My family is from the Philippines, I identify as Asian and I am a minority.
For my entire life, I have been told by teachers, friends and textbooks that Asians do not count as an oppressed minority group in the United States. In social science classes like sociology and criminology, Asians are rarely included in statistics about issues facing minorities in the United States. When pressed, every professor I have confronted has told me that Asians do not make up a significant enough proportion of the population for them to be included as a minority group. But there are dozens of Asian communities – each with its own stereotypes and hardships – that professors unfairly group into the demographic.
A multitude of ethnicities and racial backgrounds make up the continent of Asia, much of which has been shaped and warped by colonialism and Western military advances. But the United States still sees Asia as one monolith. Asians – including myself – have faced oppression and racism in this country. Not counting Asians as minorities who face racism and oppression in the United States disregards thousands of years of colonialism and perpetuates the model minority myth.
My family is from the Philippines, a country that was colonized by Western countries before its people could set up their own government and rule over their own territory. The native people were conquered and colonized by the Spanish and fought for by the Dutch, the British, the United States and the Japanese. In 1946, they were finally granted independence by the United States to create their own government.
Members of my family went through decades of trauma at the hands of their continuous colonizers, fled from Japanese attacks on their island and sacrificed everything to get to the United States – only to be told that their struggles are insignificant because others who came from Asia have successfully contributed to the economy, found jobs and attended college. But the success of some Asians should not disqualify the struggle of others. Saying that Asians as a whole do not experience racism or hurt is insulting and leads scholars to unfairly focus on the struggles of other minority groups, like African Americans and Hispanics.
Today, many Asians are seen as proof that the American dream works. They are well educated, often well-off and prosperous. The information is true for some Asian groups, like Japanese and Chinese people, but the statistics do not account for other demographics within Asia, like Pacific Islanders. The Demographic Data & Policy Research on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders found in 2017 that poverty rates for Burmese or Micronesian people are higher than for those who are Filipino or Japanese. But research continues to lump all Asians together, allowing Americans to pretend that they have paved the way for Asians to prosper, when in reality, the United States has oppressed and offended Asian groups.
In academia, viewing Asia and Asians as one leads to misrepresented statistics of Asian prosperity, and academia should know better. Viewing all Asians as the same misrepresents the financial and social struggles that those communities face and the number of resources that those communities need.
In my sociology class last year, I picked an argument with my professor because our textbook broke down Hispanic identities and nationalities in the section about racial diversity and minority struggles but did not do the same for Asians. My professor said Asians do not count in the section because they do not comprise a small enough population in the United States. But Asia is made up of 48 countries that span from Jordan to Japan and includes many different races, ethnicities, religions and cultures – all of which need to be counted when we talk about diversity and struggles among minorities.
Textbooks and professors tend to focus more on the struggles of Latinx and African American people in the United States, since they make up a statistically larger portion of the population. It is valid to consider those struggles because African Americans and Hispanics face systemic issues in the country that are different from the struggles faced by Asians. But ignoring Asian hardship perpetuates the myth that we do not face struggles – and we do.
The struggles of my family, and many like mine, continue to go unnoticed by the broader American population because the model minority myth uses Asians as an example of how any race in the United States can achieve success because Asians are wealthy and well educated. This myth is so ingrained in American culture that many are blind to Asian income inequality, racism against Asians and the continuous conflict within smaller Asian countries that is a result of decades of colonization and military action from Western states.
Being a minority should not be about who has struggled the most and who faces the most injustice. It is about groups of people who have been systematically oppressed and set back by decades of colonialism and racism from what is considered to be the white majority in Western countries. Asians are minorities, and until their struggles are recognized as the struggles of a minority group, we will never see true racial equality and justice.
Hannah Thacker, a sophomore majoring in political communication, is the contributing opinions editor.