Friday, June 25, 2010

"C" is not for "failing."

Asian people are really smart – or so says the stereotype. When I was in second grade, Mrs. McFeely used to pin students’ spelling tests to the back bulletin board if they got an A. Few students made it on the board weekly, but I was always one of them. Even at the age of seven, I was an attentive speller, regularly receiving the highest score in the class. One week, the papers went up on the board and at the top of my paper was a 98%. Right next to my test was a fellow classmate’s exam: 100% and a gold star sticker. It didn’t bother me that somebody scored higher until others made a big deal about it. My classmates teased and taunted and made me feel like I had somehow failed. My seven-year-old mind was too easily manipulated into believing that the world had higher standards for me. Clearly, I wasn’t meeting them. I was going downhill and I hadn’t even reached the double-digit ages.

As part of the model minority myth, the stereotype that all Asians are smart is not true. Going through elementary and junior high school, pressure from my father to be perfect was enhanced by my peers’ mocking if I wasn’t the top student in everything. It would’ve been better to just ignore the comments and be my own person but as most people will recall from their childhood, that’s easier said than done.

Somewhere along the path toward adulthood, I abandoned my obsessive need to be the perfect student. I never failed anything, but I learned to be okay with a “B.” I remember being told by my father very early on that a “B” was average/borderline failing, but then I realized how abnormal that logic actually was. My grades never dipped into the C-range and I graduated high school with honors. I did well, considering how many extracurriculars I took on and ultimately, I preferred to load myself up with side projects and work than focus solely on academics.

But I’m still confused by three little letters: GPA. I care about my GPA, sure, but for no reason really. The point of having a fantastic GPA in college is for honors or for grad school or…whatever. I’m not part of any honors programs (nor do I want to be) and I have no plans for grad school. Post-undergrad friends of mine in my field have never had to show their GPA to potential employers. So I have no rational reason to care, except for my own ego and to avoid the two stereotypes that blanket Asian students here at UCI: You’re either someone who cares about her GPA and is an intellectual, driven person with a future or you’re someone who doesn’t care and is a slacker and falls under the “typical Asian sorority girl” stereotype. Gross (and fairly untrue) generalizations, unfortunately.

This is all for me to say: I don’t give a shit about academic competition. The seven-year-old girl in me would like to get straight A’s and gold star stickers, but the adult in me knows that there are more important things in the world: life experience, character and personality, drive, motivation…a good sense of humor…the list goes on.

“Being Asian” does not equal “being smart”…but how do you really move past others’ initial judgments? When a new acquaintance finds out I’m not a science or math-related major, it’s almost as if he or she is immediately skeptical. “Didn’t have the grades for it, huh?” someone my freshmen year asked me once. Another girl in my HumCore discussion asked if I was interested in joining an Asian sorority instead. No, assholes, I just don’t like science and math and, no, I have no interest in Greek life (oops - hypocrite alert...more to come later).

Whatever. Viva Humanities!

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