Stereotypes and the Pressure to Assimilate

Humans categorize other humans, it is part of the way we navigate the world. We categorize people by size, by gender, by age, skin color, accent, religion, and countless other ways.  Over time, people pick up associations they attribute to those categories of people.  The associations become stereotypes and are often rooted in the cultures in which we live, and passed down, through custom, law, habit, and language


In this Tedx Talk, Canwen Xu, an immigrant from China who has lived in some of the whitest states in the U.S., talks about what it feels like to be stereotyped and how she responded by “Americanizing.”

Teaching Ideas

As you listen to Canwen’s story, consider Canwen’s challenge at the end of her talk. What do you take away from her presentation? What words, images, and ideas stick with you?

Review these three guiding questions from Re-Imagining Migration’s Learning Arc:

  • How might the environment in the new land help or hinder newcomers’ inclusion?
  • How do newcomers come to understand the new land and their place in it over time?
  • How might newcomers and the receiving community balance their identities, cultural
    values, and world views as they interact with one another?

What insights does Canwen’s talk offer as you think about those questions?

Canwen speaks about her own experience of being stereotyped and her understanding of the way that Asian’s are perceived in the United States. Use Project Zero’s Same-Different-Gain Thinking Routine to explore how Canwen’s experiences are”

  • The Same as other stories/experiences of stereotyping you know about.
  • How it is Different than other stories/experiences of stereotyping?
  • And, what can we Gain by comparing these stories/experiences?

It is helpful to set sound ground rules as you discuss the similarities and differences between experiences of stereotypes. One we think is very important is not to suggest that some stereotypes, or group experiences with stereotypes, are better and some are worse.