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The “Model Minority” Label And Intergenerational (Nisei/Sansei) Conflict

1874 words - 8 pages

“Model Minority” is a term used to characterize foreign groups that have been able

to achieve and reach the top in the “echelons” of the United States economy. The first

Japanese immigrants (men and women) who set foot on American soil in Hawai did not

suffer as much as their counterparts who were placed in camps on US mainland after the influx

of 1968. The ISSEI were the earlier immigrant pioneers from Japan. The NISEI were the

American-born children of the Issei. And, of course, the SANSEI were the children of the Nisei.

The ISSEI and the NISEI accepted the term “model minority”. It was a certain “pride”. However

the SANSEI rebelled against their own parents for not being ...view middle of the document...

African-Americans in the civil rights movement had been pushing in their

demands to be treated fairly, and the government felt that it hasn’t done


One way to go was by praising the Japanese-Americans as model minority.

Two of the main reasons for doing so are: (a) they do not complain, and (b)

they work hard. The reason for that they are saying to the public “the good

minority” does not complain; the “bad minority” complains. So the SANSEI

will tell their parents that should complain. What happened to your parents

is not right. It was racism. You should demand an apology. Some of the

SANSEI would make fun of the parents for trying to fit the “model minority”

image. For the SANSEI it was “good news”. Because they were different, they

were placed in camps. They always told their children “don’t draw attention

to yourself”. And when the U.S. government starts to talk about this “model

minority” image, one of the NISSEI wrote a book titled “The NISSEI: the quiet

Americans”. The SANSEI were making “fun” of their American parents. A quiet

American speaking in political activation of Japanese American youth.

…Sh, h, h…! A Quiet American is speaking… As the Black and Brown communities push
for changes in our present system, the Oriental is set forth as an example to be followed…[Journal of Social Issues, Vol. 29, Number 2, 1973 - Gidra, 1969, p. 6]

The children are challenging their parents criticizing the model minority and their

parents tell them: “you have to listen to us”. You are going to get yourself in


Taken together, these observations reveal that the modern minority stereotype
is problematic because it masks many of the struggles faced by Asian Americans.
(Inheriting the city: the children of immigrants come of age, p. 173)

2) Why did the NISEI and the SANSEI act differently?

We saw a phenomenon that is unprecedented because there are more than a

handful of Japanese American youth turning in political activism. They are

facing challenges that are very different from the ones of Black Americans

and other minority groups.

Japanese Americans have reached a middle class status and they have been

looked up and recommended as a “model minority” by the dominant “White

Americans. The most important issue raised by the activist SANSEI is the

necessity to substitute the image of the “quiet Americans” with a brand new

“self determined Asian identity. The SANSEI are currently criticizing the NISSEI because

the latter is labeled as quiet, docile, effacing, and because they do not get into

violent protests. This new activism may be due to several reasons. First and foremost,

there is a raising prejudice and discrimination toward the Japanese. There is an idea

that Japanese are well accepted and have acculturated into the society is widely

questioned. Secondly, because of the newly formed “Black and Chicano” movement,

there has been a great impact felt. The...


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