Asian & Asian-American Students

Asian and Asian American students are a diverse group who hold various racial/ethnic identities, cultural practices, religious beliefs, and languages. Asian/Asian Americans in the U.S. previously referred to themselves as members of their respective ethnic groups, but the term “Asian American” came about in 1968 to help engender a sense of community and unity in organizing against acts of discrimination. While working toward solidarity and equity for the Asian/Asian American community, there are cultural stressors that may cause us to reject ourselves and/or other BIPOC groups. Below is information on a few common stressors experienced by Asian/Asian American students including the Model Minority Myth, colorism, and bicultural stress.

Model Minority Myth

“Before I knew what it really was, I didn’t see any problem with the model minority myth. If people thought of me as smart and capable for being Asian American, I wasn’t going to correct them. It wasn’t until the term was really defined for me that I saw its harmful effects. The pressure that it puts on Asian American students to continuously excel can be really toxic, and the generalization of Asian American’s into a single category and stereotype negates the individual stories of each person. Not all Asian Americans are quiet and passive, want to go into a STEM field, or have high-paying jobs and a steady income.” 1

The Model Minority Myth is a concept that places Asian Americans as a model community who achieve academic and occupational success. Asian Americans are stereotyped as hard-working, studios, smart, self-reliant, docile and submissive, obedient, and uncomplaining.

This stereotype ignores the breadth of diversity within the Asian American community and decreases attention to aid and services for underserved Asian American students. The model minority stereotype is used as a racial wedge between Asian Americans and other people of color.

In fact:

  • Income inequality in the U.S. is now greatest among Asians. Only four Asian origin groups’ incomes exceeded the national median for Asian Americans while other 15 groups were well below the national median. 2
  • In 2019, 23.8% of Asians are in poverty in New York City, which is the highest rate of all racial/ethnic groupings. 3
  • Asian American students tend to report more depression and anxiety symptoms compared to White American students. 4
  • Among college students of racial and ethnic minorities, Asian Americans reported the lowest rates of ever receiving counseling or psychotherapy (18.8%), compared to African Americans (38.8%) and Latino Americans (48.6%).5

Colorism and Biculturalism

Colorism is prejudice or discrimination on the basis of skin color that privileges light-skinned over dark-skinned people of color. Colorism among Asians/Asian Americans has roots in colonialism and Western beauty standards in some Asian countries and in classism in other countries. Colorism may be salient among women since lighter skin has also been associated with perceptions of femininity and beauty. This form of discrimination may lead to the use of bleaching creams which can be toxic and lead to serious physical and psychological consequences. Colorism has also been a tool used to perpetuate racism in the Asian/Asian American community against other BIPOC groups.

Biculturalism is the experience of living within two cultures. For example, students who are immigrants or the children of immigrants may hold the culture of their heritage country as well as the culture of the United States (U.S.) Development of a bicultural identity may involve incorporating knowledge about the cultural beliefs, practices, and/or language of both cultures. This process may lead to bicultural stress when there is conflict between aspects of your heritage culture and U.S. culture. An example may be differences between collectivist cultures that place value on one’s family or community as being central to oneself and an individualistic culture, such as the U.S., that values individualism and independence. Bicultural stress may lead to negative consequences such as anxiety, depression, and denial of one’s heritage culture.

While both of your cultures are important, it’s important to recognize that through your own bicultural identity development process that your sense of your identity and culture may not be in line with that of your family or friends and may be a unique blend of the two. It’s also important to recognize that you can choose to alternate between expressing yourself in ways that are more in line with your heritage culture or U.S. culture to help navigate the environment you’re in. A final point to note is that navigating two cultures may be stressful, but it may also help you use coping strategies from both cultures and understand multiple perspectives on an issue.

Things to Do to Fight Against Cultural Stressors

  • Be aware of the potentially harmful impacts of pressuring yourself to live up to the Model Minority Myth.
  • Recognize your perfectionism. Forgive yourself for being a human being who makes mistakes.
  • Take time to explore your values, sources of joy and satisfaction, and career aspirations. They do not need to be the same as those of your family or friends.
  • If you find a gap between your family’s expectations of you and your own, consider starting an open conversation with your family. It is normal not to find a resolution at once. Both you and your family may need time to reflect on differences and to be open to new ideas.
  • Reflect on the standards you’re holding yourself to - Who created these standards? Are these standards in line with your values?
  • Know that you’re not alone and that we can support each other as a community in spaces such as UCS’s Asian Voices Support Group