For so long, Asian-Americans have often been portrayed as the “model minority.” I’m sure you have heard some of the stereotypes regarding Asian-Americans. They get the top grades. They are less likely to be affected by substance abuse than any other ethnic group. They flood the ranks of doctors, engineers, and IT technicians.
Growing up, I always felt myself lumped into the “model minority.” Throughout middle and high school, I found myself increasingly passionate about social justice issues, particularly human trafficking and poverty in the US. However, there was a disconnect. I kept telling myself, “I don’t need to worry about anything bad happening to me. I’m in the model minority; I will be fine.”
My false assurance led to elevated anxiety, doubt, and inadequacy. I would beat myself up mentally over not making progress with my speech—unable to express myself fully. You see, I’ve had a speech impediment since I was little, and it caused me to doubt my own voice. Clouded by lies, I didn’t think my own voice mattered. I was taught by my parents to never pity myself. Pity would get me nowhere, and if I was ever ridiculed by others, it was a sign that I didn’t work hard enough for them to not ridicule me.
I came into Covenant uncertain of my identity. I knew that I am immeasurably loved by God, but there was a disconnect between head knowledge, and heart knowledge. At least racial tensions will never affect me, right? I am in the “model minority.” I clung to the international and the bicultural students. In a place where I am noticeably the minority, I have to strive for perfection.
That quickly fell, as classes were tougher than I anticipated, and my grades tumbled. I felt shame. It’s only my first year at Covenant, and I’ve already failed to bring honor to my culture. Summer came, Mike Brown was killed, and protests broke out around America. At least I am safe, still in the “model minority.” I will be safe at Covenant. No one would dare to insult us!
Sophomore year, Dr. Soong-Chan Rah, a pastor and teacher who cares deeply about the multiethnic and multilingual church and the future of Christianity in the United States came to speak for Global Gospel Advancement Week. I heard rumors of students ridiculing Dr. Rah for his skin color and calling him derogatory names. The next week in chapel, Christiana Fitzpatrick spoke against these comments, but the damage was done. I no longer felt safe. Some of the international students no longer felt safe and even left the college later as a result.
That was one specific instance, but over-generalizations, microaggressions, and jokes targeting specific ethnicities seem to be more common among us now. I hear it at Covenant, and my heart winces for Covenant’s Chinese, Korean, and Indonesian community. My heart hurts for Covenant’s African-American community. But I did not speak up. I did not believe that I had a voice; my voice is clouded by my speech. If no one will understand me, if it takes me forever to formulate my thoughts out loud and by the time I actually say something I end up stuttering half the time, why should I speak? Why should I speak?
But now I am speaking up. I am convinced now by my identity as one beloved by God, who is not defined by any disabilities nor flaws. The Kingdom of God is the closest and the most special to the ones who limp to the gate, falling down on their faces, and plead for mercy. Thank you to the ones over the past week who have affirmed my voice, who have been encouraged by my thoughts. Your affirmation is so kind.
Covenant! Hear the voice of the one who is different than you. Understand why your classmate could be hurting right now—why, heck, some of the athletes are kneeling during the anthem.
I am more and more convinced that we need to replace our “us/them” mindset with an “us/together” mindset. The less we seek what we can gain for ourselves, the more we seek the flourishing for all, the more united we become.
My point is not to propose an easy solution, but I only ask that we would be quicker to listen, and slower to judge. Each of you has a voice, use it well. Whether you are comfortable with your speech or not, let your voice be bold for the cause of others.