Formalities for the “Model Minority”

| April 7, 2016 | 1 Comment
The vague invite about vague conversation.

The vague invite about a vague conversation.

Back in February, the White House Initiative on Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) came to Boston University. An invitation email went out to a handful of student leaders–some very interested, others very confused at why they would have any connection to the AAPI community. Although I did not personally receive the email, I got the information through a friend and RSVP’d anyway. In the moment, I was thrilled at the prospect of having a platform to speak about AAPI issues. For once, this university was hosting something of value to our specific community. Or so I thought.

The dinner was hosted on the extravagant 9th floor of the Silber Administrative building, which meant this initiative was important enough to look good. The audience was made up of mostly Asian students, but the two presenters were clearly not Asian. Withholding judgment, I gave them the benefit of the doubt, even as they read off the info sheets printed straight off of their website. Surely, they would have more insights to share.

Unfortunately, they had nothing more than an unplanned conference to share with us. The real purpose of this meeting was to get our ideas for a conference that would educate college students on federal resources. To summarize the conversation: It would be good for the AAPI to be educated on federal resources. Also other minorities should know about these resources. And you know what, all college students should attend this conference.

The inclusive mindset of these two presenters was honorable but ignorant–it did not capture the essence of what I expected the AAPI initiative to be. Of course, all students should have accessible education about these federal resources, but by putting this conference under the initiative, they completely diluted the AAPI conversation students were there to have. Students asked questions about the cultural education of AAPI and how our voices can make a difference on college campuses. I asked about incorporating AAPI voices in this conference. We wanted to have a real conversation about the lack of a AAPI community here at BU. But our questions were received as interesting comments, and nothing more could be conjured up from this extremely awkward imbalance of expectations.

I was disappointed. I couldn’t really blame these presenters for not meeting our expectations, since they had no intent to host a rich conversation on AAPI communities. In fact, they were just committee members for this conference, here to represent the initiative from a project logistics perspective. But these unmet expectations discouraged and irritated me. Was I naive to think that this AAPI initiative from the White House would address real student concerns? Why is it so difficult to collectively organize for a genuine discussion about this?

Here’s my short answer: Asian American and Pacific Islander recognition by institutions is a formality. Such formalities are debilitating. We appear to be doing just fine, as the “obedient” and “assimilated” models for minorities, and this mirage is muffling our true voices and concerns. We have to fight to have our voices heard, even within formal structures supposedly built to amplify our voices.

I am tired of being faced with unmet expectations and reluctance. I feel drained of inspiration. Drop these formalities. We need some real talk.

Featured photo credit: silence via photopin (license)

Category: Campus Culture, featured, Social Activism, Thurman Thoughts

Grace Kim

About the Author ()

Grace is a senior(!) studying Neuroscience in CAS and Global Health at the School of Public Health. She hails from the Bay Area in Northern California, which is undoubtedly hella nicer than its southern counterpart. She enjoys a good game of volleyball, a spontaneous adventures in the city, and good company balanced with plenty of alone time. She likes tea, smoothies, Korean food, bookstores, water, lemons, and sleep. She hopes to one day finish watching Breaking Bad, though she's been stuck on season 3 for 32 months.

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