Challenging the Model Minority Myth
I remember the first time someone called me out on not understanding my identity. It happened my freshman year of college at a social justice workshop in which I was asked to express my racial struggles, and I said “I’m lucky, I’ve never been targeted by racism.”
It was in that moment when everyone gave me sharp looks of shame, nearing laughter and tears at the same time, that my worldview flipped upside down. The facilitators asked me to search within myself and understand how I could potentially be playing out the “model minority” myth by thinking that I never experienced racism. I was officially having that identity crisis I’d always heard about.
I’ve spent a lot of time since then thinking about the root cause of my internalized racism and oppression. I have some speculations. It could have come from the media and schools telling me that “all Asians are smart and get good jobs and generally just don’t struggle.” I remember this one guy in my class kept copying answers of my exam paper, and at the end of class I finally told him to stop since I wasn’t even getting a good grade and he said with a surprised look on his face “but aren’t you Indian?”
While these examples seem casual, they led me to believe that people who looked like me never struggled. It wasn’t until I started organizing with other South Asians, that I realized not only do we face a lot of barriers in the world, but when we form solidarity we are unstoppable. I was lucky to stumble upon a few amazing organizations and individuals that snapped me out of this self-hating isolation trap and into an amazing identity that I hold with pride and power.
But the fight wasn’t over. Meeting other adults who had similar identity crisis made me want to start working with South Asian youth and give them a space to talk about race, gender and class. I didn’t know how to go about it, so I dropped the idea.
A few years later, my sister told me about a new organization called Bay Area Solidarity Summer. I read the organizations mission statement “Bay Area Solidarity Summer (BASS) is a collective run by diverse volunteers of South Asian descent, including teachers, organizers, artists, programmers, lawyers, health professionals, and students working to increase civic engagement and social justice education for South Asian youth” and was stunned at how perfect this was for me. I joined the collective right away to help get the camp started.
Our first year, 2011, was a huge success. In just 4 days, we provided our 17 youth with keynote speeches by author and professor Sunaina Maira and immigrant rights activist and law student Prerna Lal, spoken word workshop by hip hop artist Chee Malabar, a workshop on gender led by UC Berkeley’s Khush, a workshop on Islamophobia, profiling and racism, an environmental justice themed hike, youth activist panel and more. Win!
Below is a statement from one of our 2011 Alumni sharing their experience in the 4 day camp.
"All the workshops & organizers were great and amazing. I’d rather learn about this than go to my school. This environment is so supportive, while also challenging our minds."
While BASS is definitely not trying to compete with the public education system, we have a strong mission to provide the youth with knowledge and skills that they are not getting in their formal education. When I was in high school, my history book had all of 2 pages about India, which taught me that we had pretty silk and Gandhi was kinda cool. What was missing? Pretty much everything including, but not limited to, British colonization, the existence of prominent female leaders, the fact that India is not the only country in South Asia and most importantly, the experience of an immigrant in America.
It has taken me about 5 years to undo the aforementioned internalized racism and oppression, and get to a place where I can see myself and my South Asian community as an integral part of the larger movement for social justice.
Speaking with last year’s BASS alumni about the holes in their formal education made me realize that things haven’t really changed much in our education system in terms of cultural competency. This both saddened me, and re-instated my motives for having a program like BASS because it allows our South Asian community to form solidarity around our shared stories and mobilize towards justice for our peoples.
What am I asking you for today? Help get the word out. BASS is the first program of its kind on the West Coast! With a goal of recruiting 25 youth from diverse backgrounds, we need a ton of social networking. Yes, that means you Facebook, Twitter, Tumbler users. In addition, word of mouth has been proven to be the most effective way to recruit applicants, so please just start talking about BASS to your friends.
If you are interested in getting involved, you can email email@example.com.
The camp will take place on August 2-6th at the Rose Garden Inn, Berkeley.