Today I want to share a book that helped me better understand the deep stories of Asian Americans: Minor Feelings by Cathy Park Hong.
Here are a few highlights on why it is important to get in touch with ourselves, our culture, and our community.
The Model Minority Myth
I grew up learning Chinese history from my local school in Taiwan. In my third year of college, I took a class called City Politics and finally got to learn a bit about the history of Asian Americans. That was the first time I heard about the “model minority” — a stereotype set up to simplify the complexities of Asian Americans into a cultural shorthand.
In her book, Hong writes that “Back then (when the 1965 immigration ban was lifted by LBJ), only select professionals from Asia were granted visas to the United States: doctors, engineers, and mechanics. This screening process, by the way, is how the whole model minority quackery began: the U.S. government only allowed the most educated and highly trained Asians in and then took all the credit for their success.”
While the model minority construct has helped Asian Americans to quietly work hard as a nobody, it eventually backfires when we get somewhere. Once we are no longer invisible, the model minority image soon became a weapon. Poet Sharma shared in “A Situation for Mrs. Biswas” how her father was publicly shamed and resigned after he became the first South-Asian president at a college.
What are Minor Feelings?
Hong defined minor feelings as “the racialized range of emotions that are negative, dysphoric, and therefore untelegenic, built from the sediments of everyday racial experience and the irritant of having one’s perception of reality constantly questioned or dismissed.”
Minor feelings occur when you fail to live up to the false expectations (optimism, success, etc) set up by the system. It is ingrained in the structural inequity to let us feel “less than.” It is constructed to make us forget that we are uniquely beautiful in our own way.
When we are quiet…
Asian immigrants often lack emotional awareness to acknowledge and talk about their struggles. I have talked to many Chinese Americans and learned that they did not know how to deal with emotions growing up — the touchy-feely topics are often repressed by parents and dismissed by teachers.
Hong writes, “I think it’s a problem how Asians are so private about their own traumas, you know, which is why no one ever thinks we suffer any injustices. They think we’re just these — robots.”
…we become invisible.
We don’t even have enough presence to be considered real minorities. We’re not racial enough to be token.
If we comfortably and quietly let stereotypes define us, we will be absorbed by the few in power. We will give up our rights to fight back the injustice and speak up for ourselves.
As Hong alarmingly pointed out, “Asian Americans inhabit a vague purgatorial status: not white enough nor black enough; distrusted by African Americans, ignored by whites, unless we’re being used by whites to keep the black man down.”
When we know nothing about our heritage…
In addition to the heads-down stereotype, Chinese Americans also face another layer of challenge: not knowing their thousand years of heritage.
As my cousin told me earlier this week, she felt like a Honey Nut Cheerio growing up. She has been learning about white history under Western education and struggles to see herself in society.
…no one will care about us.
The need to explain ourselves is draining.
As Hong said, “It’s like explaining to a person why you exist, or why you feel pain, or why your reality is distinct from their reality. Except it’s even trickier than that. Because the person has all of Western history, politics, literature, and mass culture on their side, proving that you don’t exist.”
Interested in more Asian American reckoning?