Updated: Aug 31
“I think you have better chances of getting into colleges if you don’t check Asian as your race on forms.”
The first time I heard this was in sixth grade when one of my friends said it to me. She went on to explain how being Asian can lower your chances of getting accepted to the top schools. They seem to already have enough Asians. Hearing this as a Filipina student was shocking. Out of anything, grades, extracurricular activities, and character should be the main factors of acceptance, not my heritage. However, this was just a window into the downsides of the “model minority” myth, a reputation that Asian-American people have. We are supposed to have good grades, work hard, get into the top schools, and have prestigious jobs all without causing a scene and keeping our heads down. The “model minority” myth, while it seems to be somewhat true, continues to cause more harm than good. It is a cycle that targets minority groups to present them as “white adjacent” and invalidates their experiences as People of Color.
Asian Americans are described by the U.S Census Bureau as “persons having origins in any of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent,”. By that definition, the term encompasses millions of people in the United States. Each of us have different experiences and perspectives, which cannot all be put into the one stereotype of being the “model minority”. Bernadette Lim from the New York Times explains, “Southeast Asian-Americans drop out of high school at an alarming rate; nearly 40 percent of Hmong-Americans, 38 percent of Laotian-Americans, and 35 percent of Cambodian-Americans do not finish high school”. The essence of Lim’s argument is that not all Asian Americans are at the top of their class, finishing with honors, or even graduating to go to college. While some of us are able to aim for the stars and make it, other groups are struggling even to get past high school classes. Equally, identifying as Asian-American is a broad way to characterize ourselves. We are a wide group of people with different struggles that include graduating from high school. We are not all the same.
Secondly, for those who do end up applying to the best colleges in the country, discrimination in college admissions is present. In Bernadette Lim’s point of view, a Harvard alumnus, this is no question. “Asian students who were academically in the top 10% of Harvard applicants were accepted at a rate of 12.7%, white applicants at a rate of 15.3%, black applicants at a rate of 56.1%, and Hispanics at a rate of 31.3%”. Lims’s point is that even if Asian students are representing the top of the class in their respective high schools, they have the slimmest chances of getting accepted. The numbers do not lie. To put it another way, even though Asian Americans are the ones with the stronger academic credentials, they end up on the harsher side of college policies, for the sake of diversity. That does not match up in any way. They are the ones getting pushed out of the spots they rightfully deserve. This stems from a bigger issue; Asian Americans are already viewed as doing so well, so-called, “white adjacent” and are pitted against other minorities for the same spot instead of being seen as a minority group too. William McGurn explains this phenomenon, “Modern progressive theory more or less divides the nation between the oppressors, defined as whites, and the oppressed, defined as everyone else. In this framework, achieving success puts you on the side of the oppressors and thus makes you white or “white-adjacent”’. While college may be one instance where many Asian Americans face this issue, it is not the only place in society. It continues in the workplace, where people continue to invalidate our experiences as minorities and People of Color. I wonder if I’ll have to deal with this issue as I decide where to apply to college. What does it mean for the next generation of Asian Americans who may also face these issues?
So maybe you’ve been asked for math homework answers more than others, big whoop. People just think you’re smart. Maybe you don’t get into your dream college, the Ivy Leagues with acceptance rates in the low teens. However, besides the missed opportunities and stereotypes that Asian Americans face, these issues go deeper than the surface level. According to the American Physiological Association, “Asian Americans have a 17.30 percent overall lifetime rate of any psychiatric disorder and a 9.19 percent 12-month rate, yet Asian Americans are three times less likely to seek mental health services than Whites”. Common stressors are parental pressure and pressure to live up to the "model minority" myth. However, talking about mental health struggles is considered taboo in Asian culture. Kids have no place to turn. I’ve had friends scared that they will burn out in high school from just the amount of pressure put on them at the beginning of the year, not knowing how they’ll be able to handle the next four years. They can’t just take a break or slow down. To them, it’s letting everyone down.
The “model minority” myth is nothing new, Asian-Americans are not the first "model minority" for being the face of hardworking and successful people living the American Dream. However, this perpetuation of ourselves continues to hurt more and more people, and it doesn’t seem to stop anytime soon. However, while this continues to happen, we can’t just be bystanders to what Asian Americans face and must acknowledge their struggles beyond being the “white-adjacent” minority. We deserve to be more than the person you get your math answers from. Understanding this harmful cycle is a step in the right direction.
About the Author: Rebecca is a writer and editor at the "What's Up?" blog here at The Bittermelon. When she's not playing volleyball, she loves to watch movies and go on runs in her neighborhood.
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