western colleagues down. All our efforts crumbled into a pathetic stereotype, a model minority scenario that westerners unequivocally identified Asians as. Strange.
Otherwise, we could give in to the anxieties of peer pressure. In a pursuit to fit in with our American counterparts, we forfeited our unique Asian identity for the acceptance that came from our immediate culture. What is natural for the White teenager becomes a daily battle for the respective Asian, trying their hardest to hammer themselves into a mold that wasn’t built for them. And most of the time, we lose the respect of our family. Sometimes we even sacrifice our education. But what can we do? In a culture that pounces on differences, we try our best to survive.
After weighing up my options in my teenage years, I consequently became insecure, becoming unconfident, becoming shy. What could I do? I could either trade a teenage life and social acceptance for loneliness but success and parental respect, or vice versa. It took strength to attempt to have both in my situation, and I didn’t have that. We were like exotic plants, not in our natural environments, but in an unoptimized habitat which we were forced to adapt to for mere survival.
However, what continues to make me confused is how Asian Americans continue to be stereotyped on the very things we try so hard to fight for. Why does Harvard define Asians as lacking personal traits as if we didn’t want leadership skills and the ability to be liked by others? Why are we stereotyped as math whizzes and piano prodigies as if we wanted the weight of our parents on our shoulders?
So, I urge everyone to pause and consider these circumstances. I ask America to put down its fingers at the Asian American community. I request that people, communities, and institutions would not judge our race, but rather seek to understand, empathize and uplift our deficiencies whilst encouraging our strengths. Cultivate a soil that Asian Americans can bloom in, and we will strengthen as an ethnicity like never before, in moral character and understanding of who we are.
The opinions expressed in this op-ed represent those of the author(s) only, and Inclusion Advocate's publication of it alone should not be taken as an endorsement.