The Anti-Model Minority Stereotype is the New Asian American Stereotype

My bedroom in Collegetown, Ithaca, NY circa 1993–1994

More Asian American stories are being told today than ever before. And that’s great. But it feels like the stories that get the most attention are those that seem to contradict the “model minority” stereotype. And along the way that narrative, rebelling against the model minority stereotype, is becoming a stereotype in itself.

I was born in Korea. Moved to The U.S. when I was 7. In Korea I got in trouble for running my mouth. I got punished in school. I wasn’t a bad kid. I was just rambunctious. I don’t remember being an excellent student but I don’t remember being a bad one either. I was just me.

It was of course America that taught me what was expected of me. Of how I was supposed to act and what things I was supposed to excel at. A lot of the popular model minority rebel stories focus on how badass they were when they were young. And I always think aren’t most young people rebellious in nature?

I took piano lessons. And I grew up in Section 8 Housing. I wrote for the school paper and magazine. And I played on the tennis team. I shoplifted at the mall with my Asian American friends. And I went to church, even youth group. I worked at a laundromat (not ours). And I paid 25 cents for reduced lunch. I played alto sax in concert band. And I fell into depression after getting bullied by members of the high school football team. I played Little League baseball. And my high school sweetheart was half Jewish and half Liberian and my mom recently told me that they were surprised when I brought her home because you just didn’t do that type of thing in Korea when they were growing up. I befriended Asian American kids from big cities who got sent to my small city after getting in trouble in their cities and it was them who showed me guns for the first time. I only made it to Tenderfoot in the Boy Scouts. I took tae kwon do. And I fell in love with hip hop.

My childhood was not in that order. It was like most childhoods, a lot of things. It wasn’t a straight line. It does not fit neatly into a three act structure. But then again maybe it does. I don’t think my past makes me any more special than anyone else. My past is my past. And I’m sure there are a lot of holes in my memory of it. And obviously that’s only a part of my past. Most of the time we recreate the past of ourselves that fits a nicely packaged narrative we want to tell and sell.

I got a D in Biology. But did well in AP Calculus. And I loved AP English. I did alright in my SATs. I was good at some things, great at few things and OK at many things. I went to Ivy League but had to transfer in. I think I failed statistics. I should have, I just stopped going to class. Truthfully, I don’t really remember the handcuffs of the model minority stereotype being applied to me. Maybe I was lucky and my parents resisted Tiger Parenting. They didn’t let me do whatever I wanted but they didn’t beat me either. So I don’t have those types of struggles to sell. I did see many of my peers go on to pursue and find riches in medicine, law and business and maybe in my youthful arrogance I sneered at them cause I felt as if I had chosen a path filled with more passion and creativity.

All this to say…what I hope is that more and more of our Asian American stories continue to get told. And that we as a community stop siloing our journeys into either the super successful hardworking honest model minority American Dream achieving and living immigrant narrative or the badass who flipped the finger at all that. It’s like you’re either the model minority nerd or like the anti-version of that. You’re either the sexless Asian American or the super sexy Asian American. And often we’re the ones who do it to ourselves.

There needs to be room for nuance in our stories. By only celebrating the resistance to a stereotype we are simply reacting to it. Instead if we were really to be the rebels without a pause we would say fuck it and just not acknowledge it all when celebrating us. Cause we’re way more than just stereotypes or anti-stereotypes.

Writer/Editor: Vibe, MTV, Tidal. Marketing/Advertising: Nike, Samsung, The Madbury Club. Former #1 Google image search for bald Asian. Seoul->Ithaca->NYC->VLC

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