“While many people may be familiar with the Model Minority Myth, we rarely consider how the Model Minority Myth creates barriers to educational access for many different communities within the APA umbrella. Southeast Asian and Pacific Islander students in particular face high school dropout rates that reach up to 40%, but they are often made invisible under the Model Minority Myth.” - Sophia Li, USC APASA Diversity USG Delegate DeconstructED: Breaking Down the Model Minority Myth was a special collaboration event that was part of USC APASA’s Asian Pacific American Heritage Festival and the Academic Culture Assembly’s EdMonth. DeconstructED was a panel event moderated by our very own Sophia Li, APASA’s USG Diversity Delegate, and featured three incredible panelists who offered their unique insights regarding a prevalent issue in the Asian American Pacific Islander Community.

 

THE PANELISTS

Calvin Chang is the Policy Director for Empowering Pacific Islander Communities, a national organization whose mission is to promote social justice by engaging Native Hawaiian & Pacific Islander (NHPI) communities through culturally relevant advocacy, research, and development.

Mike Hoa Nguyen is a Research Associate with the National Commission on AAPI Research in Education and a doctoral student in the Division of Higher Education and Organizational Change at UCLA Graduate School of Education & Information Studies. His research is primarily concerned with issues of diversity, Minority Serving Institutions, AAPIs in education, and federal/state policy.

Jonathan Wang serves as the Director for USC Asian Pacific American Student Services. Jonathan graduated in 2012, with a Master’s in Education in Post-secondary Administration and Student Affairs from the USC Rossier School of Education. He is currently pursuing his Doctor of Education from Rossier.

 

THE MODEL MINORITY MYTH

The term “Model Minority”, we learned, was first coined by President Ronald Reagan following the dark era of Japanese Internment, and has consistently been used by many individuals-- primarily the white community-- as a means of comparison in order to drive a wedge between the AAPI community and other underprivileged minority groups. Despite the attraction of being considered a “model minority”, this unfounded stereotype does more to damage both the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities in different ways.

Often, the idea of the Model Minority is attributed as an umbrella term to the entire AAPI community. Just as the term “Asian American” encompasses a wide variety of ethnic groups from one large continent, those who buy-in to the Model Minority stereotype fail to acknowledge that the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities are actually very different in terms of their culture, history, and current challenges. The Pacific Islander community is among the most underrepresented in terms of education and often have lower socioeconomic statuses than many of the groups found within the Asian American umbrella; therefore, by being included under the AAPI umbrella, the struggles faced by the Pacific Islander community are largely forgotten, as the metrics reported to the government and aid organizations fail to demonstrate the reality of this underrepresented group.

The Model Minority Myth affects the Asian American Community in a different way. With many Asian Americans, there is a belief that being a model minority somehow legitimizes your identity as an American; as a result, this provides a sort of incentive for those who benefit from the myth to perpetuate this wedge between them and other minority groups. Many Asian Americans who buy-in to the idea of the model minority are as a result placated by those in power by this “honorary white” label; however, what they don’t understand is that, by accepting this stereotype placed upon us, we as a community lose the opportunity to choose when we ourselves have privilege.

 

BREAKING DOWN THE MYTH

Several organizations have begun working to repair the damage done by the Model Minority Myth by working to disaggregate census data to distinguish between Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in order to demonstrate the differences between the two communities. Other organizations are attempting to reframe affirmative action to base admissions not necessarily on race, but on other characteristics as well, such as low income, population of foster children, and number of ESL students.

Even for those of us who are not a part of these organizations, we can contribute to the cause as well. By advocating for our classmates, friends, and family members and explaining to them the importance of data disaggregation and of rejecting the idea of the model minority, we can help to minimize the negative effects of the myth. 

Amy Chau External Community Chair