WORLD / AMERICAS
Asian Americans paving their way through a frustrating year
Model minority
Published: Apr 05, 2021 08:18 PM
Against the backdrop of hate crimes, especially the spa shootings in Mid-March, Asian Americans shared their frustrations and concerns with the Global Times. Two New Yorkers think it high time to debunk the model minority myth. Both believe that it is vital to have their voices heard, which could be the hope for the next generation in the US. 

About 300 demonstrators gather on the steps of the Minnesota State Capitol to protest a spike in anti-Asian bias in Saint Paul, Minnesota, the US on March 28. Photo: VCG

About 300 demonstrators gather on the steps of the Minnesota State Capitol to protest a spike in anti-Asian bias in Saint Paul, Minnesota, the US on March 28. Photo: VCG

"Most Asian Americans have been taught to work hard, keep your head down, don't draw attention to yourself, show respect to others, and treat others the way you want to be treated. I've been taught these things and I'm teaching my kids the same," Michele Wong McSween, a mother of three sons, author, and a fourth-generation Chinese American told the Global Times on Friday. She resides in Brooklyn, New York. 

Now she looks back with one question in mind. "But, where has this gotten us? We're depicted as pushovers and easy targets," she said in an email reply to the Global Times. 

Mad, angry, fed up

McSween said that the pandemic "spread like wildfire everywhere else because no one was taking the precautions seriously."

"I remember shopping in a grocery store in early March, where a man coughed and sneezed in people's faces and then laughed as they turned away from him. I wish I could have said something, but I'm not used to confrontation," she said, recalling the days before the spa shootings.

However, with incidents against races such as black and Asian Americans, she noted her attitudes have changed.

'Transformative'

Jose Abellar, originally from the Philippines, is a New York City-based fashion designer and father of three, recalled his own experience.

"I moved to NYC in my 20s and was lucky to find myself working among many Asian Americans. People in my field tend to hire us because of our work ethic. We were the model minority because we didn't complain much for working too many hours and we were dedicated," he said. 

Abellar described the past year as "exhausting, heartbreaking and transformative." 

He "just started a new job in August and I've been working remotely while homeschooling" his 7-year-old twins, he said in an email reply to the Global Times on Saturday.

He "lost a few loved ones this past year, one to COVID[-19]," he said. 

"This year forced me to take stock of my life and truly appreciate what I have and to reevaluate my priorities."  

Abellar has lived in San Francisco, California, and New York at different periods in his life.

He moved to San Francisco from the Philippines at an early age, when he felt the Asian American and Pacific Islander [AAPI] were tolerated but ignored.

Fear in train stations

Abellar also shared the latest hate crime he's witnessed.

"I was on a subway train and saw someone on the platform casually pull his mask down long enough to spit at an Asian guy," he said. 

In the given status quo, Abellar thinks that all Asian Americans need to speak out.

As a mother, McSween shared her concern for her sons.

"I absolutely worry about my sons returning to school. Their schools have been closed for the past year due to the pandemic, but one just opened for blended learning. I worry about him taking the train. I worry about him walking from the train to school. We've had numerous conversations about what to do, but honestly, I don't know what to tell him. He's 16," McSween said.

Talking about staying safe, Abellar said "I just started self-defense classes last week."

Theodore Chao, 43, of Columbus, Ohio holds a placard for Asian solidarity with his family in front of the Ohio Statehouse during the rally on March 27. Filipino activist group AnakBayan partnered with Ohio Progressive Asian Women Leadership to put together a Solidarity Rally to #STOPASIANHATE.  on March 28. Photo: VCG

Theodore Chao, 43, of Columbus, Ohio holds a placard for Asian solidarity with his family in front of the Ohio Statehouse during the rally on March 27. Filipino activist group AnakBayan partnered with Ohio Progressive Asian Women Leadership to put together a Solidarity Rally to #STOPASIANHATE. Photo: VCG

Equal opportunities

Both McSween and Abellar said that they hope the next generation will be fair in providing equal opportunities for their children. 

Looking back, Abellar said "I never really embraced my Asian identity growing up. I was rarely accepting of my own upbringing, ethnicity, culture, and history. When it came down to it, being Asian never felt good enough. After being teased and feeling ashamed for who I was and where my family came from, I decided it was easier to assimilate. Through the years, I've learned to embrace my Asianness, and have become a proud Filipino American. This is years after struggling to fit in and be 'American.'" 

"I've since learned to have the best of both worlds. I am a father of three wonderful children. I wish that my kids never have the same conflicts as me. I pray that the color of their skin or shape of their eyes never keeps them from realizing their full potential or are treated poorly."

'Slowly change'

On Tuesday, US Attorney General Merrick Garland launched an internal review to track racially motivated hate crimes. 

Abellar said the move is "helpful. The more data to support our cry for help, the better."

On the same day, the US National Council of Asian Pacific Americans announced that the Biden Administration has committed to taking action in supporting the AAPI community.

McSween said that "these measures are absolutely helpful and gives me hope that things will slowly change. Unfortunately, there is still a lot of misplaced anger and resentment over people's loss of jobs, losing loved ones, and being pent up for the past year, but the awareness and national attention of these anti-Asian hate crimes will hopefully make people realize that they can't and won't get away with these unprovoked attacks on our elders, women, men, and children."
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