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The purpose of this presentation is to help others understand what it means to be Asian American. This term is frequently used, but loosely defined. In order to better explain this term, I have put together a list of common characteristics that are associated with Asian Americans, as well as explanation as to why they exist. I also touch on popular stereotypes and explore the origins behind these. This list is by no means comprehensive, and certainly does not pertain to all Asian Americans. It only serves as an over-arching description on what it is to be an “Asian American. Enjoy
In Asian culture, family is extremely important. The needs of the family are greater than the needs of the individual • Collectivist versus individualistic Everything you do is a reflection on your family Problems/issues are hidden from the public Parents demand respect and obedience • This is their definition of a “good child” Everyone must respect the elders
Collectivist cultures, by definition, have an emphasis on the whole rather than the individuals. Also, since most of the “Asian” countries, including South East Asians and Pacific Islanders, are collectivist cultures, there is a strong focus on the family. Those who put themselves before the family are deemed as selfish and not a “good person”. Another important aspect of being a good person is respect. Elders, because they have more life experience, need to be respected and listened too. At no point is it appropriate to go against your family, especially your parents. This is a struggle for many Asian Americans because of the individualistic emphasis in the US. In many cases, Americans can see this as weakness or lack of self confidence. However, it is not so within Asian American families. Obedience is an appropriate way of showing respect.
Hierarchical structure • Males have a higher status • Translates into family/ marriage dynamic Father is distant • Focuses on economic needs Mother is closer to family • More responsive • Responsible for verbal/physical punishments Parents will make significant sacrifices for the benefit of the children Parents teach children to avoid trouble
Following historical guidelines, males have been the one to carry on the family name, and women are married off into other families. This distinction gives males a higher status. Even within a marriage, males tend to have the upper hand and final say in most matters. Some can argue that this is sexist, but it has been this way for generations. Fathers, like some American traditions, typically have the responsibility of providing for the family while the mother takes care of domestic matters. Similar to most immigrants, Asian parents will do almost anything to achieve the “American Dream” for themselves and/or their children. Parents will work extremely hard and make considerable sacrifices just to see their children succeed in both school and work. Following the “model minority" concept, parents teach children to avoid causing trouble out of fear of legal and social complications. This is also the result of language barriers. Parents are afraid of serious societal consequences, and therefore encourage a more passive behaviors.
Currently, there are several levels of income • Low – recently immigrated families • Middle – the most common; hardworking parents in blue collar jobs, small business owners • High – educated parents; higher status in mother country, family has been in US for several generations
Asian American families, like most families, vary in money and income. The reasons though, are slightly different. The low income families typically have recently immigrated and are just starting their “American Dream”. The most accessible way to achieve this American Dream is to make money. Due to language barriers, as mentioned before, employment is sometimes difficult. Therefore, many Asian American work in stereotypical markets where a niche has already been carved out. For example, this explains why Chinese families own Chinese-restaurants. Similarly, this explains why blue-collar jobs are so common. There are simply less barriers of entry. High-income families can be explained by parents that are more educated, know English, and/or have been in the US longer. Asian Americans that have medium to high income typically have an easier experience than lower income Asian Americans.
Parents approve of the “model minority” stereotype • Education is the 1st/2nd priority • High expectations Allother activities are only distractions/obstacles from school There is no sacrifice to great for education • Money, time, resources etc. Good grades are a major component of being a “good child” College is the standard • No college is equivalent to failure
The “American Dream”, in the eyes of Asian parents, can most easily be achieved through a good education. This is why Asian Americans are so pressured to do well academically. Nothing else is deemed as important, which explains why Asian Americans are so underrepresented in other fields. The only exception is school-related extracurricular activities. If an Asian American has good grades, they are considered a good child, even if they may be poor in other areas. Because Asian parents place such a high value on education, there is immense stress to do well and meet the “standard”. Being “average” is not something to be proud of, striving for excellence is the only way. Asian Americans continue to struggle with this because they want to please their parents and family, bust also maintain a sense of self and belonging amongst their peers.
AsianAmericans lives in what seems like “two worlds” • Asian values versus mainstream society • Connection with native culture can be easy or difficult Typically speak 2 or more languages Asian Americans largely do not refer to themselves as Asian American • Specify ethnic group (Chinese-American…etc.)
Asian American must live with the cultures of their parents, but also the culture of the US. These two distinct “worlds” can be confusing and are frequently the reason for social problems. Finding the right balance is important, but very difficult. Asian Americans usually relate more with their native culture when the relationship with the parents is good. They can understand and accept their parents cultural values. On the other hand, when this relationship is strained, Asian Americans can also rebel and try to assimilate as much as possible. In some cases, they will even abandon their parents language if they view it as unnecessary. One particularly interesting aspect of the term “Asian American” is that most Asian Americans do not use this term. They will specify the specific ethnic group rather than use this all-inclusive term. Still, the term Asian American is useful when referring to these common characteristics.
Peopleassociate Asian Americans with rice and other mainstream dishes • Ignore all other ingredients and styles Americans have strong fascination with taboo/strange ingredients • Dog, cat, snake…etc. • Also a source of bullying
Due to mainstream media, Asian American of all ethnicities are strongly associated with rice. Unfortunately, this then disregards/ignores all other aspects of the cuisines. Americans fail to see the variety in the diet. This then becomes a source of jokes or bullying. Similarly, there is a strong fascination among American youths on the taboo ingredients such as dog or cat. This is also another aspect that is made fun of. In modern times, these ingredients are not even used but still remain a source for jokes. Learning about traditional American meals is a common aspect of an Asian American upbringing. In many cases, Asian Americans are subjected to typical foods and customs until grade school or later. • EX: meatloaf, backed potatoes, fried chicken
Atsome point, Asian Americans are subjected to bullying or exclusion • Due to race, language, or general differences Assimilation is difficult and comes at a price • Social awkwardness Commonly referred to as a foreigner • Despite country of birth (USA) or citizenship status Asian Americans may have a less open showing of emotion
Bullying has been a big issue in recent times, and Asian Americans are no exception. Especially among younger children, differences are generally targeted and Asian Americans are typically on the receiving end of jokes. Some of the most common tactics involve making fun of the way Asian Americans talk, look, smell, and eat. It is especially difficult because Asian Americans cannot simply change themselves or assimilate because the home environment does not allow it. Assimilation is difficult mainly because there seems to be a trade-off between identities. The more American one becomes, the less Asian he or she is as well. Due to the racial differences, people often wrongly assume Asian Americans to be foreigners. This is especially frustrating when Asian Americans are treated differently, for not reason at all. Asian Americans sometimes show little emotion because emotion is linked socially with weakness and immaturity. Parents will encourage less emotion because it is a sign of maturity and growth. This is different from mainstream American culture and can result in misinterpretations.
Dating and relationships are frowned upon, or worse Relationships are frequently hidden from parents and family Physical attractions are taboo and are not discussed Dating is not socially acceptable until college or even after
Dating, in the eyes of Asian parents, is a source of distraction. It takes away from the most important goal: school. Also, because of the experiences of Asian parents in their home country, they feel that dating is inappropriate for younger teens and sometimes even young adults. This is a strong contrast with mainstream American customs where dating is seen as a growing experience. Asian Americans typically combat this by being in secret relationships. This is an odd concept to many Americans, and puts a strain on social interactions. Even worse, dating and other intimate relations are considered taboo and not talked about openly. This is the way more Asian parents were raised, and therefore translates over onto Asian Americans. Only as an adult is dating finally acceptable, and even then Asian parents are usually very strict about who their child is involved with. Dating anyone that is not the same culture/ethnicity is interpreted as a threat to their own culture and is frowned upon.
Now that some of the most common characteristics have been explained, what next? I hope that this presentation has enlightened enough people to end some of the discrimination against Asian Americans. In explaining the behaviors, I hope to remove some of the mystery that is “Asian American”. In theory, when you understand the culture more you no longer feel strangely about it. The way Asian Americans act are not without reason. As explained, many of the behaviors are a result of balancing their multiple identities. In reality, Asian Americans are truly not that different once you make unbiased comparisons. If Asian Americans make such an effort to belong and fit it, is it not fair to try to accept their minor differences and appreciate them as human beings? As Americans?