Asian American Student Responds to Symposium
By Amy Gu
I carefully heeded each detail I noticed at Southwestern’s very first Race and Ethnicity Symposium, as a reporter and also as an underrepresented minority. I greatly appreciated the symposium’s exposure of SU’s endeavors in social justice, but I observed spaces for our Race and Ethnicity program to grow. I hope that this article will present the student voice that Omar Rivera, chair of the Race and Ethnicity Studies (RES) minor, encouraged to speak out in our search for racial and ethnic equity.
I find that discussions about race and ethnicity frequently omit Asian and Asian American marginalization, as if to imply that Asians and Asian Americans do not experience marginalization. Not until last fall in the RES course Schools, Society, and Diversity did I learn about my people’s history in the Japanese Internment camps, the lynching of Chinese immigrants during the gold rush, or the Asians who marched alongside Blacks during the Civil Rights Movement. I found it sadly ironic that America has placed a “model minority” stereotype on Asians as if to praise their successes, while also obliterating their entire history in the US. In fact, I find it sadly ironic that this stereotype supposedly prides me as a model to my fellow people of color, but has often only led me to shame.
As an American-born Asian growing up in a community primarily consisting of Asian immigrants and Asian Americans, I faced a stifled oppression that still scars me today. For example, my community labeled me a disappointment despite the hours I dedicated to earning A’s and B’s in Pre-AP and AP courses. My status as a “model minority” stereotyped me with gifted academic abilities, particularly in the STEM area. To society’s disappointment, a few B’s tainted my report cards. In fact, one teacher recommended that I remove myself from the gifted and talented math class, retake Algebra, and attend additional tutoring sessions (wherein all other students happened to have learning disabilities) all due to the tragic 87 I had earned that semester.
While I recognize that students with disabilities are not any less capable than students without disabilities, the stigma faced by Asians and Asian Americans with disability accommodations is damaging. I was already a disappointment as a non-exemplary student who eventually attends Southwestern and not Princeton– what would I become if I required accommodations to be this non-exemplary student?
The oppression not only stemmed from outsiders peering into the Asian American community—it came from inside as well. Amy Chua’s account of the East Asian “Tiger Mother” details a racist delusion that Western Americanism lies inferior to East Asianism. While Chua’s daughter Sophia openly addressed her gratitude for her tiger mother, not every American child benefits from East Asian parenting.
Too often do I see immigrant and first-generation American clashes resulting not in compromise, but the stifling of the American voices of American-born Asians. American individualism taught us ABC’s (Asian-born Chinese) to pursue a passion, not a moneymaking career. East Asian familial loyalty taught East Asian immigrants that a child’s duty is to save enough money to care for their parents in old age and supply future children. Yet I see that often, the East Asian immigrant preference prevails with scarring belittlement of people who appear East Asian but adopt American customs.
To this day, my mind replays memories of my closest friend telling me that he slept on a bench on the street because his parents requested that he leave the house for not earning high enough grades. I lay awake shivering when I learned that my sister’s friend’s parents disowned her for pursuing a political science degree instead of an engineering or medical profession. Immigrant classmates funnelled blame and resentment onto me for having a supposed advantage as a non-ESOL student, which resulted in my still-continuing depression and social anxiety. And moreover, the model minority stereotype not only spiralled me into these emotional difficulties, but also blockaded me from seeking treatment until reaching what the doctors diagnosed as “severe depression.” I had to be perfect, nothing less. I had to be perfect for the immigrant Tiger Mothers who believed that East Asianism was better than Americanism. I had to be perfect to fulfil America’s delusion that I was a model minority who did not experience oppression.
The model minority stereotype was invented to marginalize what Americans had called the “Yellow Peril” of East Asian Americans. They wanted to isolate people of yellower complexions from the other people of color. The goal of this stereotype was that people of color could not stand together and fight oppression in unity. And in case the rest of my article hasn’t made this clear: it worked. Look at race discussions that use the terms “Hispanics and Blacks,” “brown people,” or “dark-skinned” synonymously with “people of color.” Look at the oppression that East Asian Americans like myself have faced from above and below institutionalized power, from the inside and outside of our color group.
I take pride in attending Southwestern University, one of the most diverse liberal arts schools in the country. I’m grateful that SU has taken a step towards racial and ethnic equity by fostering discussions about Race and Ethnicity. I also note that we (at Southwestern and in all of America) still have a long way to go in terms of racial and ethnic equity. Though I saw the symposium as a source of hope, my excitement that people like myself would finally have a voice surmounted to disappointment when I observed that I heard the word “Asian” not a single time in this discussion of the marginalized. The greatest disappointment I faced from this realization was the familiarity of this disappointment. America may bury the Yellow Peril in oblivion time and time again, but nonetheless, we are here, we have been here, we will stay here, and we will be heard.