by Christina Park
You look Chinese. Aren’t Asians all the same?
Since you’re Asian American, you must be really smart.
There are approximately 11.9 million Asian Americans living in America and the AAPI student population in higher education tripled in the past 40 years. As we reflect on the numbers constantly growing, the Model Minority Myth comes into play in the education system for Asian Americans. It shapes the way others view Asian American students and causes inequalities in the U.S. school system. The Model Minority Myth explains that Asians are perceived as higher success than other race and ethnicity groups. In Academic Profiling: Latinos, Asian Americans, and the Achievement Gap, Gilda Ochoa expresses how this myth causes stereotyping among Asian Americans and gives psychological burdens to students (222). Personally, I experienced the impact of the Model Minority Myth since high school through college.
I attended a middle school and high school that was predominantly Asian. With about 90 percent of the students being Asian Americans, my school was academically rigorous with a lot of competition among students to get the highest grades, achieve the best SAT scores, and get accepted to prestigious universities. However unlike other students, I was not academically striving because I just took college preparatory courses whereas most of the other students were taking honors courses and AP classes. Tracking took place starting from middle school, where tests were given to differentiate students into below basic, basic, and advanced courses in high school. Therefore, there was a lot of burden for me to do exceptionally well and because I wasn’t, there was judgement when I fell behind academically. I was more involved in school events, clubs, and activities, but for my high school, good grades meant succeeding in education. The Model Minority Myth put a stereotype over me which caused so much judgement even when I went to a community college. While other students got accepted into four-year universities, going to a community college discouraged me and made it seem as if I was academically falling behind. Just like Ochoa stated in her book, the construction that Asian Americans are more intelligent are merely just dominant assumptions (32).
The Model Minority Myth also generates another problem, which is the process of lumping all Asian Americans together. The Critical Race Theory helps us understand how different Asian/ Pacific Islander ethnic groups are racialized within hierarchies. This fails to take into consideration of the diversity of Asian Americans and little do people know about how much Southeast Asian Americans get underrepresented. Southeast Asians including Vietnamese Americans, Hmong Americans, Lao Americans, and Cambodian Americans are positioned in both as successful and as a negative way. For an example, if they are positioned as high achievers and those students don’t meet that expectation, there is judgement and constant pressure to do well. On the other hand, if they are portrayed in a negative way as high school dropouts or some sort, it prevents those students from reaching their potentials in higher education.
According to A Dream Denied Education by Khatharya Um, there is little or no access to information or support for the Southeast Asian Americans. There is “invisibility” where they are lumped as Asian Americans. Academically well-performing Southeast Asian American students may feel like their teachers have assumptions because they are grouped under “Asian Americans”.
Therefore, we need to open our eyes to see beyond just Asian American students and understand that there’s inequality even within Asian Americans among Southeast Asians. As we are more aware of the stereotyping that is happening due to the Model Minority Theory, we need to be more sensitive when making remarks of “… but aren’t you Asian?”.
Um, Khatharya. A Dream Denied: Educational Experiences of Southeast Asian American Youth: Issues and Recommendations. Washington, DC: Southeast Asia Resource Action Center, 2003.
Ochoa, Gilda L. Academic Profiling : Latinos, Asian Americans, and the Achievement Gap. Minneapolis, US: Univ Of Minnesota Press, 2013. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 15 March 2017.