Pitt Magazine

Prachi Gupta's memoir tackles the model minority myth

Prachi Gupta's book was named one of the best memoirs of the year by Amazon and Audible. Photo by Ruben Chamorro

In 2017, Prachi Gupta’s brother, Yush, died from a pulmonary embolism after a risky limb-lengthening surgery in Italy. Her brother’s death was the most catastrophic and traumatic event of her life. Gupta believes Yush sought out surgery to be taller as part of a quest to fulfill white America’s ideal of masculinity.

The cover of They Called Us ExceptionalAs she navigated that complex grief, trying to understand his motivations for pursuing the surgery, Gupta wrote an essay about the complex pressures that led to her brother’s death. That essay won a 2020 Writers Guild Award and led Gupta (A&S ’09, CBA ’09) to write her memoir “They Called Us Exceptional: And Other Lies that Raised Us,” which debuted last year and which Amazon and Audible named one of the best memoirs of the year.

“I was not expecting it to resonate with as many people as it did,” she says. 

Gupta, whose parents are from India, grew up in Pittsburgh and the Philadelphia suburbs with what she calls toxic patriarchy — her father once struck her over the head with a plate because she disagreed with him. The turbulence inside her home and the emotional toll of assimilation were destabilizing for Gupta. She felt she could never be Indian enough for her father or American enough for her friends.

The myth of the model minority — a stereotype that Asian Americans are all high-achieving individuals hailing from successful, tight-knit families — is central to Gupta’s book. She researched mental health issues in Asian American communities (suicide is the leading cause of death for Asian American young adults), exploring why the pressure to succeed and assimilate was so strong for her family and others like them. 

She believes that by unpacking the structural and cultural elements that generate the stigma, she can help people move beyond stereotype and myth.

“I wanted to connect my story to research and analysis and theory that showed that there are larger systems at play here that have created this pressure,” she says. “I realized that so many people are struggling with the issues that I talk about, with mental health, with making sense of the pressures that so many children of immigrants and immigrant families deal with, and the fractures in our families that result from some of these pressures. I felt like I had to share my story.” 

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