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Asian Nerd Society of America

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“Mary, I got a 97 on my science test!” I yelled to my friend as I reached her skinny locker, decorated with framed pictures of BEAST, her favorite k-pop group.

There is nothing technically wrong with the sentence I have just yelled. According to my friends, what is wrong with that sentence is the meaning of it. This is how one of my classmates, Lily, described the problem as we walked to homeroom with a slightly disgruntled Mary:

“You see, Kelly,” she said, “When I yell that I got a 97 on my science test, I am yelling because I’m unbelievably happy and excited to show my parents that A. When you yell that sentence, you’re yelling because you’re disappointed you didn’t get an A+. That’s the problem,” she concluded as she stared at me with her eyebrows raised, waiting for an answer. When I didn’t give one, she continued her little speech with a sigh. “You’re such an Asian, Kelly.” I guess Lily forgot she was Chinese.

Lily was right and wrong. I do tend to be a perfectionist, angry if a test score isn’t quite up to par with my expectations. But I am working on accepting my flaws and mistakes. Where Lily was wrong is that last sentence she uttered with a sigh. The combination of my skin color/background with some characteristics of mine has led to my being called an Asian nerd, or more crudely, an Asian. Asian students are now faced with a stereotype that negatively affects everything from middle school social life to college admissions.

Many people firmly believe that in order to be inducted into the You-are-an-Asian-Nerd Society, the following criteria are usually needed:

1. Be obsessive about school grades, starting in elementary school (sometimes earlier)

2. Be talented in math or science or both (usually both)

3. Have parents who aspire for an Ivy League education, especially at one of HYP (Harvard, Yale, Princeton)

4. Oh, and yes, be Asian.

Optional: Play an instrument, preferably piano, violin, cello or the flute

What I find frustrating is that the criteria usually are fulfilled by many hard-working, academically focused Asians. It is therefore harder for the Asian to escape and ultimately leads to the stereotype being enforced. Unfortunately, I fulfill all four criteria, in addition to the optional one. However, I am not bound to just those five “rules” of the Asian Nerd Society. Sure, I like math/science and do well in those areas, but I love English and History just as well (in fact, I like words and books more than math formulas). People always forget what lies in between the obvious characteristics of an Asian "nerd".

During my three years at middle school, my popularity, as well as those of many Asian students, was quite turbulent. Not in the "Mean Girls"/ "I will reign as queen bee, mu-hah-ha" way, but because depending on the location, my popularity either soared or thudded to the floor. In the classrooms, I was too popular for words. If the teacher announced a partner project, my desk would be swarmed by students all yelling, “Kelly’s my partner!” However, as soon as the bell rang and the hallways were beginning to fill up with rushing kids, that partner who had so eagerly vied for my attention when the project was announced would join his/her little group of friends and walk off without even talking about our project assignment. I found these situations funny in their glaring absurdity, although I know other Asian “nerds” were probably more hurt than humored by the capricious nature of the social crowd.

There is one side of the stereotype that does make me really angry. It is the assumption that academically focused Asian students have it easy.

“Oh, Kelly, you’re so lucky being an Asian nerd,” a classmate moans. “You’re probably like going to Harvard!”

Some may call my friend's moaning about my Ivy League chances "flattering". I say it's insulting. Asians face stereotypes. Asians face fierce competition. So do all students in general. Don't parents and students always emphasize how difficult it is to succeed educationally, whether it is trying to get into a dream college or getting the best job? So why is it that Asians are considered capable of smoothly passing by the obstacles of college applications, as if we are some sort of "education god"? Trust me, I think Asians want their achievements to be seen as a result of hard work rather than a demonstration of supernatural Asian powers.

We don’t have it easy. But we keep trying and working hard for our goals. Every Asian student is different from each other, in the same way that every person is radically different and unique from others. So why don’t you try talking to us, laughing with us? Saying, “You’re such an Asian, Kelly!” is old now. Try this: “You’re so academically focused, hard-working, but still a fun-loving person, Kelly!" See, wasn't that so much easier?

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