By Doo Yong Shim | New Organizing Project blogger
Growing up as an Asian-American, I have oftentimes heard comments along the lines of, “You need to get at least 2200 SAT score, 4.0 grade-point average, play at least one instrument, speak more than two languages, be busy everyday (including weekends and sometimes, federal holidays, too), and be in better position than your peers,” not from my parents, but society.
So, where does this line of thinking come from? These stereotypes are some elements of the model minority myth, a common misconception that Asian-Americans are outstanding in almost every academic field. Because of the model minority myth, Asian-American students like me often go through the pressure to become a super intellectual and all-around active individual, not because we necessarily want to, but so we can be “truly Asian.”
The CollegeBoard’s study on Asian Americans found that because there is a high concentration of Asian-Americans in many prestigious schools, they often earn the reputation as the model minority and give false impressions to the public that most Asian American students score high on the standardized tests and are naturally smart, gifted and all-around perfect individuals. As a result, many Asian-American students grow up with enormous pressure from the public to fulfill the qualifications of the model minority, studying day and night, actively participating in extracurricular activities and striving to win various awards.
The model minority myth is also perpetuated in the media and by well-respected research centers. In the YouTube video, “Sh-t Asian Mothers Say… from the kitchen… while doing dishes”, the Asian mother scolds her son for not earning a perfect score on ACT and emphasizes that in order to go to college nowadays, he has to play an instrument, play sports, and get good grades just to even be considered.
Despite these common misconceptions, I do not fit the model minority myth. Just like many Asian-American students, I faced conflicts with the societal myth that Asian-American students should be good at everything. Fulfilling this societal myth has become one of the ways for children to their parents reach the elusive American Dream. But at times, I lost confidence in myself because I was never “the smart Asian kid.” I felt as if I was the only Asian-American student who did not score high on standardized exams. However, as time passed, I realized that the model minority myth has been causing nightmares to many Asian-American students, not just me.
Every student has academic pressures to an extent, but from personal experience, I feel that the burden is especially heavy for Asian-American students. I’ve met many hardworking Asian-American students who attend lesser-known colleges and universities and tend to feel less confident than other American students because they, too, have heard of the model minority myth that all Asian-American students score well on exams and get admitted to high-ranked universities.
Yes, some Asian-American students fit the standards of the “model minority,” but not everyone. Everyone is different. I always felt that I had to fulfill other’s expectations ever since I learned about the model minority myth, but my mother came to me one day and said, “You are who matters the most. Do what you like and what interests you, but do be careful with your decisions.” With my mother’s unexpected words of encouragement, I decided not to let myself follow everybody’s paths and model myself after them, but rather pave my own paths and be myself.
I do not believe that I’ve achieved the public standards of model minority, but I am confident in myself because instead of fulfilling other people’s standards, I am accomplishing my own personal goals and standards. I am not the “model minority.” I am Doo Yong and I have self-defined standards and goals for myself. You only live once. Do what makes you happy, not what everyone else wants you to do.
Photo Credit: dartmouth.edu