May 18, 2015

On Breaking the Model Minority Myth

Photo: A 1-year-old Karn Saetang and his sister.

by Karn Saetang
Lead Organizer at the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon (APANO)

So Luann, our Community Engagement Manager, asked me to write a blog post about breaking the model minority myth through my own personal lens. And I told her that I can, but there are already recent articles about the model minority myth that are already out there and written way better than anything I could write.

For one such article (written by Soya Jung), click here:

For another (written by Jenn Fang), click here:

I’ve also never been comfortable writing about the Asian American experience.
Mostly because I’m still not sure I know what it means to be Asian American. And also because I’m not a good writer.
What I do know is what my experience was like growing up in Chicago as a Thai person.
I know that when I was in elementary and middle school, no one knew what Thailand was.
I know I was placed in a special language class the first 4 years of elementary school even though I spoke English.
I know I was usually the only Asian kid in class.
I know we were the only Asian family on my block.
I know the other families on our block didn’t want us there, based on the messages they left on our garage every week.
I know when we were in 4th grade, I was secretly rooting for [Anna], who’s Filipina, when she brought a knife to school and stabbed [Jay], who’s black, a bunch of times in front of our school because he kept calling her “chink.”
I know I never saw [Anna] at school again.
I know I didn’t meet a lot of other Asian kids until I got to high school.
I know I didn’t fit in with those other Asian kids.
I know people always wanted to copy my tests.
I know we would both fail those tests.
I know I was taught about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln every other year.
I know I was never taught about the assassination of Fred Hampton ever.
I know I learned about Democrats and Republicans, but never the Black Panthers, Young Lords, or Red Guard.
I know I really liked learning, but really hated school, and there was something inherently wrong with that.
I know just because you were good at school, didn’t necessarily mean you were smart, it just meant you were good at doing school.
I know the black kids and Southeast Asian kids used to beef a lot.
I know I felt that fighting black and brown boys would validate my masculinity.
I know I got kicked out of class for arguing with my teacher.
I know White Chris was pulled aside and told “you’re better than that” for arguing with his teacher.
I know Marcellus was arrested then suspended for arguing with his teacher.
I know none of my Khmer homies walked the stage at high school graduation with me.
I know none of my Thai homies finished college with me.
I know I’m tired of seeing white people on my TV, in my movies, magazines, and online.
I know we all experience oppression differently.
I know I'm still trying to figure out what being Thai American means because I feel like we occupy a weird space in the Asian diaspora.
I know that I, and people who look like me have been pitted against other communities of color.
I know that I, and people who look like me have been used as a tool for white supremacy.
I know the police are the largest, most organized, well-funded, and violent gang in the country.
I know the people making decisions for me don’t look like me, didn’t grow up in the same neighborhood as me, didn’t go to the same school as me, didn’t work the same jobs as me, but are deciding what’s best for me without asking me.
I know I’ve lost 4 youth since I started doing this work over a decade ago.
I know that’s 4 more than I should have lost.
I know I still have sexist and heterosexist tendencies.
I know there’s still so much I don’t know.
I know I’m still learning, and am going to continue to make mistakes.
I know I want you to hold me accountable.
I know I need to re-learn how to learn.
I know my liberation is directly tied to the liberation of the person reading this.
I know I want to organize with you.

Read more stories from AAPI Heritage Month here.