Opinion: It’s our turn to speak

Before you make any assumptions about me from my almond-shaped eyes or Chinese surname, let me give a few disclaimers: I didn’t spend my childhood memorizing the periodic table or practicing an instrument for eight hours a day.

I wasn’t able to breeze through eighth-grade math, and my mom and dad are far from being tiger parents. I’ve witnessed how stereotypes regarding the Asian American community have perpetrated false narratives throughout my life, and yet I’ve never even attempted to dismantle these well-entrenched myths of the “model minority” — until now.

The myth of the model minority positions Asian Americans on a pedestal among people of color, portraying them as beneficiaries of the “American Dream.” In spite of centuries of systematic discrimination from the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 to the Japanese internment camps of the 1940s, the diluted Asian identity of generalized success shrouds images of palpable oppression, leaving extensive reports of racism ignored.

The March Atlanta spa shooting highlighted this flagrant negligence when many headlines failed to recognize the Asian hate crime as such, with even Georgia sheriff spokesman Jay Baker exculpating the gunman of merely having “a bad day.” While many attribute this wave of violence to former President Trump’s designation of the coronavirus as the “Chinese virus,” the onslaught of hate simply couldn’t have been achieved without this country’s history of discounting Asian American struggles as “insignificant.”

However, why did it take a high-profile tragedy for me to finally speak up? The Stop AAPI Hate National Report has received around 3800 hate incidents since the COVID-19 pandemic began, representing only “a fraction that actually occur.” Even before last year, I grew up spurning rather than addressing microaggressions made by my peers, who gagged at my traditional Chinese lunches and questioned my delight for the Fourth of July.

As an Asian American, I’m the first to admit that it’s part of our culture to stand back and keep our issues to ourselves. But we must stop waiting politely for our turn to speak. It’s time to assume a crucial responsibility in pacifying and rectifying misperceptions, using our voice instead of our tears to share our stories and reshape our future. Like the experiences shared in the New York Times podcast “Asian Americans Talk About Racism, and We Listen” back in 2018, we do hold power in preventing this cycle of intolerance from trickling into the next generation. We are no longer the obedient, successful doctors and engineers that America wants to see, but brutal reminders of the deep-rooted racism sowed across our landscape for far too long. 

Speak up to shed presumptions. In the words of Korean-American actor Daniel Dae Kim to Congress, “Include our stories because they matter…we are united and we are waking up.”

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