Exploring Asian Americans,
The Myth of the “Model Minority” and the Reality of Their Lives
By Jieli Li
There is a myth revolving around Asian Americans in the United States. Many Americans are led to believe that Asian Americans fare well as higher achievers in educa-tion and social status. The myth of the “model minority” first surfaced in the mid-1960s when William Petersen published his article “Success Story, Japanese American Style” in New York Times Magazine on January 9, 1966. By the early 1980s, the myth became more entrenched in American society as Newsweek (6 December 1982) had a cover story to applaud Asian Americans as a “Model Minority” that have achieved success despite their suffering from prejudice and discrimination. The author wrote, “Asian Americans now enjoy the nation’s highest median family income: $22,075 a year compared with $20,840 for whites, and . . . the industrious Asians believe they are contributing a needed shot of some vanishing American values: thrift, strong family ties, sacrifice for the children” (p. 39). Time (31 August 1987) continued to praise Asian American businessmen as successful entre-preneurs, and Asian American youths as academic “whiz kids,” especially in math and sciences. The image of model minority created by the media has generated a popular belief that Asian
Americans are no longer the disadvantaged .. . and the discrimination and prejudice are things of the past. While Asian Americans’ relative accomplishments should not be denied by any means, the myth associated with the “model minority” thesis is questionable in its validity. In short, it is misleading in many ways and does not reflect the reality of Asian American lives.
Myth 1: “Asian Americans as an Ethnic Group Are Generally Faring Well.”
It has been a long tradition in American society that the people of Asian descent are referred to as “Asian Americans.” As such, they tend to be labeled indiscriminately as “all faring well.” Lowe (1991) and Trueba et al. (1993) argue that it is misleading to lump together Asians as a single homogeneous ethnic group, for Asian immi-grants came from different parts of Asia such as Mainland China, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, the Philippines, Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Indonesia, Malaysia, and so on. These groups are a collection of diverse people with distinct linguistic, cultural, and social backgrounds. For example, Asian Indians come
Li, Jieli. 1999. “Exploring Asian Americans: The Myth of the ‘Model Minority’ and the Reality of Their Lives.” Pp. 134 41 in Perspectives in Social Problems, edited by Robert P. McNamara. St. Paul, MN: Coursewise. Copyright 0 1999 Jieli Li, Ohio University. Reprinted by permission.
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Exploring Asian Americans,