I haven’t always spoken up about the racism I’ve experienced. I think that the Model Minority Myth took this away from me—for a long time I felt that I didn’t have permission to. Being a child of an immigrant, I was always pushed to be grateful, sometimes even before acknowledging my own emotions. And this is because the Model Minority Myth pushes this on immigrants—that it could be much worse for them, and that part of the deal is that they have to work harder to achieve equal standing, respect, and acceptance in this new country—and even more, that this is what Asian immigrants are good at: that success and competence is what we bring to the table and is a certain measurement of our value. This myth sends a message: that if we are occupying Canada, we need to, at the very least, be an addition in some quantitative way. I’ve been made aware of my privilege my entire life. I see my life in vivid awareness of what I have that my family in other parts of the world do not. And this isn’t inherently bad. Gratefulness is powerful, wielding it is a means to survive. Honoring hard work and where your family comes from is ingrained in my culture, and is the spirit in which often allowed my family to grow in harsh conditions. It’s very beautiful. But there’s a moment you have, being a child of an immigrant, but fully Canadian, holding the same citizenship as the white Canadians I see who are treated with priority—I look at my rights and ask—do these not work for me too? In my personal experience, I think that when I was younger I really absorbed the Model Minority Myth’s message by only accepting the parts of myself that could reflect the white majority. I subconsciously learned through society to closely associate myself with someone who could round me out (in whiteness) to secure attributes that I could never have, and to work hard to accomplish the rest of what I was “lacking”. As if I was never complete without a white counterpart. And through socializing in this way, I practiced distancing myself from the parts of my culture that the people around me felt confused by. I was met with many social penalties, “microaggressions”, when I stepped out of line to how someone defined me, or challenged the status quo. I felt people project onto me, the idea that I was “just cultured enough” to have around, but felt the pressure to avoid being cultured to the point where it would actually challenge them to change through their exposure to the authentic me. I prioritized their cultures, their norms, their personalities and trends, and by doing this erased pieces of my own story and lived experience.
I think to counteract this myth, Asian Canadians need to allow ourselves to be multi-dimensional and to “show up in full”. We need to reclaim the healing that we need to show up, learn to take up space, and if we’re artists—intertwine pieces of ourselves and our cultures in our art. I don’t believe that we ever convince people through arguments that the model minority myth exists and harms our community. Honestly, we live in a time when anyone can google an infographic of a binary argument, presenting information against the truths that we know based on our lived experiences. I think at this point I’m also done with lending people the energy to explain concepts which they can easily look into. It comes down to this: either they care enough to embrace a learning spirit, or they actively play “devil’s advocate” and repeat the same harmful myths that the white majority has historically been utilizing to oppress Asians. I think what transforms people’s perceptions and world views is exposure to other people who are different to them. It’s why I think the Asian community can provoke change simply by continuing to show up, in our beautiful, powerful selves, in our mess, in our humanity, in our complexities, in our contradictions, in person, in our neighbourhoods—make ourselves visible to Montreal—and in doing so, sculpt spaces and draw new outlines that are less rigid when it comes to containing who we are/ who we can be.
Collaboration:JE SUIS MTL x JÉ T'AIME
June 25, 2021