the burden of being a model minority

Racial stereotypes are caricatures that limit a person’s potential to the confines of generalizations made by those outside their race. Stereotypically, Hispanic Americans clean homes and cut grass. Stereotypically, Black Americans live in ghettos and are criminals. Stereotypically, Native Americans live on reservations and have last names like “Redcorn” (a la the King of the Hill character), and Asian Americans are intelligent and self-sufficient. At first glance, one could easily conclude that Asian Americans have it best out of all the minorities. Up until reading this article, I thought the same thing. The only downside I could see from being of the ‘model minority’ was that people may assume you cannot be artistically inclined (outside of playing a classical instrument). Up until this article I failed to realize that the stereotypically still Asian American waters are ones that run deep.

Asian Americans are affected by their stereotype as negatively and as fully as every other ethnicity. In Alison Reiko Loader’s work, “We’re Asian. More Is Expected of Us,” Loader writes, “the model minority stereotype is not as flattering as it may first appear. The expectation of overachievement diminishes individual accomplishment and diversity amongst people of Asian descent by making them all seem the same. By portraying Asians as successful, it also effectively silences them…”

Asian Americans are plagued with the highest depression and suicide rates of any minority. According to Asian American studies professor Eliza Noh, who lost her sister to suicide, Asian-American women ages 15-24 have the highest suicide rate of women in any race or ethnic group in that age group. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for Asian-American women in that age range.” For women aged 15-24 on the national average (according to the Center for Disease Control), suicide accounted for 20% of deaths and was the third most common cause of death. According to Elizabeth Cohen’s CNN article about Noh, “Depression starts even younger than age 15. Noh says one study has shown that as young as the fifth grade, Asian-American girls have the highest rate of depression so severe they’ve contemplated suicide.” The popular conclusion drawn as to why Asian Americans’ suicide rate is so high is because of the high expectations placed on them as stereotypically smart and self-sufficient people.

In addition to being plagued by mental disease, Asian Americans are also not the perfect picture of financial wealth that one has been led to believe. In New York, one-fifth of all Asian Americans are poor, according to a report called “Working but Poor” from the Asian American Federation.

The solution to lifting the confining stereotype that has bound Asian Americans since the 1940’s is recognizing the damage. One must recognize that every Asian American isn’t Data from the Goonies, or Mulan, or Baljeet from Phineas and Ferb, or Jackie Chan. Asian Americans are as capable, as incapable, and as human as everyone else. Do not let your well-intended flattery of their intelligence be the thing that silences their cries for help.

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