As a Southeast Asian American, my identity has often been obscured by the lenses of white folk. Rooted in the mainland where the lasting effects of European colonialism and imperialism still shape much of Asia, colorism has further divided us by region. In my experience, if Southeast Asians were to choose between East or South Asians, they would rather be generalized as East Asian. This is due to the fact that East Asians are the face and the representatives of having better economic status, intelligence, and more social prestige within America as a whole, and within the Asian American community; this is untrue, however, as this stems from the model minority myth.
The model minority myth that seemingly praises and benefits Asian Americans actually does the opposite – it further divides us. Although grounded by the shared experience of xenophobia and racism, the generalization of Asian Americans is harmful as the circumstances of the various Asian ethnicities are not the same.
As previously mentioned, colorism plays a great role in the division amongst Asian Americans. Seeing and noticing the little things such as being told you look Korean or Japanese as a compliment, or your mom buying you skin-whitening products all builds up to a prejudice against darker skin. Specifically, in my community, the preconception that darker Asians are dirtier, less classy, and all-in-all less attractive, stems from French colonialism, where multitudes of ideas, such as each country’s perception of beauty and social norms, and cultures were exchanged or enforced. As a child, seeing media from mainland Asia confused me as the celebrities and models for countries such as Vietnam, Thailand, India, and Tibet all had lighter skin. This then led me to notice that typically darker Asians, such as Cambodians, are underrepresented when it comes to talk about Asian American issues, the census, which generalizes much of the Asian demographic, and the American experience as immigrants.
With this, how do we break down these barriers that intersect and stem from a dark history of imperialism? This may sound repetitive, however, communication is always a good solution when it comes to prejudice and disparities. Sharing our differences, and even similarities, and experiences as a minority in America helps us understand and connect with each other better and bring about social awareness. Additionally, representation of all people, without the stereotyping, in popular culture matters as people are more exposed to and aware of the diversity of Asians, and most importantly, the human population as a whole.