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All posts copyright © 2001- by C.N. Le.
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The views and opinions expressed on this site and blog posts (excluding comments on blog posts left by others) are entirely my own and do not represent those of any employer or organization with whom I am currently or previously have been associated.

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Behind the Headlines: APA News Blog

Academic Version: Applying my personal experiences and academic research as a professor of Sociology and Asian American Studies to provide a more complete understanding of political, economic, and cultural issues and current events related to American race relations, and Asia/Asian America in particular.

Plain English: Trying to put my Ph.D. to good use.

December 6, 2005

Written by C.N.

Model Minority Expectations and Suicide

The Chicago Tribune has an article about a topic that doesn’t seem to get the amount of attention that it deserves: how the pressure to succeed and overachieve among Asian Americans (particularly young Asian American girls and women) can be overwhelming and may even result in suicide:

Those downsides can include extreme fear of failure, unpleasantly competitive natures, withdrawal from society, stress-related disorders and most sadly, Asian-American women holding the highest suicide rates in the nation among women age 15 to 24 — an American age category that holds the highest general suicide rates to begin with, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. . . .

This isn’t big news in the Asian-American community, but rather our dirty little secret. Just about everyone knows someone whose relative died mysteriously. But no one wants to talk about it. And for some who are living with the terrible shameful secret, they couldn’t talk about it even if they wanted to.

Just last month a fellow Asian journalist told me about a local Korean mother who spent an afternoon sobbing in the journalist’s car as she recounted her daughter’s suicide at an Ivy League school. No one in the community knew about it. And she was forbidden by her husband to speak of it. So for years she’s kept her daughter’s story locked up inside, just as her daughter kept her frailties locked up inside until she saw no escape from high expectations except in death.

This is a clear illustration of the flip side of the image of Asian Americans as the model minority — for those who cannot cope with the overwhelming pressures to overachieve, the consequences can indeed be quite tragic. As someone who has worked in an Asian American non-profit organization that dealt with another issues that was taboo in the Asian American community (HIV/AIDS), I can relate to the difficulties involved in trying to reach out to those who feel isolated and outcast.

As Asian Americans, we need to remember that while we rightly deserve to celebrate our individual and collective successes, we also need to understand that we are not all the same, nor should that be our goal. The fanatical drive for status, prestige, material wealth, and acceptance from “mainstream” American society has its limits, and as this article shows, is taking its toll on too many of our young members.

This issue is especially timely right now as many college students prepare for their finals. If my readers find themselves in this kind of situation — feeling overwhelmed by the pressures to succeed academically — I hope they realize that nothing is worth ending your life by suicide. The first step is to reach out to someone for help, whether it be a close friend, a trusted adult, or a counseling service.

Ultimately, I hope these students will feel comfortable in having an honest and open talk with their parents about their issues and that the parents will understand that what makes them happy is not necessarily what will make their child happy and that ultimately, parents need to let their children live their own lives, rather than trying to fulfill their parents’ dreams for them.

Some resources on Asian American mental health services:
Asian Community Mental Health Services
Asian Counseling and Referral Services
Asian Pacific Islander American Health Forum
Asian & Pacific Islander Wellness Center
Association of Asian Pacific Community Health Organizations
National Asian Women’s Health Organization

Author Citation

Copyright © 2001- by C.N. Le. Some rights reserved. Creative Commons License

Suggested reference: Le, C.N. . "Model Minority Expectations and Suicide" Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. <> ().

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