Introducing Model Breakers

🤨 Why Now?

In the 2016 United States Presidential election, the Chinese American voting demographic had one of the lowest voter turnouts. This would indicate Chinese Americans don’t organize, or feel disenfranchised around American politics, which supports the model minority myth that Chinese are “naturally” quiet. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are, after all, talking about the same people who organized the Tiananmen Square Protests — one of the most revolutionary movements in recent history.

Granted, Chinese immigrants need a job to survive and a visa to stay. While it is convenient to fit in and follow the rules, it is dangerous to hand our power away. If we don’t think for ourselves, we are subject to the stereotypes that limit us. To liberate us from the false expectations, we need to know who we are, break the model minority, and build networks to change the perceptions at large.

Despite systematic racism, most of the harm is reinforced by the rest of us who have no intention to harm ourselves. We have invested so much into educating our next generations, but we forgot to invest in our community. We are so used to coping with everyday aggressions that we forget that the world doesn’t have to be this way. We are weaponized as a political token, from “Model Minority” to “Chinese Virus.” It is time for all of us, whether we’re studying, starting our professional careers, or becoming a role model to start these conversations and tell our own stories.

Model Breakers is living proof.

❤️ The Story Of My Book

Model Breakers is about the struggles we all experience, the struggle to be fully ourselves. 

The most important stories are often left untold in the cultural dialogue. The model minority stereotype rampant in America has affected the lives of every Asian person living in the US, who feels vulnerable or invisible. I hope to shatter the model minority stereotype, show our individual stories and reclaim our voice.

I began this journey with the motivation to help my little brother Warren. I started writing to my brother through a series of letters titled “Dear Warren” that went viral. I investigated the hurdles and questioned how to have a fulfilling college—and life—experience in America. While I wasn’t sure how many letters Warren had actually read (he only responded to one), I got overwhelming responses from readers who asked for more. 

My hope is that, in reading this book, you will discover how to break up with the model minority stereotype. In turn, we can change the immigrant narrative at large. 

You’ll hear stories such as…

  • How model minority reinforces that we are “minor” and distant from our true selves
  • How self-awareness and growth mindset redefine stereotypes in a powerful way 
  • How emotional and social awareness helps us go from surviving to thriving
  • How it is okay to not feel okay

Model Breakers is a work of nonfiction that speaks to people like my brother Warren—all the first, second, and third generations—and allies who want to create empowering identities for themselves. 

📕 The Making Of Model Breakers

Traditional publisher loans writers money, provides editing/layout support, and keeps ~85% of the profit. In exchange for the service and distribution, they get the ownership of your book and decide whether your content can be kept. Frankly, this term is not very favorable to creators…

Thanks to Taylor Swift’s movement on giving creators the ownership they deserve, the publishing industry has changed. In addition to traditional publishing, there is hybrid publishing which empowers me to write the book I want to write, stay true to my audience, and own it into the future.

Part of maintaining that ownership and serving that community requires an upfront investment. And that is where crowdsourcing comes in. The basic publishing cost is $5,000. From there, we will march towards the $8,000 goal for audiobooks. Once we hit the $8,000 goal, everyone will receive a complimentary audiobook too 🎧

Crowdsourcing is a powerful way to democratize the making of this book. To me, this book is not a publisher’s or my story. It’s ours, and I want us to own it.

When you pre-order the book, you’ll be joining a community that will help shape what comes in and out of the book. You’ll be investing in breaking the model minority stereotypes and rewriting a more empowering social narrative.

If you’re excited about bringing social change to the world, I hope you’ll consider pre-ordering a copy of Model Breakers. Pre-orders help bookstores decide whether or not to carry my book and help my publisher calculate how many copies to print. It’s also a way to signal that you believe in me (which helps me write more books in the future.)

🗣Conversation with Warren

If you know me or Warren, you may know that we rarely talk. I even started the Dear Warren series to get him to read my stuff! Even when we do, the conversations often end in a few minutes.

Tonight we not only talked, but we talked for an hour. Also, he talked more than I did.

Miracle.

Why Did I Call Warren?

This morning, I was talking to my book editor and brought up a question that was not on my agenda: I’ve been experimenting with a series of Dear Warren, and I was thinking about turning this nonfiction into letters to my brother. I’m trying to break the “quiet Asian” stereotype and reach the audience who are often checked out in the political debate. My brother fits into both buckets. The good news is that he is open-minded. If I could change his mind and get him to take action, I am positive that I can change millions of people like him. This format may be even more approachable and intriguing. What do you think?

My editor loved this idea and advised me to take it further. One of the action items is to interview Warren and get him to share his thoughts and fears.

Knowing my brother, I told my editor, “I’m not sure if I can get him to talk about this topic, but I’ll try.” I messaged Warren anyways, and he said “ok.” I proposed to call him two hours later, and he said “ok” again.

What Did We Talk About?

I began with understanding and deconstructing his beliefs:

  • What’s your take on hard work and success?
  • What’s your philosophy for life?
  • What’s your unique edge?
  • How has each specific life experience informed your worldview?

Since he is a private person, I will just talk about my most surprising takeaway: his superpower is his acute self-awareness. Just like me, he has got to know himself so well that he could easily distance himself from all the noises and follow his passion. This self-awareness helped him build his confidence to calmly compete in International Physics Olympiad and apply for MIT.

After understanding his personal values, I asked how he saw himself in society. I was particularly interested in knowing why he, like many other Asians, chose to stay quiet.

Here are our hypotheses:

  1. Many Chinese immigrants lack the experiences to choose their desired political candidates.
  2. Many people are too lazy to think beyond themselves. As a result, they don’t have the key awareness to fight for causes that matter to the entire race.
  3. Many people are comfortable within their own family or small circle. There is a lack of solidarity or issue to bring everyone together.

Why We Need To Speak Up

Once in awhile, there will be amazing hits like The Joy Luck Club and Crazy Rich Asians. Much more often, there are racist comments like “Chinese virus” and hostile policies like the H1-B visa halt that kept us marginalized. Since we have not been politically organized to protest or get politicians to fight for us, we often play safe and accept the racist reality. Yet it doesn’t have to be this way.

If we could each step up, write letters to elected officials, and tell our story through different media, we can rewrite the disempowering narrative set in place. However, if we choose silence, stereotypes will define us. From our conversations, we have identified five elements that may answer “Why Asians Disengage?” and several ways to mobilize this fastest-growing population.

🍀 Inspirations from Minor Feelings

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? Get a copy of the book here 🙌🏻

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