by Emily Kim ’21
“No one is more intimidating to me than ferocious Korean women” – Ro Kwon
My mother is a woman who knows exactly what she wants. And most of the time, it gets on my nerves. I can’t help but roll my eyes whenever she relays her usual list of requests to waiters—a table that isn’t too high, Tabasco sauce, water – no ice, and extra napkins. It infuriates me when she insists on returning items she bought the next day, when she won’t settle for a “No,” when she demands receipts for every purchase, and most notably, specific dates and times of events two weeks in advance. (See, friends, I do not choose to be difficult at making plans!). While these are specific preferences, I saw them as demands. All I wanted to do was distance myself whenever she’d interrupt someone when excited, call someone out for potentially hurting someone’s feelings or hurting her feelings. Deep down, I wished that she was like other Korean moms, those who just wanted good grades, no boyfriends, and did not invest their emotions in other people’s lives. But I realized how selfish I was, how ungrateful I was for having a mom who is ferocious and intimidating, yet unfailingly transparent.
This whole time I feel embarrassed by how assertive she is and even a little scared. I know that she hears the silent desires in my head. I know that she won’t hesitate to ask whether the stickers lying on the bookstore counter are free, to push me to the front of a crowd around a live jazz band, or request for scissors at a restaurant so I could eat noodles easily when I wore braces in middle school.
I’ve learned that while tolerance can make someone seem easy-going, it can normalize being too agreeable. The transparency of my mother is frightening. So, with the recent attack on Asian American women in Atlanta, I can’t help but think that now, more than ever, I wish my mother could be quieter. I wish that she wouldn’t go to markets or malls because who knows what will happen. Who knows what speaking up can lead to. But this thinking is wrong and devastating. The truth is, Asian women CAN take up space, we CAN be loud, and we CAN have desires. We should be able to act without being seen as the “aggressive Asian” or the “angry Asian.” It’s okay to be emotional, and it’s okay to not always be the “logical neutral Asian” that society wants. We have opinions too, and it’s about time we vocalize them.
There came a time in the past week when I questioned whether I was a “model minority.” I thought that I was different and assertive, but when I really thought about it, I was comfortable with being agreeable with everybody. I was okay with always saying yes to teachers and adults because saying no implied that I couldn’t handle it, that I wasn’t one of “those” Asians.
As I shared these thoughts with a close friend, this shame, she offered a different perspective that changed how I viewed the model minority myth. While I could be more assertive, it would be wrong to change who I am in order to defy the myth. Because in the end, whether I fit society’s standards of a “good Asian” or opposed them, it would be with the intent to satisfy white people. I would still be presenting myself to accommodate their expectations.
The myth paints Asian Americans as two-dimensional: people who are complacent, incapable of failure (economically, socially, and academically), and better off. The rise in Asian hate crimes shows that Asian lives are being taken for granted, even marginalized, suggesting that our quietness makes us “easy targets.” What the myth ignores is that Asian Americans, like all people, are complex, multi-dimensional, and human. We are not here to accommodate anyone and, like our ferocious mothers, are never going to stop demanding.