Recently I have embarked on a new art project on how my identity has been shaped and how I am seen by others. As an Asian American, I sometimes feel out of place–I was born in the United States and can barely speak my native language, so does that really make me Asian? On the other hand, my racial identity is something impervious to social forces–I am and will always be Asian American. Specifically, to inform my project, I recall things people have said to me or even things that my parents have said to me.
One common stereotype is the myth of the model minority. Asians are often portrayed as nerdy, awkward, and high-achieving; as an extreme example, they might spend all their free time when not studying to be a doctor playing the piano or the violin. Seemingly, they are an example to others of how the American Dream can be attained through hard work. While some people, Asian or not, are able to attain success and wealth by diligent work, which is impressive and quite amazing, the model minority stereotype is problematic and dangerous.
Stereotypes are considered harmful, even if they seem to depict a certain group in a favorable light. Yet the model minority myth popularized in media categorizes an entire racial group into one box. Despite the many different identities people carry, being Asian immediately labels you. It erases other significant facets of one’s identity. This is especially deleterious to mental health. When a person of a specific group is expected to perform to a certain level, it puts a great amount of pressure on them, as if they are representing the entire group despite being just one person with intersectional identities. That stress can heavily contribute to anxiety and depression among a host of other mental illnesses, and is considered burdensome for a race that is always portrayed as quiet and never needing to speak up. Beyond surface level, the stereotype of the model minority can be very damaging in the long run.
The bottom line is, not all Asian Americans fit into this tiny constructed mold. Some do, and that’s okay. It’s important to consider the big picture and remember that everyone is unique.