Looking beyond Asian American stereotypes

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With recent events about racial and political uprising, I started to think about stereotypes, specifically the Southeast Asian American stereotype.

Society often depicts Asian Americans as people who look and talk the same, are one or a combination of Chinese, Korean or Japanese ethnicity and are the “Model Minority.”

As the “Model Minority,” Asian Americans are affluent, hard-working individuals with prestigious degrees.

Here’s a newsflash: contrary to popular belief, not all Asians look alike, not all Asians are one or a combination of Chinese, Korean or Japanese ethnicity and not all Asians are doing socially and economically well.

It’s a strange yet constant issue Southeast Asian Americans face with at least once in their lifetime — and it’s an issue that’s affecting the Southeast Asian American community in a negative way.

While flattering and applicable to some Southeast Asian Americans, the Model Minority theory doesn’t fully represent us as a whole.

There are obstacles and struggles Southeast Asian Americans encounter on daily basis that negate the Model Minority theory.

Assimilation is a prominent issue Southeast Asian Americans struggle with.

The severity of how it affects the Southeast Asian American community depends on two ideas: behavioral and socioeconomic assimilation.

According to Asian-nation.org, behavioral assimilation occurs when the individual decides to integrate into to the social norms of the host city.

For example, I am a first generation Khmu and Cambodian American.

My parents immigrated to the United States in the late 1970s and went through different stages of assimilation but were fortunate to balance both American culture and their respective cultures.

As a child, my parents exposed me to both of their ethnic cultures and American culture.

Initially, I accepted Khmu, Cambodian and American culture but as I got older, I began to favor American culture.

I became embarrassed by my ethnicities and viewed the customs and traditions as abnormal and barbaric.

Today, I continue to struggle with acknowledging my Southeast Asian ethnicity, albeit a smaller degree.

The constant struggle between accepting or denouncing one’s culture has caused a rift in the different generations of Southeast Asian Americans.

While one generation accepts being Southeast Asian, another might denounce it.

This generational gap causes a lack of understanding that hurts both generations.

If the older generation and the newer generation are unable to have a mutual understanding of their culture with one another, it immobilizes them to move forward.

Ultimately, this clash could cause the ethnicity to die out.

Many Southeast Asian American families immigrating to the United States were poor and ultimately stayed poor, settling for low-skilled jobs.

If you’re from Stockton and have Southeast Asian American friends, then you know many Southeast Asian Americans reside in the same community with the same socioeconomic background.

The less-affluent Southeast Asian American neighborhoods often have high crime and gang-related activity.

With many of the parents working, their children are left unsupervised, exposing them to a rebellious and dangerous lifestyle.

While there are resources available, many of the less-affluent Southeast Asian Americans don’t know about them.

This is prevalent in the education system among Southeast Asian American students.

While some students have the ability to succeed, others are unable to because of a lack of financial and parental support.

In the end, I can’t speak for all Southeast Asian Americans but I can say this: I am proud to be Khmu and Cambodian American.

To all my Southeast Asian Americans brothers and sisters, now’s the time for you to be proud too.

It’s time for Western society to wake up and acknowledge us as a group of people that doesn’t look or sound the same, that isn’t one or a combination of the aforementioned East Asian ethnicities and isn’t represented by the Model Minority theory.

We’re different.

And that’s okay.