BY PRERNA CHAUDHARY ’22
Due to the perception that many Asian-Americans have achieved conventional forms of success, like attending highly ranked colleges and having a high income compared to the national average, thus achieving the “American Dream,” they are often stereotyped to be the “model minority” of the United States.
The statistics that make up the stereotype are true to an extent, but for one thing, only refer to a small percentage of the actual Asian-American population. As Professor Iyko Day, associate professor of English, pointed out, “the model minority stereotype is profoundly reductive. The stereotype is based primarily on East Asian and South Asian-Americans, which collapses the heterogeneity of these groups.” According to Pew Research Center, the 20 million Asian-Americans studied in 2012 identified with more than 20 different countries in East Asia, Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent. The idea that Asian-Americans are the model minority often does not take everyone in this diverse group into account.
One of the most commonly held beliefs about Asian-Americans is that they are socioeconomically better off than the average American family. According to Pew Research Center, “The median annual household income of [...] Asian-Americans [in 2017 was] $73,060, compared with $53,600 among all U.S. households.” This, however, does not take into account the differences between ethnic groups within the Asian racial category. Pew Research Center found that Asians were the most economically divided group in 2018 and that income inequality in the U.S. is “rising most rapidly among Asians.” While Indian-Americans had a median household income of $100,000 in 2018, Burmese-Americans had an income of $36,000. In 2016, Asians at the 90th percentile of their income distribution had 10.7 times the income of Asians at the 10th percentile, while Black people, white people and non-white Hispanic people all had smaller differences at 9.8 percent, 7.8 percent and 7.8 percent, respectively.
The poverty rate in America in 2015 was 13.5 percent, and even though it was slightly lower for all Asian-Americans at 12.1 percent, Bangladeshi, Hmong and Bhutanese-Americans lived in signicantly higher rates of poverty at 24.2 percent, 28.3 per- cent and 33.3 percent respectively.
This myth that all Asians are socioeconomically successful is rooted in immigration policies in the 1960s and 1990s, which encouraged skilled and educated immigrants to come to the United States with an H-1B visa. Coinciding with the technology boom in the 1990s, these policies led to an increase of skilled Asian workers, particularly from India.
“Historically, the model minority thesis has been a tool that overtly supports a white supremacist status quo,” said Day. Asian-Americans have been used as an example for the idea that if you work hard enough, you can achieve the American Dream, masking the systemic racism that makes the American Dream impossible with the ‘success’ of one minority. The truth is that many Asian-Americans did not achieve this dream through the help of the American system alone. According to Madeline Y. Hsu, professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin, it was not that America allowed for these people to become successful, but that these people were already coming from a background that set them up for success before they even came to the U.S.
The Asian ethnic group you belong to is a better indicator of your level of socioeconomic privilege than just being Asian. And like all other Americans, there is great variation even within these ethnic groups. It is not fair to see us as the same, and it is important to acknowledge that those that do acquire the statuses associated with the model minority stereotype did not get there simply because America is accommodat- ing towards Asians. Just because some Asians live the American Dream even when the odds are against them, this does not take away the racism that they have faced. Having attained conventional forms of success does not allow them to have the same privileges as white Americans. The model minority myth has done enough harm on the perception of Asians and Asians themselves, and it is time for us to dismantle this common misconception.