Our Man From China
All Asian-Americans probably remember the lectures that their parents have given them about "working hard," "not causing trouble," and "being obedient." While that is great advice for family and work environments, it doesn't always apply to other situations. Unfortunately, there is a perverse interpretation of those working hard and being obedient, used by our own government to try to undermine us Asians.
It's a myth many politicians have brought up, referring to Asians as the "Model Minority." We are supposed to be the top example of a good minority -- working hard, quiet, and obedient. The Model Minority Myth sounds like a complement to Asian Americans, but make no mistake, it is an inherently racist view. It suggests that Asians should work hard, but also shut up, and listen to the government at any time. In other words, Asians should be good boys and girls and never voice themselves out. Subtly implied, the Model Minority Myth puts us in the position of dogs of the ruling government, as much as the native Hong Kong populace was to the British colonists.
This model is also used to "set an example" to other races. Republicans (and some non-Republicans too) have used this Model Minority Myth too many times to suggest to African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans that they should follow the Asian example. Unfortunately for Asians this modeling system is implying that African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans are "inferior" to us, which is definitely not good in the light for Asians. It is no wonder that many of the other races never consider Asians to have problems, because they are made to believe Asians are always "well off" like the white people.
The myth makes it seems like Asians have no problems whatsoever, which of course is a crock of bullshit. True, Asians have suffered less compared to some of the other races in the US, but there still has been a very good record of Asian persecution in the US, almost none of which is stressed in history books or televised programs.
One of the greatest tragedies the Model Minority Myth has done is that it has to some degree succeeded. Most Asians simply don't care, don't mind, or take it for granted that there is a inherently racist preconception put on them. When I told fellow Asian friends of this myth, most of them simply didn't give a shit about it. "You're just thinking too deep into this," most of them said. Some of them take it as a complement -- "As long as we work hard and stay out of the limelight, that's fine with me." Most Asians will simply not even believe that such a free and diverse country can have such ulterior motives -- "Don't be ridiculous, that stuff doesn't happen anymore." Perhaps even more distressing is that many Asians who do know of this myth will follow or even agree to it!
Take my parents for example, ardent believers of subtle racism in the US. However, they do not encourage me to try to do anything about the model minority, out of fear. That's understandable: fear. Fear of being in the limelight, fear of being easy targets, fear of the white majority. I know my parents are not alone in this fear. I doubt the fear that has evolved in many Asian Americans is a result of the Model Minority Myth, but what the myth does is exploit their fears and creates a permanent mindset that "justifies" non-activism. In terms of political activity, Asians seem to be following very well the "quiet" portion of the myth. Among the ethnic minorities, Asians have one of the lowest percentage (relative to population) of registering or voting. Beyond voting, how many times have Asians really tried protesting against unfair laws or acts? How many times do you hear of Asian-American grievances on the news? Is it quite noticeable that Asians tend not to go into law and political professions? That's your Model Minority Myth at work, folks.
One of the things I hope Asian Americans will become more aware of is this myth and how Asians can be mistreated by the government through it. Since Asians only make up 3.5% of the US population, us Asians can be highly susceptible to hate crimes and racism (keep Vincent Chin in mind). It is imperative that we Asians not only know of how we are treated in this country, but that we actually care how we are treated. It just makes me uneasy seeing many Asians walking around thinking that the US has never treated them unfairly; because this country that stresses for diversity and unity has, at too many times, subtly lied and sneaked around it. By no means am I against this country -- but having suffered many injustices myself, I am concerned. And this model minority myth only adds to my concerns, as it tries to teach people to accept living in inferiority.
There is much to the Model Minority Myth that I cannot even delve into, as there is not enough time I do not have enough concrete examples. But UCLA has a great documentation on the Model Minority Myth and how Asians have been persecuted in the past and even currently. Steve Kangra's site also has a great analysis of the situation. And of course, my own college has a great one to read as well. Read it with an open heart!
Phil Shen can be reached at email@example.com