As the debate continues over a recent Pew Research Center report that critics claim regurgitates the “model minority” myth about Asian-Americans, a conference at Queens College this weekend for second-generation Asian-Americans offered a forum to unpick the stereotypes.
Saturday’s conference, “Becoming Asian American: Exploring Identity in Asian Society,” was open to Asian-Americans over the age of 16, and was organized by the Korean American Behavioral Health Association.
Speakers included Dr. Samuel Noh of University of Toronto; Pearl Park, a filmmaker who is working on the documentary “Can,” about a mentally ill Vietnamese-American man; and Yul Kwon, a winner of the CBS reality show “Survivor.”
Voices of NY reporter Hyemi Lee interviewed some of the young Korean-American attendees:
Sarah Min, 17, Stuyvesant High School 11th grader
Q: What kind of stereotypes do people have about Asian-Americans?
One that I hear a lot is you are all studying, you don’t really have your social life. Like, Friday night, you are at home studying for tests. Also that you’re very quiet in class, like you don’t participate a lot and you’re not very active, and that you’re just sort of in the background.
Q: Do you think that Korean-Americans are really like that?
I’m not as assertive as like some of my other friends, but I’m also not very quiet, I think. It’s not very true, these stereotypes, they’re not justified. They really can put a person down.
Samuel Lim, 20, Private First Class in the United States Army
Q: Do you think that your way of thinking and your parents’ thinking is different?
A little bit, because my father is more traditional Korean. My mom is more lenient towards Americans. Me, because I am raised by my parents but my environment’s American, I guess I am more American. But I try to incorporate Korean into it. And there was a stage in my life, when I was younger, when I wanted to be only Korean. I just tried to shift everything to Korean. Right now, I guess [I'm] more American.
Q: When do you feel most Korean?
Me, because I am born and raised in America, I feel more American. The only time I feel Korean is when I am with my family. But when I am in public, I guess the only time I feel Korean is when someone makes an insult or stereotype towards me that I’ll get defensive about it, and defend my Korean side.
Q: What kind of abilities should Korean-American people develop to be global leaders here?
This is my opinion: I feel Koreans or Korean-Americans… we’re too prideful in ourselves as Koreans. I think that affects us as people and businessmen and citizens here. I think we need to let go of that, more because I noticed a lot of first-generation or second-generation Koreans, they tend to oppress American lifestyles because they think it’s too different from theirs, they think it’s weaker or something. I think we should let go of that and try to accept.
Cheryl Lee, 16, Bayside High School student
Q. Do you think your parents put a lot of pressure on you regarding high grades and so on?
Contrary to what people think, I don’t think my parents put pressure on me. Actually, they put good pressures, as you have to do what you want to do, focus on your work. Not the pressure that you have to always be studying. Because they encourage to me to go out, do activities as well, just not studying.
It is not just about getting hundreds all the time, but also enjoying your time as high schooler. It is a good pressure, but not the pressure that most people think of [with] Korean parents.
Q: What qualities should Korean-Americans develop to be leaders in this society?
Korean-Americans specifically, they need to have the ability to have social skills. They have to get out from their corner of only Korean people… In school, [there are] people who just don’t do activities, but just hang out with Korean people. They don’t like to talk to other ethnicities — they don’t like to talk to white people, black people, Spanish people — because they only like talking to Korean people. Because that’s [what] they’re used to. But in order to be successful, you have to break that bond and just go out and try new things.