An Asian-American and A Woman: Cornered

By Alice Tang ’18

“She’s a smart student, always does her work and puts forth a good effort. Could speak up more in class.”

I know I’m not the only Asian girl who got comments like these in elementary and middle school, but I was too scared to say the wrong thing in class to speak up. What else was I to do? The model minority myth of Asian students, perpetuated by our parents, our schoolmates, and our teachers, puts us under a pressure to meet any expectation of perfection; we must reach for the 100s, the 6s, the A+’s and the gold medals, because anything less is not representative of our potential. In addition, as a female student, my peers and teachers expected me to be quiet and diligent, helping others before myself in class, and modest about my individual abilities. Boys, on the other hand, learned to comfortably lead class discussions and command respect from their peers; these qualities, according to the subconscious biases of many adults, came naturally. As an Asian American girl, there is pressure to be both modest and submissive but also excel in every field. These two expectations ultimately carve out smart and dedicated students, but with no freedom to express their thoughts and reach their full potential.

Following my societal standards as a student, I proceeded to go out of my way in pleasing all my teachers and avoiding conflict of any kind, lest I make a mistake or draw attention to my modest self. I remember when my dad told me I was “too docile” because I would do whatever anyone asked of me. I didn’t see how that could be a bad thing. For my Asian peers and I, we grew up believing that the ideal Asian daughter was one who got perfect grades, listened to her teachers, and obeyed her parents’ every word. Not once should she complain, speak out, or contradict what others told her. So I taught myself these values and prided myself whenever I was able to hold my tongue.

“You can’t listen to everything that everyone says,” he explained, “You can’t do everything that they tell you to do. It’s impossible to please everyone, and yourself.”

I didn’t like this thought even though I knew it was true. Wasn’t it my job to please everyone? Class time, for example, was a time for me to impress my teachers and deliver work that satisfied them. When leading a class discussion or a group project, I wanted to stand out and prove that I had meaningful ideas, but for the wrong reasons. I wanted to satisfy my teacher’s requirements and my classmates needs. I felt like they expected me to do the work; I felt this responsibility. It was my job, as an Asian and as a girl, to do the hard work that would make us, as a collective group, do well.

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