“Stay away! Keep the coronavirus away!” My friends and I turned to the commotion: a group of hysterical high schoolers at the other end of the cafeteria table. We looked at each other uncomfortably, awkward and confused. For what reason were we singled out? Then the obvious reality dawned, we were not Americans in their eyes, instead our Asian heritage was at the forefront. After incessant harassment, we left in search of another table. The incident became seared in my head, but I failed to find the words to understand why. Where was my anger and frustration directed if not toward those rowdy high schoolers?

In lockdown at home, I witnessed the shooting of Asian American women in Atlanta, repeated hate crimes and assaults, and anti-Asian rhetoric normalized in the media. The pandemic unraveled the rampant Asian American racism, hidden beneath the folds of the illusion of the American Dream. Again, it has required tragedy and violence to bring about a conversation of the consequences of America’s treatment of nonwhite immigrants. It is crucial to understand the harmful model minority myth which has masked the injustice and hatred Asian Americans continue to face in a country which still fails to recognize its own people. Through discovering the history of Asian Americans in this country, I, in turn, gained an understanding of myself.

America is hailed as the nation of immigrants, the picture of a melting pot of nationalities and cultures, but the reality remains: America has not welcomed all its immigrants with open arms. Since its founding, America’s fundamental values have been tied to the supremacy of the white race and its conclusion, the inferiority of nonwhite races, from the pursuit of Manifest Destiny to the American Indian Wars. When met with the largest group of nonwhite immigrants, American believed Asian immigrants to be a direct assault on the American institution. The nation of immigrants retaliated, describing Asian Americans as an inferior race, deeming them to be “rats”, “beasts”, and “swine”. The American Dream enticed the first Asian immigrants, but instead they faced a destructive racist campaign against them: took jobs no one else wanted or forced into self-employment, battled racial segregation in schools, and were the victim of rampant violence and hatred. While they fought for the recognition of their American identity, the message was clear to Asian Americans despite what America might have stood for, they were not truly Americans.

In a radical shift, Asian Americans came to embody the model minority, however the harmful and false narrative weaponized against Asian Americans. Beginning during the Cold War, America had emerged as a superpower but what emerged alongside global stardom was its blatant racism which corroded America’s image. The solution in part was the gradual acceptance of Asian Americans to construct America’s newfound reputation. Although Asian Americans gained more freedom socially, economically, and politically, America’s acceptance was conditional as a service for America rather than reparation for the past.

From a change in immigration laws, heavily reliant on employment-based immigration, the second wave of Asian immigrants, often highly educated and skilled Asian immigrants, are overrepresented and become the model minority. Generational Asian Americans, second generation Asian Americans, Asian immigrants, and diverse Asian ethnicities such as Indian, Vietnamese, and Cambodian have been compressed into a single monolith of success, despite the extraordinary diversity in ideologies, culture, and experiences across these identities. My decision to use the label, Asian Americans is to describe a collective who face a similar hatred they face because of the label. The overrepresentation of these highly educated and skilled Asian immigrants masks the reality of the Asian American before them and others opposingly are overrepresented at the bottom extreme of the socioeconomic ladder: the poorest in New York, one of the most unemployed in California, and at a higher poverty rate than whites. It is sinister, appearing to embolden, praise, and elevate Asian Americans, when instead it delegitimizes the racism, they race and hinders America away from racial progress. The model minority myth trivializes Asian Americans as a trophy on the American mantelpiece of success, rather than dynamic and diverse human beings.

The relationship between Asian Americans and America is complex. Understanding the history of Asian American in America has led to a realization, although I am a Chinese American, the history is not my ancestor’s story nor my own as a second generation Asian American, but as an Asian American I still carry its weight. The harassment my friends and I faced was neither our fault nor the group of high schoolers but a result of a deeply rooted racism in America. My anger was toward the unfairness of the history I am forced to carry simply by being Asian American.

I am not ashamed of my Asian American identity. It has brought vibrance and color into my life: the melodious mixture of Chinese and English which floats throughout my house, around the kitchen countertops laughing while folding dumplings and friends or celebrating the coming of the Chinese New Year. But my racial identity does not lend me anymore intelligence or diligence, that is instead reflective of my parents and upbringing. While I was once ignorant, I now fight against these ingrained troupes within me.

One’s race should not constrain them but America has made it impossible to ignore its significance. With truth in hand, Americans can topple the myth of the model minority, and combat the discrimination nonwhite Americans face. Despite the odds desperately stacked against them, Asian Americans were resilient: together they formed their strongholds in their Chinatowns or Koreatowns, together they protested the murder of Vincent Chin, and together we will continue the fight. The work is not new but a continuation alongside generations of American activists of all races, to break down and rebuild an America which can pride itself on truly becoming a nation of immigrants.

By

9 thoughts on “My Grappling with Asian America”
  1. I see a young adult with comprehensive understanding of the situation, and more important, I see a positive image of a young Asian adult, thoughtful, humble, rational, and dignified. Very proud! It may not be easy to change everyone’s view, but at least we can do the best of what we can. I see something named hope.

  2. A thoughtful ,engaging and profound exploration of racism and harassment from the history of Asian Americans.An indispensable read!I learned a lot from your article.Great job!

  3. It is an insightful essay. We ought to know our past and learn from it to have the better future.

  4. Glad to see the second-generation Asian American having the positive attitude to face the racial issues, not back up, but study the root causes. Not only see the problem, but also find his own way to solve the problem, make a positive impact.

  5. Read many times the Jaden’s article, in addition to moved, is gratified. I saw the independent personality of the young people who grew up in America. Independent thinking in the face of problems, brave and resolute. Be proud of our new generation!

  6. A very good reading.
    Anti-Asian hate crimes have spiked since the pandemic began. It’s not a new phenomenon. One way to support is to be aware of the long history of discrimination against AAPI. By reading through history coupled with his own experience, the author, a bright young man, was able to understand the root and the most fundamental fact of the issue, and to step-up fighting the ideological war against AAPI.
    It’s our civic responsibility to commit ourselves to the fight against racism and anti-asian hate, which is of PARAMOUNT importance to our remaining a free and democratic Country.

  7. Really learned a lot through young Jaden’s lenses and his profound thought process. His study of history is solid, his observations discreet, and thought independent and perceptive. All of these make me feel very hopeful that our society will be better and more just in the future because of the caring young generation that Jaden represents!

  8. It’s a written essay for an important topic. I am so glad that our young generation has critical thinking and willingness to express their thoughts.

  9. It is evident that you have conducted extensive research. I am truly Impressed by your thoughtfulness and eloquence. I wish the style of your writing could’ve been more consistent.

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