Dismantling Stereotypes and Silence: The Asian American Dilemma


May is AAPI heritage month. The time for sharing culture, stories, and educating people about who the Asian community really is. This month often gets overlooked. There should be more recognition for the amazing things the AAPI community has done for America. We helped build the first railroad in this country and worked on the Manhattan project and created YouTube (and TikTok)!  This is slightly misleading for the article you are about to read. Although the accomplishments of Asian peoples would have been a great article, I am here to share the hostility and misunderstanding still shown towards the community. There is still much discrimination we face everyday which should be highlighted even if it is accompanied with discomfort.


The Model Minority Myth

Starting in the 1960’s the Asian community has been seen as overcoming obstacles and barriers and have become the role model for the American immigrant success story. Discrimination. It has been said they have it a lot easier than other minorities. What does this even mean? Yes Asians have been a determined people and want to be proud, successful Americans and to take part in the American Dream. But this allows for much of this vast community to be overlooked. The Asian American community is made up of many countries spanning East Asia, South East Asia, the Pacific Islands. The cultures are diverse, complicated and incredibly different. The myth says that Asian Americans have enough, they should be  satisfied and that they are the perfect success story.  The myth illuminates this idea that the community is “fine” or “okay” now. That they have reached their pinnacle and should be satisfied, otherwise they will look greedy and immodest. Being humble is synonymous with being Asian. Because of this Asian Americans feel like they can’t talk about it. It shuts the whole community out from a conversation we need to be in. Within the Model Minority Myth there is also the  “forever foreigners” idea that completely stifles the AAPI community. This basically means that many people still believe that Asians will always be seen as foreigners in America and that they will never be able to fully assimilate. One can not hold onto one’s language and culture otherwise you are thought of as an outsider. This old thought goes back to the industrial revolution and the Chinese Exclusion Act which did not allow Chinese Americans to work.  

The Model Minority Myth assumes that AAPI do not need to participate in anti-racist programs. Little comments about your english being so good, how we excel in math, and how people are “almost white” excludes Asians from participating. All of this omits AAPI from a conversation that is extremely important. We are always placed in a small highlighted box in American history books as a side note. Japanese internment camps and the Chinese exclusion act are two bitter memories in American history which people do not often realize are painful moments for the Asian community. 


Many films and movies have this way of portraying Asian people that just doesn’t sit right. When the film industry makes a movie with a leading AAPI character or an inclusive cast they expect us to be satisfied. But really they do a sloppy job that doesn’t really express anything but old tropes. They use the Asian character for comedic relief as well as a martial arts expert. In many shows that don’t include an Asian main character,  an AAPI person is placed  in the background to make a joke.  In movies like Shang-Chi the media expected us to be so grateful that we were finally represented in a Marvel movie. And I was excited too. But even when I first saw the trailer I knew it was just going to be another cliched  asian superhero. When can we stop with the whole spirit, martial arts thing? Also dragons, it is so exhausting seeing everybody use dragons for Asian magic. There is so much more to our culture than dragons. I wanted a superhero that didn’t just put the stereotypes in a new box and say, “Look! You’re getting good representation!” because no it’s not. I want to see a superhero that is coincidentally Asian. Not their whole personality based on them being Asian. Yes, the characters should embrace their culture. But it’s just reinforcing everyone’s old thoughts of Asian people. If the media is going to include Asian culture they must spend time on developing complex stories. Awkwafina and Stephanie Hsu, to name two,  are great actors independently of their Asian heritage and need to be represented better in the industry. It is tiring to constantly see poor representation of AAPI characters in movies. We don’t want the leftovers of everyone else’s movies. We want more, and that may seem brazen but it’s true.


Over quarantine we have all seen the Stop Asian Hate movement rise… for about two days. People forgot about the cause after it stopped being trendy to post about. (Like a lot of anti-racist movements.) But what people didn’t see was the terror in the AAPI community. We were scared to go outside in some places because we were scared someone was going to try to beat us up or worse. Misinformed people were yelling at Asian people who were born and raised in America for bringing the virus here. In my middle school little kids were asking their Asian classmates if they were contagious. My father would get verbally assaulted simply entering a convenience store. This broke my heart to see. But no one paid attention because they thought it was only words. But as we know words have power. This again gave rise to the myth of the Asian American as a forever foreigner. 


The Subway

Over the past few years Asian hate crimes in the NYC subway system have spiked up by a gross amount. Since 2019 incidents of Asian hate crimes have increased by 361%. The crimes range from being called racial slurs to being pushed into oncoming trains. And these incidents are extremely underreported. The crowdedness of the subway allows for the opportunity of anonymous hate that feeds more negativity towards the community. Many Asian people are terrified of using the subway system because of these attacks on others or themselves. Kids, adults, teens of all races use the subway. It must be a place where everybody can feel safe and aren’t at risk of being assaulted. But lately it really hasn’t been, which makes it hard to get around this wide city.


This isn’t the most exciting article to read about, I know. But Millennium is made up of a lot of AAPI students and faculty. The very fabric of this city relies on Asian Americans’ contributions. It is important to get our stories told even if they are difficult to talk about or you feel like they have been shared before. The only way that things are going to get better is with representation publicly. Whether it is in the media or politics or just simply saying enough, my humble, quiet voice will not be silenced.