The Model Minority Narrative and Its Effect on Asian American Identity and Social Status

The Model Minority Narrative and Its Effect on Asian American Identity and Social Status

Guy Lowe (DePaul University, USA)
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 28
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-7467-7.ch012
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Abstract

Asian Americans have been conceptualized as a model minority for their apparent success in socioeconomic, academic, and professional settings, where other minorities have struggled. However, studies have suggested that this image is only a popularized stereotype, with academic underachievement, poverty, mental health issues, and cultural struggle prevalent amongst different Asian American communities. This chapter is a meta-analysis of studies on the model minority narrative, its influence on the social perception of Asian Americans, and its effect on shaping self-identity for Asian Americans themselves. This chapter also discusses the role the narrative plays in hindering racial parity and inter-race relations through furthering the marginalization of minority groups, silencing the voices of social change while maintaining the imbalance of status and power that currently exists in the United States.
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The Model Minority Narrative

The popularization of Asian Americans as a minority success story began in the 1960s. One of the first and most well-known examples was an article in the 1966 New York Times praising Japanese Americans as model citizens: peaceful, hard working, with strong family and moral values and an admirable focus on education (Petersen, 1966). Another example the same year in the U.S. News & World Report praised Chinese Americans: “At a time when it is being proposed that hundreds of billions be spent to uplift Negroes and other minorities, the nation’s 300,000 Chinese Americans are moving ahead on their own” (Success Story: Japanese American Style, 1966, p. 73). With such depictions in the popular press, two of the largest Asian American groups at the time became known as exemplary, law-abiding citizens who deserved to be treated with respect. This portrayal of Asians in the United States marked a drastic shift from the open discrimination they faced less than a generation prior, when policies—such as the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which prevented Chinese from immigrating to the U.S.; the California Alien Land Law of 1913, which largely prohibited Asians from owning property; and anti-Japanese sentiment and Japanese-American internment during World War II—treated them as second class citizens (Kana’iaupuni, 2005; Pang, Han, & Pang, 2011; Wing, 2007).

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