Finding a voice like mine

Aliyah Ramirez, Staff Writer

When I was in elementary school, we would take timed math tests. Like most students, I would finish under that unending minute in relief, but when everyone got their test back, I was never proud of the score I received. I remember my classmates’ eyes, as they told me, “people like you always get good scores.”

These comments led me to hold my tongue in defense from a young age, but seeing myself from others’ perspectives was not as important to me as it is today.

I grew up primarily following my family’s Chinese traditions as an important aspect of my childhood. As a Chinese, Filipino, and Mexican-American, something I did not realize as a child when I was receiving comments based on the expectations of others: my slick black hair, dark eyes, and pale skin, marked me as every other stereotypical Asian girl.

Without even realizing it was based on appearance, others portrayed me with the underlying expectations of the model minority. The expectation is that all Asian Americans receive higher test scores, work unconditionally, display obedience, and most of all, maintain silence.

When I see a person on the TV screen who looks like me, I know audiences expect them to act the same way. Being the quiet, shy, awkward, and impossibly intelligent girl was all traits people associated with me growing up, but it was not until I was older, that I discovered where these given assumptions stemmed from.

Representation of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in mainstream media is alarmingly minimal. It takes more than just listing them in the movie cast. Instead, we need to see a break in stereotyped roles. 

Asian culture is made of various ethnicities, which people fail to understand. We as a demographic cannot be categorized under one perspective. The more the media groups together Asian ethnicities, the less likely we will be able to understand and accurately represent our own distinct cultures.

A majority of the time, we are portrayed as tropes of nerds, scapegoats of disease, stereotypically un-Americanized and items of fetishization. In the media, Asian Americans are inherently, and specifically cast to perform as geek comic relief, the unbeatable yet scrawny martial artist, or the exotic man or woman from overseas. 

Yet, when we see Asian Americans cast away from stereotypical roles, people ask, “Why is that Asian girl playing her? They do not act like that?”

Trapped within the complex of the model minority reinforces and disempowers how Asian Americans are viewed in society. When Asian Americans are cast as outcasts, with accents or piles of textbooks on screen, these stereotypes only further the given expectations of demographic discrimination. 

What we see furthers what we believe.

Film has increased in quality and embodied much of modern-American pop culture, but we need to see a shift in how industries accurately represent Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Above all, we need to see Asian Americans as people, and on the screen, as main characters with diverse stories and backgrounds. 

Giving future generations a chance to see an accurate representation of their heritage, just like a child looking up to Superman, can help the Asian demographic feel inspired and included, not mocked. Stereotypes of my culture, or what people think to be my culture, have created a restricted lens of how people view Asian Americans. 

The importance of Asians in the media goes deeper than representation and diversity. As a part of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community, I take pride and show support when someone who represents our culture succeeds–captured on camera or not. 

Comments built up from assumptions about my appearance held me back from saying what I truly felt. But if I could go back and tell my younger self one thing during my childhood, it would be “don’t stay silent.”