Joanne brings up a disturbing story concerning [May Yuen]1, a Chinese American who joined the Army, who ended up killing herself.
The model-minority angle which emphasizes the extreme difficulty of many Asian Americans with countenancing failure is definitely important, and does definitely contribute to the reasons why Asian Americans commit suicide, and in some extreme cases, murder-suicides. I am immediately reminded about the tragically synchronous string of killings that struck the Korean American community in Los Angeles a year ago. There is a disturbing current involving cultures that tolerate physical and psychological abuse intertwined with the effects of experiencing racism, even if not overt.
The fear of failure, and the cultural pressure to achieve was most apparent to me in medical school, where many of the Asian Americans I knew were exactly in this kind of bind. A good enough number of them were not actually particularly interested in practicing medicine, but the drive to achieve pushed them along this pathway, and as many survivors of medical school and residency can attest, medicine is in someways akin to the Mafia—once you get in, you pretty much stay in.
The idea of having to do a job that gives you absolutely no pleasure for at least 10-15 years in order to repay your debts makes me physically ill, but this is in fact where some people seem to find themselves. In some ways, it seems to be the American Way™—everyone seems to pretty much hate their job. (Naturally, I am reminded of a Homer Simpson quote: “Kill my boss? Dare I live out the American Dream?”)
There is a part of me that is a little scornful—if one could only be true to one’s self, and fuck other people and their expectations, then you wouldn’t have to deal with this—but I suppose not everyone is that strong-willed and/or lucky. (And who am I to talk, considering I did go down the path of medicine, the key difference being that I actually like doing what I’m doing, and it is questionable whether I would have been good enough to do anything else.)
That being said, I am incredibly skeptical of anything coming out of the military’s PR department. After all, despite what the actual soldiers in Iraq are saying, the brass continue to claim that everything is all sunshine and roses, and that day by day we’re winning the War on Terror™, this despite the fact that the number of people dying in Iraq in a month increased in March.
The incidence of male soldiers raping female soldiers is sadly underreported, although Gary Trudeau does bring it up in Doonesbury. Given the military’s PR department’s disgraceful handling of Pat Tillman’s death, I can’t help but wonder if the military is not covering something up here.
And lastly, there is the disturbing fact that May Yuen likely had exercise-induced or maybe even mild, intermittent asthma, and that it sounds like her superiors didn’t give a rat’s ass and didn’t bother referring her to see an M.D. It is a sad fact that in this day and age—mostly because some old school M.D.s continue to foment outdated knowledge—people can needlessly die from an asthma exacerbation simply because they aren’t carrying albuterol with them.
Now I have had a brief exposure to health care system that takes care of the active military as well as the health care system that takes care of the veterans, and while I have seen some things that the private sector could learn a lesson from, there are other things that made the whole Walter Reed scandal not all that surprising. If you’re a spouse or dependent, it’s actually pretty decent access—far better than some of the private sector mechanisms that I’ve seen and/or have been subjected to—but if you’re active duty, you’ve got to jump through quite a few hoops to get evaluated by an M.D. Now how messed up would that be if that’s what killed May Yuen?
ed. note 2015 Dec 15: original link now invite-only
see also: Asian American Woman Commits Suicide at Boot Camp • 2007 Mar 30 • Neela Banerjee • Hypen