Though there are a wide range of Asian American narratives, it’s not hard to determine which one is the single story – it’s one about the quiet, hard-working people who earn the highest grades in their class, who become doctors and lawyers and engineers, whose median income is higher than those of white people. The single story of Asian Americans is the model minority myth, and even though it’s been refuted countless times, this story is stubbornly persistent.
It’s not that these Asian Americans don’t exist; they certainly do, and much of my own story aligns with this narrative. The problem is the perception that this is the only story about Asian Americans – that all of us are hardworking, overachieving success stories. The reality is far more complex: There are countless Asian American narratives. Asian Americans originate from more than 20 different countries and speak dozens of different languages. There are Asian Americans who immigrated a few years ago and ones who have been in the US for centuries. For every Asian American who came here for graduate school, there’s one who arrived as a refugee; there’s a blue-collar worker for every white-collar professional. Yes, the median household income for Asian Americans is higher than that of white people, but there’s also a higher percentage of Asian Americans living in poverty. There are Asian Americans who are amazing at school and plenty who are not. (The fact that I even need to say that is absurd, but given the single story about us, it’s a necessary clarification.)