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My life as a Vietnamese American in America is nothing like what you see in movies like “Crazy Rich Asians” – filled with glamour, love, loyalty and lots of money. There’s a part in the Asian culture that others do not see, the part where we go through adversities, too. Contrary to popular belief, we are not the unicorns you make us out to be.

I am sick and tired of y’all instagramming our food, yet, constantly turning a blind eye to the unprecedented wave of violence targeting Asian Americans today.

I want to help others like me who are tired of trying to live up to the model minority myth and also help non-Asian Americans understand the detriments of being confined under the bamboo ceiling within the model minority myth.

The model minority myth stereotypes Asian Americans as being well-off and overachievers. This was not my reality. My mother and father earned high school degrees and my mother was fortunate to be able to select “some college” as an option when applying for jobs. Both of my parents’ families came from meager socio-economic backgrounds. As a child, I remember watching my grandparents on my mother’s side spend weekday nights inside their garage, rubber-banding newspapers that they would deliver the next morning starting at 4 a.m. For us, wealth was accrued by picking up the shovel we had to buy ourselves, digging into the soil with our cracked calluses and planting seeds to ensure that future generations do not suffer the same poverty-stricken experience.

My life is not based on a myth, perfect and free of nuance. My family is dismissive of my achievements because I do not hold a six-figure salary, despite obtaining a Master’s degree at San Jose State University. My parents hold high school diplomas but did not make it to college. My mother suffers from mental illness – a taboo to speak about in Asian cultures. My father did not acknowledge my existence as his daughter. Does this sound like a model life to you?

I have been seeing a therapist since 2018 from the trauma I experienced as a child, such as watching my mom’s mental state spiral downwards and also having to put up with my dad’s narcissism. According to a study from the University of Maryland, Asian Americans receive the least amount of mental health care throughout the racial-ethnic minority groups. The notion of someone seeking help from a mental health professional raises eyebrows within an Asian family. My mom’s untreated schizophrenia began when I graduated from high school and has shattered her ability to maintain a stable job. To this day, she has not received the mental health services she needs.

Many Asian Americans are taught to endure hardships as we are commonly told that our parents’ lives were much worse than ours. Thus, minimizing our pain and struggle is the norm.

With the additional presence of the model minority myth, the compounded expectations may deter those desperately in need of help from may deter those desperately in need of help from seeking it, allowing the trauma to fester like a pervasive virus compromising our mental health.
Another barrier is that the therapy industry is not diverse; 86 percent are White and 90 percent are heterosexual, according to a 2015 American Psychological Association survey of 5,325 psychologists. I chose my therapist because they identified as being Vietnamese on their business profile. The result is that there are few therapists of color who understand Asian culture.

Asian cultures value the act of “saving-face,” which means to avoid embarrassment at all costs, and it may present itself in many forms, such as: achieving excellent grades in school, adhering to heteronormative standards, or attaining a prestigious job. My father succumbed to the pressure of face-saving on his wedding day when he asked me, “Katrina, can you please do me a favor? During my wedding, can you please call me Uncle? Co Phuong’s [his soon-to-be-wife’s] side of the family doesn’t know I have a kid. Come on, it’ll only be until the night is over.”

I was 13 years old and in middle school at that time.

My family may be embarrassed by what I say about them or about myself, just as a parent may be embarrassed when their child misbehaves at school. My friends and colleagues may wonder why I have so much to say when my professional standing appears to be better than others. They might even ask: Doesn’t Katrina already have it good? Why is she complaining?

While Hollywood continues to make films focusing on the alluring life of wealthy Asians, you must remind yourself that it’s entertainment. Those films do not depict the uncomfortable truth of the Asian Americans experience in everyday life. In my culture, it is normal and acceptable to cast my feelings aside over my well-being.

In American culture, it is normal and acceptable to value individualism and acknowledge self-worth. With the addition of the model minority myth, I am left in a constant state of limbo between being “Asian” and being “American”.

My story is but one of many and the lesson here is that if you want to be an ally to Asians and Asian Americans, some meaningful actions you can take:

Check yourself before you ask us where we are “really” from as it disregards our identity as Asian Americans.
Support mental health resources for Asian Americans and the hiring of bilingual and ethnically diverse staff.
Understand that the model minority myth divides us from each other. Asian American success does not rob other groups of their success. 
The consequences of continuing the model minority myth harms too many Asian Americans and divides us from one another.

Keep snapping pics of Asian food for Instagram ‘likes’ all you want. Continue watching television shows depicting Asian Americans with lavish lifestyles. However, if you want to show support, get to know us. You may see that our lives are far from perfect.

View Comments (2)
  • Wow, did you major in whining at college? So what if people like to tweet about Asian food! And NOBODY is ignoring the violence perpetrated against Asians; it’s all over the news! “Model-Minority Myth”? You mean how people believe that Asians tend to make more money and commit fewer crimes? Is that not true? It IS true! Obviously, everyone knows that doesn’t mean all Asians are wealthy and completely innocent, but come on. “Constant state of limbo”? Wow, you are dramatic, even for a college student. And you know what? The idea that asking people where they’re originally from, or descend from, is not offensive, despite you choosing to take offense. Did you ever consider that some people are actually curious about *you* as a person and are hoping for the chance to get to know you, maybe even speak with you in a foreign language? The entire “micro-aggression” nonsense is just barrel-scraping for something to be angry about.

    • Hi, thank you for your comment. This is the exact perspective I was expecting from an outsider’s point of view and is exactly what I am arguing against. As a bystander, it is easy to say, “Well you didn’t have it as bad as ____, so what are you complaining and whining about?”

      Your comment shows that you are comparing the struggles amongst other racial ethnicity, another point I argued against. This response is normal as it comes from a different perspective.

      To your last comment, a better question to ask is “What is your ethnicity?” versus “Where are you from??” America has grown into a pot of melting cultures. We now at the second and third generation of Asian Americans. It’s not the 1970s where you can assume any of us are FOBs (fresh of the boat).

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