AA101: A series presenting the quick bullet points of Asian American Studies


What is meant by “model minority?”

  • The idea that Asians have a set culture that revolves around families that value hard work.
  • Because these families value hard work and don’t want to bring shame to their families, they push their kids very hard in education.

  • Asian Americans are thus economically successful because of their culture of family values.

  • “Model minorities” are perhaps even more successful than the majority—they “out-white the whites!”


Where does this idea of the “model minority” come from?

  • Model minority comes from the 1960s.
      • Time of racial upheaval: Civil Rights movement with its violent and non-violent strands.
      • All racial groups in upheaval except for one group: Japanese Americans
          • They’re fine!  They’re peaceful!  They don’t cause trouble.
          • They are succeeding, and even out-whiting the whites


Why is Asian American Studies so against the “model minority” idea?

“At a time when Americans are awash in worry over the plight of racial minorities—One such minority,  the nation’s 300,000 Chinese-Americans, is winning wealth and respect by dint of its own hard work.  In any Chinatown from San Francisco to New York, you discover youngsters at grips with their studies.  Crime and delinquency are found to be rather minor in scope.  Still being taught in Chinatown is the old idea that people should depend on their own efforts—not a welfare check—in order to reach America’s ‘promised land.'”

  • The praise from the majority is superficial.
    • It is still a racial stereotype.  Despite the “model minority’s” positivity, we are still regarded as perpetual foreigners.
        • It reinforces a white/Asian hierarchy, where whites are neutral, and Asians are one down from whites.
        • It unfairly pits us against other “races” / minorities.
        • It galvanizes hate from whites towards our supposed collective success.
    • We are not mainly “one” static culture.  We have a range of values on family and work.
        • While it is true many Asian Americans do value family, education and wealth—Asian American Studies asks:  Where does that come from?  Does it merely come from our “culture” or is it from our past history of migration, colonialism, trauma from war and displacement, etc?
        • “Culture” is too overly-simplistic.
    • It will lead to our material and social disadvantage.
  • It’s a stereotype that needs to be reinforced and constantly constructed by non-Asian Americans and Asian Americans themselves.
        • Some non-Asian Americans took it to mean that all Asian American families were like hers.   It is assumed that one Asian American spoke for all Asian Americans. They saw us as even more “other.”
        • Some Asian Americans read it as a parenting handbook.
        • Asian American Studies response: Think deeper everyone! Chua speaks from a position of privilege!


Further reading:

Don Nakanishi, "Surviving Democracy’s 'Mistake': Japanese Americans & the Enduring Legacy of Executive Order 9066," Amerasia Journal 35:3 (2009).
Why did Japanese Americans ask for redress? It was so long ago; why are they still upset about internment? Nakanishi unpacks the material consequences of the model minority myth. If there is no redress, incidents like Vincent Chin will just happen again.

Joie Chen, "Asian-Americans Reject ‘Good’ News in Pew Report" The Daily Beast, June 26, 2012.

Julianne Hing, Asian "Americans Respond to Pew: We’re Not Your Model Minority," Colorlines, June 21, 2012

Esther Wang, "Reflections On “The Rise Of Asian Americans,” Or, Don’t Believe Hype," Racialicious, July 11, 2012
Pew's 2012 press release on "The Rise of Asian Americans" is the latest manifestation of the "model minority," describing in far-too-broad and narrow terms the overall upward mobility of Asian Americans.

Mia Tuan, Forever Foreigners or Honorary Whites?: The Asian Ethnic Experience Today (1999)
The press portrayed Olympic ice skaters Kristy Yamaguchi and Michelle Kwan as “forever foreigners” when they didn't do well and as “honorary whites” when they won.

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ASIANAMERICANCHRISTIAN.ORG primarily asks how we are to be, think and respond to being Asian, American and Christian in Christ. Towards this end, we are extremely interested to learn from others and hear viewpoints different from our own. Please note that the views represented here are not necessarily those of ASIANAMERICANCHRISTIAN.ORG.

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