Growing up, comments from Rachana Jadala’s peers made her feel as if she was not living up to be a proper Indian-American woman. These comments make up the model minority myth, which was discussed by a group of students Wednesday at the Multicultural Engagement Center.
The model minority myth is when a minority group, such as Indian-Americans, is perceived to achieve a higher degree of socioeconomic success in terms of high education, fiscal income, family stability and more. Although it may sound benign and even flattering to be described in those terms, the myth creates a dangerous assumption that Asian-Americans and Indian Americans have overcome past instances of prejudice and discrimination in modern times, according to electrical engineering senior Alex Bi. Bi is a co-director of The Asian Desi Pacific Islander American Collective, which hosted the discussion.
“[People tell me] you’re really loud for an Indian girl, you’re really good at dancing for an Indian girl, you’re really bad at biology for an Indian girl,” Jadala, business sophomore, said.
During the workshop, Milla Lubis, a social work and psychology senior, who is also a co-director, asked students what Asian-American stereotypes came to mind. Student’s responses included phrases such as “human calculator,” “can’t speak English,” and “perpetual foreigner.”
English sophomore Clara Wang, who is an Asian-American, said people assume Asian-Americans are smart, but it’s not always meant as a compliment.
“We’re not being labeled as intelligent, we’re being labeled as competent at tasks,” Wang said. “Qualities of being a CEO would be like risk-taking, being very bold and we’re not seen as those things.”
Tony Vo, assistant director of the Center, said there are some positive outcomes of the myth such as access to STEM-related fields.
“STEM field professions and STEM field majors here at UT, it’s geared easier access for Asian-Americans,” Vo said. “We can benefit in positive ways but I think that it’s a mixed bag and at the end of the day you don’t get to choose if it’s positive or negative, you take all of it as an Asian-American person.”
Jadala said she hopes people make a conscious effort to steer clear of racial comments.
“I think that the first step is being aware that you have these prejudices and the second step is just unlearning [common stereotypes],” Jadala said. “Expose yourself to different types of people.”