I Hate Being Called A "Smart Asian"

I Hate Being Called A "Smart Asian"

With this ‘positive' discrimination created by society, I’m not allowed to do poorly on an exam without questioning my very identity and whether or not I deserve to even be my own race.

“I wish I was Asian, you guys are so good at everything.”

“It’s not even a surprise that you got an A, you’re Asian.”

“Why did you get a bad grade, aren’t you Asian?”

These are the things I grew up hearing as I continued on from grade school all the way to university. Asian, Asian, Asian. That was the only identity I knew for the majority of my life. It is the word that many others use to define me and an explanation for the way I am or who I am. I didn’t know how to see myself other than “that smart Asian girl.” Don’t get me wrong, I love who I am; what really frustrates me is the perpetuation of stereotypes upon me.

I remember in my senior year when I took a Sociology class, the topic of a 'positive stereotype' came up in class. Stereotypes are generally seen in a negative light because they give an oversimplified image for a specific group of people, but my professor’s argument was that not all stereotypes are necessarily bad. “There can be good stereotypes. Let me give you an example,” he continued, “Asians are smart.”

Hearing that as a young, insecure seventeen-year-old girl, I automatically brightened. At that time, I felt one of the lowest I’ve ever felt in my life. College applications were due soon, the stress of finding and applying for scholarships, working 25 hours per week, and on top of that I had my classes which I regretfully did not prioritize. So if I was feeling low and if people could see me as smart and talented just from who I was born as, didn’t I want that? I embraced the idea of a positive stereotype and took it in stride. It wasn’t until only recently that I realized how problematic this view on us is, and its potentially detrimental effects as well as the perpetuation of the 'Model Minority.'

By labeling the stereotype that all Asians are smart as a ‘positive stereotype,’ we as a society are ignoring its effects on the intended audience. On the subsurface, it comes off as a compliment and something that we as Asians should take well. Who in their right mind wouldn’t want to be considered smart, right? Wrong. By encouraging these ideals, there is opportunity to invalidate the achievements people have garnered. When I got a good grade on a paper, a test, or passed the year with a 4.0 GPA, to other people it wasn’t because I worked myself nearly to death and pulled all-nighters to study for exams, it was because I’m Asian and nothing less than that is expected from me.

Not only does it invalidate my success as a student or as an individual, but it continues to make me feel like I’m not enough as a person. I’ll be the first to say that I’m definitely not a perfect person. I make mistakes, I’ve failed on several things, and I haven’t gotten an ‘A’ in every single course I’ve taken. I remember once in class someone asked me what grade I got on my Pre-calculus test and I told them it was a ‘C.’ Rather than asking why, or sympathizing, or even anything else, they said, “You got a C? Are you even Asian?” With this "positive" discrimination created by society, I’m not allowed to do poorly on an exam without questioning my very identity and whether or not I deserve to even be my own race. And though these problems of imposing the idea of a positive discrimination are important to discuss, it exposes the even deeper issues of why this was invented in the first place.

We all know what the ‘model minority’ is. It is a group of minority people who are perceived to achieve higher success than the average person. And who is the poster child for it? Asians. With this idea of a model minority, it instigates a deeper divide of trying to address the issue of racism. By society saying Asians are achieving success at a higher rate than other minorities because we work harder than others or our values are in the right place, it creates an automatic contrast that says black people or other people of color are not able to achieve this level of advancement simply because “they’re not working hard enough,” therefore implicitly placing the blame of their ostracization in society on themselves rather than actually admitting that we, as a whole, are a racist society. It was a mechanism created in an attempt to cause a split between people of color, making them go against each other, instead of actually tackling the complications of racism.

So next time you see a talented person who happens to be of Asian descent, don’t make some off-hand joke about them only being able to do it “because they’re Asian” or if they fail at something, they definitely can’t be Asian because Asians are good at everything. Because by doing this, you would be contributing to the enemies, both literally and figuratively, that people of color already face and inhibit our ability to be seen fully without judgement.

Cover Image Credit: The State

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Finding Myself

I was lost as an Asian girl surrounded by Americans.

As a Chinese-American born and raised in the United States, I adapted to the American way of life despite efforts by my parents to stay connected with my heritage. I quickly became aware that with the shape and size of my eyes, the darkness of my hair, and the color of my skin, I was different. I realized that I had habits and behaviors influenced by my Chinese parents that were unlike those of the majority of people around me. Most of my friends were American, and I was often amazed whenever I went to their houses because they looked and felt so different from my own. I was accustomed to taking my shoes off every time I entered my house, but it seemed like everyone I knew walked around with their shoes on. At school, other kids had lunches filled with snacks and sandwiches that looked more delicious than my leftover rice and vegetables. I remember asking my mom to make me PB&J sandwiches because they were so classically American, and I wanted to fit in with everyone else. The feeling I had might have been embarrassment for my differences, but as I grew older I naturally started behaving and following the people around me. People tell me all the time that I don't seem or "act" Asian, but that is to be expected since I was born in the United States and lived here my whole life. I was influenced by my environment. I never once questioned that I was an American. Though my parents forced me to attend Chinese classes every week to keep me proficient in reading, writing and speaking, I eventually lost touch with my roots and abandoned the Chinese language. I now regret not taking more Chinese classes and more deeply appreciating my culture and language. There is a divide that separates me from my family and natives in China. I feel disconnected because language interferes with communication, and I’m ignorant of the history and values of my race.

In the middle of my freshman year at college, I was surprised by the number of students who could speak another language. I met a few friends who learned Chinese in high school, and I realized that I threw away a skill and privilege. I took my own culture and unique background for granted by not continuing to stay connected with my second language. My parents constantly use Chinese around me in person and through text messages. I always communicate back to them in English. So I decided to take a Chinese speaking class during my spring semester. I started to recall more vocabulary and became better at speaking. I made new friends with other ABCs (American Born Chinese) like me, as well as non-Chinese students. I developed a good relationship with my Chinese professor, and I will be in Shanghai with her and another professor this summer studying abroad. I'm going to get the chance to intern with a company in China while exploring the city and improving my language skills. I have visited a few times before, but I have never traveled alone. I already feel closer to my heritage, but this trip will help me become fully immersed in the culture.

It took me a few years to really understand who I am and where I come from. I'm proud of my background and my identity. I am Chinese-American, even though I look Asian and act American. I am putting in the effort to become more connected with my people and values. It's important to me to remember and honor my roots. Thanks, mom and dad, for telling me stories, educating me on Chinese history and traditions, and keeping me close with family in China. I will work to strengthen these ties and develop more knowledge about my race. I am finally finding myself.

Cover Image Credit: Youtube

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I Am Proud To Be Filipino

In a world where immigrants are increasingly suppressed, I found my cultural identity.

My Lola (grandmother in Tagalog) taught me many lessons in life, such as the importance of family, how to be strong, and how to put others before myself. Through these many lessons one, in particular, stands out to me that influences my daily actions and my core values. It was how to be proud of my Filipino heritage in a world where immigrants are constantly being subdued.

My mother is of Irish/Polish descent, while my father’s parents both came to America from the Philippines. This classifies me as Pacific Islander/Asian. While this may be the category I fall into in the means of ethnicity, I am often asked if I am Hispanic or if I speak Spanish due to my long, dark hair and my tan skin.

I have received Hispanic related comments about my ethnicity since I was a young girl and it has always surprised me how people ask me this question without reservation, even in a professional setting. As I got older and the issue of immigration became thrust more into the spotlight with recent political and news events, I grew accustomed to racial slurs being thrown at me. These slurs were not in the historical racist fashion that was fueled by hate, but they were more so formed as ‘jokes’ that peers would find funny.

I had heard it all, “take that Mexican back to where she came from," “put her back over on her side of the wall," and “how did your quinceañera go?” I even had my Spanish teacher ask me why I didn’t know the language if I spoke it at home, even though I live in a home that only speaks English and Spanish is in fact not the native tongue of the Philippines.

I reached a point where I was accustom to people assuming I was Hispanic. It even became a running joke to some of my friends. While it may have seemed to come off humorous, in the back of my mind I knew I was hurt by their words. I was embarrassed by the comments my ethnicity brought up. I am an interesting breed, “a mutt” as someone once referred to me as, since I was not fully Asian nor white. This left me confused as to what identify and what “stereotype” I fell under — and why I had to fall under one at all.

Then, when I went up to visit my Lola in middle school and told her about the stigma I sometimes felt towards my racial identity, she gave me a soft smile and held me close as she gave me the advice that I had been craving.

She told me first of her life as a little girl growing up in the Philippines. She painted the image of a densely packed little village in the steamy overgrown rainforest and her as a poor girl looking for something that would change her life and get her out of poverty. After hard work and determination, she graduated from nursing school and met my Papa, who was in school to practice becoming a surgeon.

They fell in love quickly and were married after he graduated. After settling into the married life they searched for a better life, which led them to move to America to practice medicine and nursing where they could be better off.

My Lola spoke of the fear that struck her as she was moving halfway across the world with no family, very little money, and only her dreams of a better life. They adjusted to life slowly, but after time they got on their feet and started a family, starting first with my father.

It didn’t happen overnight. After time, my Papa opened his own general surgeon practice with my Lola by his side running the business aspect of it. They went from having nothing but each other to having a happy family and a successful self-owned business.

Why should I be embarrassed by my heritage when I am a product of such a successful story, I wondered? After all, America would not be what it is today if not for the diversity of its immigrants, like my grandparents, searching for the so-called ‘American Dream’.

From that day on I ignored the Hispanic jokes cast my way and focused on what a special history I come from, like so many others in this country. I learned to recognize that the world we live in today is full of people who simply just don’t see that America would not be what it is today without immigrants.

Cover Image Credit: marines.mil

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