The model minority idea is merely a myth and stereotype that has only hurt Asian Americans and further marginalized other minority groups. The myth that all Asian Americans are doing better than their peers of color is anything but completely accurate. 

“The model minority myth pits people of color against one another and creates a hierarchy in which Asian people are often represented at the top. By putting people of color in competition with one another, the myth distracts us from striving together toward liberation for all.”

– Sarah-Soonling Blackburn, “What Is the Model Minority?” 

Truthfully, not all Asians fall within this category. Not all Asians exceed in education. Not all Asians pursue STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) careers and become doctors, or lawyers. In fact, there are Asians outside of the model minority myth. 

If you’re Asian, there’s a high chance life has only given you only two options: One, be successful; Two, be a disappointment. Asian Americans lead with the highest numbers in higher education and income, according to the American Community Survey of 2010. Hidden, is the fact that these numbers exclude many southeast Asian communities.

Members of Southeast Asian communities like the Hmong, Laotian, and Cambodian, are among the poorest Asian groups in America. Compared to east Asians, southeast Asian refugees have the lowest achieved education levels. Many refugee children are first-generation academics whereas their parents only received grade level education, at most. 

“Dawb and I wanted to add to the success of our clan in this growing list of Hmong people who had made lives for themselves and their families in America. We wanted to make the life journeys of our family worth something. Our ambitions had grown; we contemplated changing not only our own lives but the lives of poor children all over the world. And the key, we believed, was in school. But how far we could strive in school was unknown. We didn’t tell anyone about our secret dreams.” 

– Kao Kalia Yang, The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir

The model minority idea is a deadly double-edged sword. It sets high standards and makes the generalization that all Asians are smart (by stereotypical means of the word). Not only that, it also hurts those who don’t qualify to be a part of the model minority. Throughout my teenage years, people always assumed I was smart because I’m Asian. When I didn’t live up to their expectations of intelligence, they’d say, “You’re Asian though?” 

“Asian American college students have higher rates of attempting suicide than those in other groups. The model minority myth hides the pressures and paradoxes inherent within an Asian American identity. If you don’t fit into the myth, it is hard to find your place at all.”

– Sarah-Soonling Blackburn, “What Is the Model Minority?”

I want to briefly explain the situations of Cambodian refugees. In 1975, Pol Pot led a communist revolution against the Cambodian government. As a result, millions were killed during the Khmer Rouge. The educated and the high-class were the first ones to go. Anything that reeked of American or foreign influence was destroyed and instantly viewed as disloyalty to the Khmer Rouge. Many survivors who came over had little to no education because many of them came from poor backgrounds. As my Asian American studies professor once said, why would they want to farm when it just brings them bad memories? How would they view education if they saw what happened to those who were educated during the Khmer Rouge regime?

I felt disappointed in myself when I discovered I wasn’t that great at math like my father. Whenever someone asks me if I’m smart, I don’t really know how to answer. If I say yes, they expect too much of me. If I say no, they’ll ask me why and throw my race into it. The model minority myth dismisses the diversity of Asian cultures and, in the process, refuses to recognize the different experiences of individuals. 

“You know what? 

Sometimes I don’t understand this English reading,

I don’t know what’s wrong…

But I do know I’m starting to lose my Hmong.

A disappointment at school,

A disappointment at home,

I don’t know which is worse,

But I feel so alone.”

– Shania Saoleng Vang, “i am a hmong daughter” poem

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