We've been playing not to lose

deconstructing the model minority myth

I recently competed in a men’s open tennis tournament. It’s the highest level before the pro/future circuit and it’s something I’ve been working towards for almost a year now. I lost 35 lbs, trained 4-5 times a week, and worked with my coach Lestter to refine my game.

In the days leading up to the match, I felt myself self-sabotaging. I tweaked my racquet, added weight, changed the balance, and tried new strings. The night before, I ate poorly and stayed out longer than I should have. The day of, I didn’t get a proper warmup and showed up late to the match. The reality is that I was preloading excuses for my inevitable defeat. In my mind, I had already written myself off before I even stepped onto the court. Reflecting on this after the match, which I lost, I now realize that getting to the top requires a mindset shift. You need to play to win, not just to not lose.

I think there are some parallels with the Asian American community. We have been afforded the comforts and privileges of the majority. We have some things going for us, like being the hard-working, non-violent, and high-achieving model minority. But no matter how hard we work, we will always be a minority. We are content to live with what we have been allotted, rather than stir the pot by fighting for more. Doing that would make us a bad minority. We listen to the rules, no matter how unfair, because we are playing to not lose, rather than to win.

In the past 2 years, every Asian who’s been told to go back to China understands that our belonging is conditional. Asian Hate is on the rise, with Anti-Asian hate crimes increasing by 339% nationwide in 2022. If we do not belong here, then where do we go? Our parents left Asia to come to America, and we gave up our languages and cultures in order to assimilate. The feeling of being neither Asian nor American is a hard pill to swallow. The Asian-American community is under attack, and the only way to survive is to win.

What do we do now?

Stop putting down other minorities. Yes, you accomplish a lot through hard work and get nothing handed to you. Look how stuck in the middle that’s kept you. Instead of fighting for crumbs, look at the whole pie. How do you get a slice? How can you understand the ingredients, figure out how they work together, and bake a better one?

Support the Asian community. There are a lot of people, platforms, and businesses trying to make a difference. Give them your time, money, and attention. Create a culture of supporting Asians doing cool new things instead of praying for their downfall.

Apply your high-achieving mindset to your actual passions. Contrary to popular opinion, you did not peak at good grades in school. You refined an ability to grit your teeth, study, and grind, even when it sucked. That ability to plow through bullshit is valuable for any job in any industry.

Look inwards and not outwards for validation. Live your life for yourself, not just to please others. Get over your tiger parent issues. First, admit you have them. We all do. Understanding that your parents are not perfect people. Finally, address these issues by talking about them. I am still working on the last part.

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