This week, I’ve been seeing this article being circulated on my news feed. Written by a graduate student named Maria X. Liu, it’s an interesting read that gives another perspective on what it’s like to be an Chinese American woman. Seeing as that is what we’ve been talking about in class, I thought I would respond to the article with what I have learned and what I have personally experienced.
Unlike Maria, I grew up going to schools populated by an Asian majority, so I seldom had to perform my identity in a certain way just to fit in with my peers. But there have been times when I felt marginalized because I looked Asian or I associated myself with Asian people and culture, especially now that I have left my Asian community bubble and have gone to college. People would approach me with certain expectations (see Fung Bros–yes Fung Bros, more on that next week) before I had even said a word to them. Even my Asian peers would do this to me. I became so fed up with these ridiculous expectations that I focused on counteracting them.
I decided to perform my identity by breaking every stereotype that has been projected onto me, and then breaking the ones I made after that. I would compare myself with other Asian girls and make sure that I was different from them, even rejecting friendships with them like Maria did. I too would deny myself my own interests and passions. I absolutely, under no circumstances, wanted to be remotely associated with the labels that were being projected onto me.
Ultimately, this mentality led me into that dangerous cycle of trying to be unique–thinking that I was a special snowflake out to prove something to the world that I didn’t even understand, and eventually I realized that this kind of thinking was toxic. I was still being controlled by these stereotypes by living my life trying my hardest to avoid them–which is nearly impossible anyway. I mean, there are stereotypes of Asian women being nice and some being evil. How is anyone supposed to change their performance to avoid being categorized into such extremes? The change needs to come from how people perceive others through the realization that people can’t be generalized as one thing or another. Most people live and operate on complex spectrums that aren’t even necessarily linear. So after much guilt, shame, and turmoil, I decided that the best way to counteract these stereotypes and expectations is to simply be me, and be the best me that I can muster. Who I am is still a complete mystery to me, but changing my mentality this way has empowered me to confront people’s expectations of myself and my own shame.
Though the experiences that Maria discusses later in the article don’t speak to my personal experiences as poignantly, they still opened my eyes to how even today there exist the issues of Asian American femininity that we discussed in class. Maria’s experiences dating as an Asian woman consisted mostly of being seen as her race first and foremost rather than as a person. Once again, the Asian woman is treated as a fetish. She didn’t have agency at work because of the Model Minority myth that still holds up so firmly in the American mind, and she feels that these problems are intertwined with the lack of Asian representation in the media. Maria also mentions how the labels of the dragon lady, the submissive china doll, and the tiger lady are limiting to her identity. All of these issues are incredibly relevant to what we have discussed in class, and in reading about Maria’s story, it became very clear how they are still so prevalent in our society even now. Her experiences reveal that the fight that started generations ago has not yet finished in ours.