Forecaster Forum: I am not your model minority

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Growing up, I was an awkward, studious, and soft-spoken girl. I was the epitome of a stereotypical Asian-American.

From my kindergarten to middle school years, I grew up in a predominantly white town in northern New Jersey. Looking back, my elementary and middle school self never felt ostracized from my community for being Asian, because I tried my best to act white.

I never realized there was anything wrong with my third-grade classmates performing hand clapping games. They would pull their eyes up, down, and stretch them to the side while saying “Chinese, Japanese, Indian.” I laughed with them, because what is the harm in a hand game? The teacher didn’t stop it, my friends thought it was funny, and I didn’t realize the fault in laughing about the stereotypical facial features of certain ethnic groups.

But now, as a wiser 16-year-old, I find it hard to ignore what happened in the past. What I once laughed about is something that I realize is the foundation of the prejudice that Asian-Americans experience today.

For the last three years, I have lived in Falmouth, and attended Falmouth High School. Living in this quaint, but homogeneous town, I have noticed the unintentional ignorance that can arise from those who are simply not exposed to other cultures.

In school, we cling onto the idea that racism is literally and figuratively black and white, but what about everything else? We are taught within the framework of two races, rather than white and other, or majority and minority. With an idea as complex as racism, schools only scratch the surface of the most simplistic points.

Maybe you will hear about Japanese internment camps during a lecture on World War II, or learn about 19th century Chinese labor in a paragraph of your textbook, but that’s it. The discrimination that Asians faced and continue to face has never ended; it is only ignored.

I would overhear kids impersonating the Asian language by saying “ching chang chong,” despite it being nowhere similar to the language. When my classmate looked at me and said I had small eyes and laughed, I laughed with them. Then I would go home and take a long look in the mirror and flush in embarrassment for looking Asian.

Because of this, growing up as an Asian-American is hard, sometimes embarrassing; the ability to embrace your race is hindered by the disdain it is looked at from others.

I had two choices growing up: either embrace the fact that I am an Asian-American, or try my best to act white. I chose the latter.

My friends would “compliment” me and say, “Don’t worry, Hanna, you’re not a stereotypical Asian. You act white.”

I acted white, I fit in, it was what I have been trying to make myself out to be. But now, I realize there is nothing wrong with being Asian. I embrace the fact that I am not the majority, take pride in my Korean culture, and would not want to be anything else.

Asian-Americans are known as the model minority: hard-working, successful, and obedient. But do not call us the model minority because we have achieved a greater degree of socio-economic success.

Gaining a foothold in middle class society has been a struggle for past immigrants including Germans, Irish, and Italians, but because Asians are not “white passing” we continue to be at a disadvantage. Do not call us the model minority because we seldom challenge white superiority as much as other minorities. Do not acknowledge our presence in industry as an example for other minorities when we still face discrimination throughout the workplace. Stop impersonating Asian accents for comedic ends; just because a name, sign, or phrase “sounds” Asian does not give permission to ridicule it.

In light of the recent presidential election and social debates, issues regarding racism are at a forefront. I have experienced what it is like to live in areas of diversity and areas where the number of minorities in my graduating class can be counted on one hand. But I have found that the root of racism in all people comes from ignorance and the failure to educate themselves. The inability to open one’s mind and embrace differences, rather than ignore them, is a foundation for racism.

The time for us to come together and address the profound discrimination Asians and other minorities experience in America is now. It is 2017. Let us no longer be ignored.

Hanna Chea, 16, is a Falmouth resident.

  • Chew H Bird

    Ignorance may not be an excuse for discrimination, but young children notice obvious features and play games accordingly. I was a child in the 1960s, (in Falmouth), and although I do not recall any people with Asian heritage I remember playing make believe games that involved eyes. At no time did I ever believe what I was doing was harmful, hurtful, or in any way demonstrated discrimination. I was a child and the eyes were an obvious difference between my appearance and people of Asian decent.

    We also played games involving what would now be considered inappropriate stereotypes of American Indians, African Americans, and… Germans… Yes, white Germans who physically appeared to be just like me… Except the Germans were always the “bad guy” in our games because my generations parents often fought in WW2.

    It was innocent assumption on the part of children and not intended to be truly harmful.

    I did not even know about “acting Asian” until I went to dinner one night with some friends from an Asian corporation in New Jersey and they informed me not to speak to anyone in the restaurant or there might be a “problem.” I later learned from my Asian friends that the Asian staff was making fun of me (I did not know the language).

    I remember working at a trade show with Asians and the boss brought Italian sandwiches for the Asians and Chinese food for me. I was not asked what I wanted but apparently the Asians had a choice.

    Please consider me ignorant of differences but with an open heart and mind and should I do something that bothers you please correct me so I may learn and be a better person.

    Thank you for writing this article as it is a reminder for everyone to be considerate of others and demonstrates great courage on your part. Falmouth is a wonderful community and I wish you well in your endeavors.

  • yathink2011

    It’s Falmouth High School, what were you expecting?

  • funfundvierzig

    Asians are not a monolithic people. Ms. Chea does not mention the historic disdain Japanese have had for Koreans and the Chinese. Within China, there are prejudices against the darker complexioned neighbours to the south.

    What is particularly galling is the discrimination shown by pompous administrators of universities such as Harvard against Asians in favour of the merit-free admission of lesser students in order to window dress “Diversity”.

    To the Occidental ear, spoken Cantonese does indeed and in fact have a “ching chong” cadence. And eyes are not round, but slanted, nature’s unalterable course.

    Merely the perspective of one American citizen, whose family is interracial with “Asian” members…funfun..