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Becoming American

Asian-Pacific American children must go through life trying to appease many social realities at one time. First, there is the assumed pressure many face to do well in the United States. Children represent a future of unlimited possibilities that most first-generation Asian-Pacific Americans have been denied. Language barriers as well as financial and racial confines have limited first-generation immigrants and prevented them from attaining the American dream. The children may have left, sent by their families to complete their education in the United States­, only to live a life of hardship ­sometimes living alone or with host families who they hardly know. The pressure they face to succeed and not to disappoint the family is high.

Many children are expected to succeed in the United States while simultaneously maintaining their culture. The need to keep the heart and soul of their familial roots is important. Children are asked to become Americanized, but on their parents terms ­­­- observing filial piety, yet at the same time speaking fluent English and reading Shakespeare. The children are expected to become fully bicultural in order to satisfy the demands of assimilation and upholding traditions. This pressure to be bicultural can be immense and frustrating.

Third, children are faced with stereotypes that limit opportunities for Asian and Pacific Islanders. Asian Americans have been portrayed by the media as extraordinary achievers… The exaggerated image centers on students overcoming incredible language and cultural barriers to attain and even surpass the educational achievements of their mainstream counterparts.

Like many stereotypes, the model minority resulted from kernels of truth. Many Asian-Pacific Islander parents give up everything in their homelands to improve the lives of their children. In some cases, the children do well and go on to establish successful lives in the United States. However, many do not fit into the model minority mold. This image originated from a number of popular magazines and newspapers (such as U. S. News and World Report, Newsweek, the New York Times, Time) portraying Asian Americans as extraordinary achievers.

The model minority image often does more harm than good. Not all students perform well. They can internalize this stereotype and feel unworthy. It can have debilitating social effects. First, these students can be blamed for not being as bright as their high achieving counterparts. Second, they can be pitted against other ethnic minorities. When the model minority myth is embraced as true, oppression becomes trivialized because it is seen as easily overcome by hard work and cultural values.

Source: Russell L. Young (1998), Becoming American. In Valerie Ooka Pang and Li-Rong Lilly Cheng (Eds.), Struggling to be heard (pp.67-68). Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

This often manifests in different ways and at different times. Read this article by Aaron Mak in on the dilemma he faced in owning his heritage during college applications and his dilemma thereafter.

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