Misconceptions of East Asians

February 4, 2021

The East Asian stereotype. What comes to mind when this term is mentioned?

A student walks out of AP Calculus, a pencil in one hand and a calculator in the other. “How was the test?” his friend asks. He shrugs and explains it wasn’t too bad. A group of friends walks by, rolling their eyes at the response.

“Of course it was easy for you. You’re Asian.”

This long-lived term that has had a spotlight in TV shows, movies, and books is not just something for readers and movie-goers to get a laugh from. Let’s take a closer look at the expectations many East Asian students are held to every day by teachers, friends, classmates, and most of all, parents. The East Asian student stereotype, as explained by Asian students at East, is a hard-working student with yellow-tinted skin, narrow eyes, large-framed glasses who excels in academics and extracurriculars.

The stereotypical East Asian student also plays either the piano or a wooden box (small, medium, or large) with four strings that belong in the school orchestra. They apparently also love math and have no trouble with it at all. Just one question from the actual East Asian student community: who built this box Asian students have to somehow fit into? Because it sure wasn’t the ones who are held accountable for it.

“Stereotypes, in general, are based on some sort of truth, otherwise they wouldn’t exist. So, it’s true that some Asians typically do well in STEM courses or standardized tests, but it doesn’t mean that all Asians should be held to this level,” says Ethan Lam (‘22), a member of East’s Chinese Student Association.

So, how did this term come to be in the first place? It’s often very common in many Asian cultures to work hard and reach success. Many East Asians are raised with this mindset of putting in time, effort, and energy to achieve something in life, and to encourage their children to share that mindset as well. With this passing down of culture, which can be compared to the mere passing down of food traditions, many East Asian students today still hold true to this statement.

Though one may examine this mindset formed by culture and find East Asian students to be in a particularly stable position where the people around them support them undeniably, which would seemingly make it easier to succeed in life, it should not be sugar coated.

Katherine Li (‘23), a member of East’s Chinese Student Association, says, “[The East Asian student stereotype] can put a lot of pressure on Asian kids.”

With a culture focused on success comes expectations for the young generation of those cultures, which results in pressure to work hard and exceed in school and extracurriculars. Expectations from parents to manifest the mindset rooted in their culture and expectations from classmates and friends to fit the East Asian stereotype of being smart naturally places quite a lot of pressure on Asian students. These expectations result in Asian students feeling as though they succeed not because of hard work, but because of their race, and that their excellence shouldn’t be celebrated upon because it’s expected.

Even though there are indeed select East Asian individuals who show this term to be true, not all East Asian students should be held up to this stereotype and standard. Just like with different types of people who enjoy cooking rather than reading, not all Asian students excel at math and are naturally good at coding, and they shouldn’t be expected to be.

“I know someone who is extremely smart and studies hard, but that’s not all that there is to that person,” says Sehoon Kim (‘23), a member of East’s Korean Culture Club.

East Asian students who are good at math should not be identified by a stereotype because there is more to their personality than what a stereotype holds. Similarly, East Asian students who have not played piano for six years should not be associated with not being “Asian-enough” because there is much more to their identity rather than not fitting a stereotype.

The term “East Asian stereotype” is so well-known that when said, an image of a whole being with a personality and life can be created in a human brain within seconds. However, it doesn’t mean that it should be normal for Asian students to feel pressure due to a stereotype. East Asian students are unique individuals who have different passions and interests, just like other typical high school students, and shouldn’t be held to collective preset standards in the minds of the people around them, whether positive or negative.

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