Jeff Yang in WSJ deconstructs “model minority” & “New Jews” stereotypes of Asian Americans

Gil Asakawa cowboy

This is me, being a typical American kid in the early ’60s … in Tokyo, Japan where my family lived at the time.

The “model minority” myth applied to Asian Americans has been a persistent trope since the phrase’s first use in 1965 by a sociologist in a New York Times column that used it to face off Japanese Americans against African Americans.

The not-so-subtle underlying message was, look at this Asian minority, they went through hell during World War II (the imprisonment of more than 110,000 people of Japanese descent in American concentration camps) and faced racism for most of a century, yet they work hard, don’t complain and succeed as students and employees.

In contrast, of course, blacks were marching and protesting and causing white America a whole bunch of angst at the time by demanding equality and fair treatment.

The model minority canard pops up every decade in mainstream media, like an insane cultural Wack-a-Mole game. In 1997 TIME magazine ran a story about “Those Asian-American Whiz Kids” with a group of young AAPI student overachievers beaming from the cover. Every once in a while, a story or report acknowledges the lie of the myth: In 2008, a New York University study did just that.

But then some other report adds fuel to the mythic fire. Earlier this summer, the Pew Research Center published a much-hyped report titled “The Rise of Asian Americans,” that concluded that Asian Americans are now “the highest-income, best-educated and fastest-growing racial group in the United States.” That study caused a lot of discussion in the AAPI blogosphere, and disappointed me, because I generally think Pew’s demographic studies are unassailably pure. This tie, I felt Pew swallowed the Kool-Aid and found evidence that bolstered that view without working very hard to dig deeper.

Now, the idea of Asians excelling in academics is back in the news with the Supreme Court’s review of Affirmative Action in the “Fisher Vs. University of Texas at Austin” case.

And this week, the Wall Street Journal posted a commentary by Lee Siegel, “The Rise of the Tiger Nation” that not only ascribes to the model minority notion, but picks up another theme that’s been aired on occasion: That Asians are the new Jews.
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Final (?) installment of Yul Kwon’s PBS series “America Revealed” airs tonight

Program yer DVRs, folks. here’s an email from Yu Kwon that hints that if enough viewers tune in and let PBS know how cool the show is, the show may get a new lease on life after its mini-series debut:

I’ll no longer be on TV (clothes notwithstanding)

Actually, that’s not technically true, but I won’t be on America Revealed anymore. Tomorrow is the final episode. It’s a really good one – we explore how America builds things like cars, microchips, aircraft carriers, Martin guitars, and social networks. I don’t fall out of any airplanes or dangle off any wind turbines, but I do get my ego crushed by a chess-playing robot. Here’s a preview:

I want to thank all my friends for the tremendous support they’ve given me. Filming this series has been one of the highlights of my life, and I’m proud to have been part of creating such a high-quality program. If you’ve enjoyed watching the series and would like to see more programming like this in the future, please encourage your friends to tune-in tomorrow or record it on their DVRs. Unless we get a big bump up in viewership tomorrow, I’m guessing this will be the end of the road for this series. You can also show your support by watching it online (, ordering the DVD on Amazon, or sending a note to PBS (

I’ll be live-tweeting tomorrow night and answering questions on Twitter (#AmRevPBS) for both the east and west coast airings.

Thanks so much for inviting me into your living rooms this past month, it was an honor going through this experience with all of you.


Here’s an Angry Asian Man post about Yul and the series before it began.

Here are the first three full episodes:
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PSA for AAPIs: What does affordable healthcare mean for you?

I’m passing this text along from an email sent out, trying to reach Asian Americans, Native Hawai’ians and Other Pacific Islanders:

Did you know that 20% of Native Hawaiians and Other Pacific Islanders (NHOPIs), and 17% of Asian Americans (AAs), are uninsured? That’s higher than the national uninsurance rate of 16%.

Did you know that 30-31% of Korean-Americans are uninsured? That’s as high as the national uninsurance rate for Hispanic-Americans and Native Americans.

Did you know that 24% of Native Hawaiians, 21% of Vietnamese and 20% of South Asians are uninsured? That’s higher than the national uninsurance rate for African-Americans.

Did you know that 1 out of every 3 AA NHOPIs is Limited English Proficient? That’s 20 times the rate for non-Hispanic Whites.

Did you know that 1 out of every 8 AA NHOPIs lives in Poverty? That’s higher than the non-Hispanic White poverty rate.

America’s 2.4 Million uninsured, and 14.2 Million insured AA NHOPIs, have a vested stake in the Affordable Care Act.

Wellness Matters. Informed Choice Matters.

In fact, if you were to ask America’s 2.4 Million uninsured and AA NHOPIs “What does the Affordable Care Act Mean for You?” the answer would be:
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“Survivor: Cook Islands” winner Yul Kwon is up next on

Yul Kwon is the first Asian American to win one of the seasons of "Survivor." He won the "Cook Islands" season in 2006.The second interview lined up for‘s AAPI Empowerment Series is with Korean American attorney-turned-TV celebrity Yul Kwon. The interview will be held Tuesday, June 9 at 6 pm PDT (9 pm EDT).

Erin and I were fortunate to see Yul speak during last year’s Democratic National Convention in Denver, and more recently during Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month at an event in Denver. He’s a great role model because of his accomplishments, and because he’s on a mission to dispel myths and stereotypes about Asian American Pacific Islanders, and to urge AAPIs to enter the political process.

Kwon has a diverse background in law, politics, technology, business, and media — except for his exceptional “Survivor” victory, he’s almost a model for the “model minority” myth!
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Yul Kwon, winner of “Survivor: Cook Island” comes to Denver to celebrate APA Heritage Month

Yul Kwon, winner of Survivor: Cook Island, told stories about the show when he spoke at the Coors APA Heritage Month event.
Call him Cool Yul. If you’re a fan of “Survivor,” you know who Yul Kwon is. He’s the Korean American attorney who won the “Cook Island” season (season 13), helping to chip away at the myth that Asian men are meek and mild-mannered geeks. He was a good student, all right, and he works hard, so he fulfills the “model minority” stereotype in those ways. But he’s also buff, handsome, an eloquent speaker (even though he says he hates public speaking) an Asian American activist and just plain cool.

Kwon was in Colorado yesterday, as the main speaker for an APA Heritage Month celebration organized by the MillerCoors Asian Network, the beer-maker based in Golden just west of Denver. Also on the bill were traditional Filipino dances by members of the Filipino American Community of Colorado, and terrific Filipino food by local chef Leah Eveleigh’s Tropical Grill Catering. The turnout was smaller than it should have been — shame on the local Asian American community for not coming out to support this kind of event, which was free of charge and featured a nationally-known celebrity as a draw. But the crowd that was there about half Asian descent, and mostly curious Coors employees and their families, was appreciative of Kwon’s speech, and the performances and food.

I thought Kwon’s speech was especially notable. He’d been to Denver before, last year during the Democratic National Convention, to urge Asian Americans to register to vote. He’s still passionate about having AAPIs involved in politics, but he’s not so interested in running for office himself, as he explained to a fan who asked. But his speech was all about his experiences growing up Asian in America, and how important it is for our future to have AAPIs to look up to as role models.

He explained how he grew up without seeing anyone who looked like him on TV or in movies, except people who were subservient, foreign and exotic, or at the other end of the scale, martial arts masters.
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