Defining Asian Americans Vicki Tang
SYLP student

The words “Dude, stop being so Asian” have become typical words in a young Asian American’s vocabulary. However, most people don’t think about what the expression really means. Of those who do, almost no one thinks about its implications.

Being Asian literally means belonging to or having ancestry from the continent of Asia. But that is not the definition of Asian that is being used by the new generation.

The history of Asians in America isn’t a pleasant one. Asian Americans settled in the United States as early as 1750 — in Louisiana. Eventually, the British and Spanish brought slaves from China, India, and the Philippines into South America in 1840. The first large group of immigrants came to California in 1848, lured by “Gold Mountain” (the Chinese nickname for California).

But from the start, Asian Americans experienced discrimination ranging from the Foreign Miner Tax and the Chinese Exclusion Act to being given the most dangerous and dirtiest jobs working on the transcontinental railroad. They were paid only 60 percent of what European immigrant workers were paid.

Yellow Terror also played a major role in discrimination against Asian Americans. Yellow Terror stands for the belief that the continuous mass immigration of East Asians into America threatens the standard of living and wages of whites. The initial fear was directed toward Chinese Americans, but when the United States became involved in World War II, Japanese Americans became a target before they were shipped off to concentration camps.

These days, Asian Americans are considered a model minority because of their high rate of success, measured in income, education, low crime rate, family stability, etc.

For example, 25 percent of Asian Americans over the age of 25 hold a bachelor’s degree, compared to 15.5 percent of all Americans. However, only 6.9 percent of Cambodians and 6.2 percent of Laotians hold bachelor’s degrees.

The assumptions about Asian Americans, along with some values certain Asian cultures have, add up to the well-known stereotype of the model minority.

However, the continent of Asia consists of more than 30 countries, ranging from East Asian countries like China, Japan, and South Korea, to West Asian countries like Pakistan, Armenia, and Lebanon. The vast array of people contradict the stereotype that all Asians are nerds with good grades, who never go out, who study all day, who have no social life, who are cheap, who can’t speak English, and who are passive.

There are almost 4 billion people living in Asia. It is impossible to lump about half of the world’s population into one stereotype. So the next time someone brings up “Stop being so Asian all the time,” be sure to say to them, “Although I can’t stop being Asian, I can stop you from thinking that all Asians are like me.” ♦

Editor’s note: Northwest Asian Weekly was unable to verify all the facts stated in this article. The ideas here do not necessarily represent our stance.

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