The Minority Predicament: An Analysis of Asian American Success and the Model Minority Paradigm
My grandmother sent me a letter from home, telling the success story of her old Chinese tenants who, through hard work, had become very wealthy in the 9 short years they lived in America. My grandmother embraces the belief that "with hard work, patience and a little help from the model minority stereotype, someday Asians will gain full approval of white America". She believes that Asian Americans are inherently smarter, more diligent and thrifty than other racial minorities of our time. I, on the other hand, am skeptical towards this assumed advantage that other minorities have perceived as "elevators to the ladder of success" in American society. While Asian Americans are able to achieve acculturation by gaining material success, despite this economic advancement, they are unable to assimilate socially into mainstream America because of prejudice and discrimination.
Prejudice and oppression by whites underlies the discourse used to describe Asian Americans as the "model minority". According to Eric Liu, Asian Americans have been called the "New Jews," a label "meant to accentuate the many parallels between these two groups of immigrants: Jews started out as outsiders; Asians did too… Jews climbed the barriers and crowded the Ivies; Asians did too. Jews climbed faster than any minority in their time; Asians did too". The difference between these two racial groups asserts Liu, is that in America "the very metaphor of ‘the Jew’ now stands for assimilation", but Asians are unable to blend into white American society as Jews did half a century ago.
The model minority paradigm first emerged during 1960’s in response to the civil rights activism, alleging that success depended on one’s own efforts—not a welfare check—to reach America’s promised land . This paradigm suggested that it was possible for racial minorities like Asian Americans to overcome discrimination so harsh that it would "shock those now complaining about the hardships endured by today’s Negroes" . The model minority paradigm suggested that the failure of other minorities, therefore, due to a lack of initiative, and not something systemically racist within society. While the model minority paradigm glorifies the accomplishments of ethnic Asians and their traditional values of hard work, thrift and morality, Gary Okihiro asserts that it still "assigns Asian Americans places of subordination within social formations and oppresses them . One example of this repressive discourse can be seen in Juanita Tamayo Lott’s narrative,"Growing Up, 1968-1985". Lott asserts that the implications of this "racist love" can be seen in the workplace for example, as upper class whites have purposely created the model minority stereotype to assert their superiority over "exotic, Oriental, friendly and thus submissive" minorities. Asians are exhibited, writes Lott, "as model employees, and model...