WACO, Texas (FOX 44) – May is Asian-American and Pacific-Islander Heritage Month, and there has been a persisting stereotype about this group.
It’s been 56 years since the term “the model minority” was coined. FOX 44’s MG Montemayor spoke with a University of Texas at Austin professor about the history of this myth, and why it’s harmful for Asian-Americans.
Nerdy overachievers. Whizzes at math. Law-abiding citizens. Wealthy. We’ve all heard it. You might even call them compliments but they aren’t.
They are stereotypes. And stereotypes are the root of racism. More specifically, this kind of stereotype directed toward Asians is known as the “model minority myth” and it hurts.
On December 7th, 1941, Imperial Japan attacked Pearl Harbor President Franklin D. Roosevelt and called it “a date which will live in infamy.”
The U.S. forced 120,000 Japanese-Americans from their homes, locking them up in internment camps for nearly three years.
It was scarring, demeaning, and it changed their psyche.
They got out but some of that hate remained and they needed to be accepted.
“What did they learn from that? They’ve learned that if we don’t want to get incarcerated again, we need to just be quiet, not make any noise, keep our heads down, try to raise our families…and do what we can just to fit in and not cause any attention to us, ” says Arnold Jin, a professor at the Center for Asian-American Studies at The University of Texas at Austin — the only university in the southern U.S. one can get a degree in Asian-American Studies.
“What that did was they really became seen. As-was written about in New York Times Magazine as the ‘model minority,’ and it was a January 1966 article that was looking at the success of the Japanese-Americans” Jin says.
“And basically they’re saying, ‘Black and brown people: y’all have nothing to complain about, because these groups made it, so why can’t you?'”
But not all Asians are alike, yet so many feel like they have to live up to this ideal.
“Because to be the model minority means you’re successful, people look up to you. It’s a status. It’s a position of envy,” Jin says.
This can put a disabling pressure on young people.
“But what I noticed about these students is that all they do is study. And it blows my mind. I was like, ‘Guys, Friday night 11 p.m. And you’re studying? Come on, go out with your friends, go do something you live in a beautiful city.'”
This drive to be successful can be a part of many Asian-American households.
“For the ones that come from more immigrant families, there is a lot of pressure on them to succeed and to be the primary earner for their household..”
And it’s not that easy for them to say “no.”
“Now, you also have these ideas of filial piety,” he continues.
“If the parent says something they’re expected to be obeyed. And it doesn’t matter how old you are. Whether you’re in your 40’s, 50’s, or 60’s, if you don’t obey them faithfully, then you are seen as disrespectful.”
Perhaps there’s one big reason the model minority myth is so troublesome.
“Asian-Americans’ mental health is a subject that’s hardly ever talked about in the news. Asian-Americans are really suffering from a lot of mental health issues.”