The Model Minority Myth
by Amie Truong
What is the “model minority” myth?
The “model minority” stereotype has been a prevalent force in the United States since the 1960s, when it was first used to describe Asian Americans’ perceived success in achieving the American Dream. This stereotype has persisted over the years, and continues to paint a false and damaging narrative of Asian Americans today. In reality, the Asian American community faces many challenges and struggles, and the
model minority myth only serves to mask the diversity of experiences, successes, and challenges among Asian Americans. The model minority myth is a phenomenon where Asian Americans are compared favorably to other minority groups by being portrayed as a model of success and achievement. This stereotype is based on the idea that Asian Americans are hardworking, highly educated, and successful, and have achieved the American Dream without any assistance from the government or other external sources. This narrative is often used to suggest that other minority groups should strive to emulate the Asian American “model” of success. However, the model minority myth is a damaging and false stereotype that ignores the diversity of experiences and struggles of the Asian American community
The History of Asian American Immigration
America is the land of the great and free. It is known for its vast diversity in race and culture. Due to the idea of the “American Dream,” people all around the world immigrate towards the west in hopes of a better future. In fact, the United States has more immigrants than any other country in the world. According to the United States Census Bureau data in 2010, the Asian population grew faster than any other race group in the United States between 2000 and 2010. Based on an article by Jie Zong and Jeanne Batalova, because of the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, migration from Asia to the United States increased dramatically. The immigrants brought with them new culture, languages, art, and food, but also faced their own hardships like discrimination and stereotypes.
In the mid-nineteenth century, the Chinese became the first Asians to arrive to America. They came to America to serve as laborers, often working hard in agriculture, mining, and construction. The growing economy of the United States prompted the government to invite more immigrants to come, anticipating an increasing supply of cheaper labor. However, because of the large Chinese population coming into America, a concern of maintaining white “racial purity,” emerged. Thus, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 banned the immigration of Chinese laborers. Taking advantage of the opportunity, Japanese and other Asian laborers soon also immigrated into America. This led to the enactment of a series of restricting immigration laws, known as the Immigration Acts of 1917. Now, the United States government was making a full rotation, looking for ways to ban and exclude foreigners, and not just limit them. The laws were designed to encourage nationalism and imposed literacy tests against foreigners, creating new categories of forbidden immigrants, and banning Asian-Pacific immigrants from entering the country. Nonetheless, the laws did not put an end to immigration just yet. After the Vietnam War, another large wave of Asian immigrants set their destination in America. Whether it be to find better working opportunities, or to run away from oppression of their home country, there were endless factors that led to such a drastic amount of immigration. Yet, America did not turn out to be as welcoming as it wanted the world to believe. As an ethnic minority group, Asian Americans have been victims of oppression and discrimination.
How is it damaging to the Asian American community?
While some Asian Americans have achieved success and educational attainment, it is important to recognize that many Asian Americans face unique challenges that are often overlooked or ignored. As an ethnic minority group, they started to contribute to America’s economy and society by going to school to receive an education or opening businesses. Education achievement became very high and Asian American employment increased rapidly. Eventually, Asians became known for their success and became a “model-minority” in comparison to other ethnic minorities of America. To be perceived as successful and knowledgeable can be assumed as a complimentary statement. However, the model-minority myth really brought racial violence and prejudice against Asian Americans. Additionally, the model minority myth ignores the fact that many Asian Americans are struggling economically, and are more likely to live in poverty than other racial groups. The model minority myth has even been used to justify the exclusion of Asian Americans from affirmative action policies and other forms of assistance. This has resulted in the perpetuation of systemic racism and inequality in the Asian American community. Additionally, the model minority myth has often been used as an excuse to understate the experiences of Asian Americans who have faced racism and hatred, such as in the recent waves of Asian-hate crimes throughout the nation.
The Model Minority Myth in Media
Though the portrayal of Asian cultures are becoming more prevalent in current media, such characters are often based on the same negative stereotypes that advertise the model-minority myth. Not many Asians are chosen to be actors or actresses in the film industry, but when they are, their characters are often seen as arrogantly smart, or illiterate with an Asian accent. Meanwhile, female Asian roles are highly sexualized due to the idea that Asian women are “exotic.” In a research by Charles Taylor and Barbara Stern, they found that 3.58% of Asian Americans of the U.S. population are represented in film, with 1.73% of that percentage being men and 1.85% being women. It is also rare for an Asian American to be a film director or producer. Just like how African American characters were played by Caucasian actors or actresses in film history, Asian characters are often played by another person of ethnicity as well. This proves that not only is there still racial prejudice in our society, but films are still advertising the model-minority myth and basing Asian characters off stereotypes.
The Effects of The Model Minority Myth Today
In 2020, Asian Americans faced a surge in hate crimes, harassment, and violence, sparked by the coronavirus pandemic. These hate crimes have ranged from verbal abuse and harassment to physical assaults, and have targeted Asian Americans of all ages, genders, and backgrounds. Unfortunately, these hate crimes have been largely ignored and dismissed, due in part to the persistent model minority myth. This myth has been used to downplay the experiences of Asian Americans and to suggest that they are unharmed by racism and hate. The model minority myth is a pervasive and damaging stereotype that must be dismantled. The myth obscures the diversity of experiences and struggles of the Asian American community, and it must be replaced with a narrative that recognizes and celebrates the unique strengths and challenges of Asian Americans. We must also continue to speak out against hate and racism, and to stand in solidarity with Asian Americans as they fight for justice and equality
Being an Asian American Today
Ultimately, the world wouldn’t be where it is today without immigration. Despite Asian American’s history of discrimination and injustice, we now live in a more just world. Because of activists, advocates, such as the Asian American Movement, and inspiring role-models, we live in a world where we can embrace our culture and ethnicity. There are more Asian American communities and organizations to further help new immigrants feel accepted to our society. Through the urban sprawl of Southern California, exists special pockets of cultural places such as Little Saigon, (a large Vietnamese community in Orange County), and Chinatown, Koreatown, and Japantown where people of all ethnicities and cultures can visit to learn more about the culture. Being an Asian American today, there is less racial harassment and discrimination in our society. However, that does not mean that racism has completely diminished. There are still stories we hear in the media of people making racist remarks or being racially prejudiced. America may not be the perfect world it is depicted to be, but it has now become more accepting than it was in history. More Asian Americans are represented in the media and more Asian Americans are freely living without fear of racial attacks. As the world is constantly changing, we must never forget our history and how it has impacted who we are today.
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“Research Guides: U.S. Census and Demographic Information: 2010 Census.” Library Research Guides, guides.lib.umich.edu/c.php?g=283004&p=1885628.
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Zong, Jie, and Batalova, Jeanne. “Asian Immigrants in the United States.” Migrationpolicy.org, 2 Mar. 2017, www.migrationpolicy.org/article/asian-immigrants-united-states.
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