Craig White's Literature Courses

Terms / Themes

Model Minority
(really immigrants, "ideal immigrants,"
NOT true minorities)


Jewish-Americans in early-mid 20th century
Asian Americans in Millennial era

Other possible inclusions: Greek-Americans? American Africans?

thanks to

Everyday speech outside our classroom describes any identifiable ethnic group as a "minority," but a "Model Minority" is not a true minority according to usage in American Immigrant Literature, which defines true or enduring minorities as non-immigrant groups that did not not immigrate to join the USA's dominant culture (esp. African Americans and Native Americans).


The American Dream / Immigrant Narrative provides the  simplest definition:


"Model Minorities" appear as "ideal immigrants," assimilating, exemplifying, and validating practices and values promoted by the USA's Dominant Culture, e.g.

hard work

education (incl. literacy)

family stability plus or minus extended biological families

selective assimilation (incl. retention of original culture's stabilizing values, and some exclusive intermarriage with other Asians)

low political & media profile ("Don't rock the boat!") (Contrast with minority's needs for government, media to protect rights.)

prestigious association with STEM (science, technology, education, medicine) or the 3Ms: math, medicine, and music.


All good—Asian Americans today, like Jewish Americans a century ago, rise quickly from supportive communities to populate professions in medicine, science, academics, and classical performing arts.


Potential downsides:


"Positive stereotyping" pressures young Asian Americans into limited career choices, expectations of over-achievement.


Asian Americans' achievements as an ethnic group leads to "negative stereotyping" of true-minority ethnic groups like African Americans as failures or political nags.


           African Americans and Asian Americans are both identifiable ethnic groups, but . . .


           Asian Americans fit the immigrant profile: voluntary migration for freedom, opportunity, and profit; assimilaltion through intermarriage; cultural and family stability as economic base.


African Americans fit the minority history profile: involuntary migration and slavery, segregation, and working for others' profits instead of one's own; laws against intermarriage until 1960s or later; cultural and family stability broken by slavery and segregation (>poverty), lack of capital development in communities.


Model Minorities' practices and values promoted by the USA's Dominant Culture:



Hard work incl. faith in possibilities of American Dream (individual or family socio-economic advancement)

work ethic may resemble Protestant Work Ethic but from different ethnic sources?

socioeconomic progress from niche economies (often family businessees) to professional status in prestigious fields like "STEM" (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) or the 3 M's: math, music, medicine.

family businesses (sometimes supported by model minority ethnic community) provide parallel model for networking, mentoring, and financial support as seen in Carnegie, plus promote family stability.

going for the top, not just surviving—professional degrees like doctors, lawyers, etc. + pooling of capital to finance education, business expansion, shadow economy of favors.


Image result for asian americans hard work


Commitment to education (including literacy)


Parents or families push students not just to survive or pass school but to excel.


Teachers like model minorities for respecting education, age, and authority, retention of Old World manners.


Occasional downside: model-minority students respect teachers' authority so much that they want teacher to provide answers, while American teachers generally teach students to think for themselves.


Jews and Asians may arrive pre-equipped for educational advancement owing to older civilizations and traditions based on learning.

e.g., China had the printing press before Europe; Jews as "people of the book," India as home to scriptures older than Bible, plus British Empire's colonization of India put Indian people in touch with English language and literature.


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Family stability: low divorce and abandonment rates, especially in early generations; + family stability improves with professional status.


Mixed rates of intermarriage. Intermarriage may occur across different Asian ethnic groups, comparable to early European-Americans' limited melting pot.


  Extended family support interconnecting with ethnic community support.


This article on declining Asian-American intermarriage shows different Asian-American groups intermarrying because Asians, however different, learn traditions of respect for older generations, which mobile dominant-culture Americans tend to forget (or it doesn't pay).

Image result for asian americans extended family


Ethnic networking or support groups:


Not unique to Model Minority immigrants, but the USA's dominant culture often praises Jewish Americans and Asian Americans for their economic support networks (esp. in place of reliance on government support).


Such networks help ease new immigrants into American workplaces as a friendly process of assimilation, but Model Minority immigrants may also provide start-up capital for new businesses without government support.


Image result for asian americans business networks
(National Association of Asian American Professionals)


Selective assimilation + retention of original culture (religion, language, after-school program)—like the dominant culture to a degree, that is, the model minority doesn't entirely assimilate but maintains its original culture (to variable degrees).


Model minorities often assimilate economically and educationally while maintaining a distinct ethnic identity in religion, customs, and marriage (which may contribute to family stability and low crime rates). Unlike the resistance to assimilation manifested by aggrieved minority groups, this resistance to assimilation imitates a leading quality of the dominant culture (obj. 4).


Model minorities' confidence in their home traditions may enable them to navigate American culture by imposing ethnic myths or stories on assumedly European-American values and practices.

Low Political & Media Profile / "Don't rock the boat!"

Asian Americans enjoy increasing prominence in the USA's professional and financial sectors, but they are under-represented in media and politics.


indifference to past discrimination? (Chinese immigrants may know about the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 but may not bring it up or tell their children.)


East Asian deadpan / poker face as deflecting attention.


Contrast minorities like African Americans or American Indians who demand reparations or proportional representation (with mixed success at best).

Historically, the “Model Minority” label is often applied to a new immigrant group that exemplifies, fulfills, or exceeds ideals implicit in the immigrant narrative.


Early to mid-20th century, Jewish immigrants were the “model minority,” as their children became well-educated professionals: doctors, lawyers, psychologists, writers.


Asian Americans now fit this pattern. (East Asians: Chinese, Korean ± Japanese, Indochinese; South Asians, esp. Indian-Americans, Pakistani-Americans [i.e., from Indian Subcontinent])

Culture Wars over dominant-culture assimilation vs. multiculturalism


Social conservatives praise "model minorities” in contrast to so-called “problem minorities” (esp. true minority groups like African Americans) as evidence that American culture is "colorblind" and anyone who buys into the system can succeed in it.


Problem: Use of "minority” term in "model minority" confuses race / ethnicity with class / history.


Asian Americans may have some physical distinctions from the white dominant culture, but their immigrant backgrounds lack a history of slavery or property-expropriation in the USA. (Asians were discriminated against in early 20th-century immigration policy and World War 2 internment camps, but in the true immigrant spirit of "forgetting the past," they don't bring up the subject unless their children go to college and take courses in multiculturalism.)


Asian-American home cultures may provide support for business, math, music, literacy, traditions of education. (Chinese culture seems to be automatically capitalist regardless of capitalism's theoretical home in Western Europe.)

Qualities Model-Minority ethnic groups may bring from their own cultures.

Commitment to business makes Model Minority ethnic groups compatible with USA's commitment to freemarket capitalism.


European Jews, being excluded from many normal trades and other occupations, found economic niches as financiers and money-lenders, partly because charging interest or "usury" was forbidden by the Bible and so left to non-Christians.


Chinese and Indian peoples have international reputations as traders and merchants


Japanese people's business class and corporate culture have evolved from and remains compatible with earlier civil bureaucracies.


Japanese people's devotion to hierarchical responsibilities and careful handiwork makes them dependable workers and engineers.


Compared to New World Immigrants, Model Minority ethnic groups from Eurasia may have comparatively stable and sophisticated home-cultures with long traditions of literacy, expertise, class-differentiation by knowledge, gene-pooling, etc., which may provide a solid base or background from which to venture out into the freer-form modern cultures of the New World.


Class differentiation: Distance of transportation may reserve immigration to America to better-off groups to begin with. (Poorer immigrants go to nearby countries to fill need for laborers, while more affluent immigrants go where professional or entrepreneurial opportunity is best—and may keep moving. See Trans-National Migration, where immigrants follow mobile-global capital—first professional, skilled, and management classes, then working classes?)


Commitment to technology and engineering, sometimes due to past or home cultures. (applies more to Asian-Americans than Jewish-Americans)


Tradition of record-keeping and literacy in home cultures (in contrast to oral cultures). Jews as "people of the book" and Asian Americans with ancient civilization, ancient scriptures, and Confucian traditions.

Another, surprising quality of model immigrants: selective assimilation.


They don't automatically assimilate but intentionally cultivate or conserve their own traditional cultures through special churches or temples and special schools.


Jewish Americans maintained separate religion, community centers, Yiddish theaters, after-school or weekend schools for religious and language training, etc.


Asians often have separate religion, temples or community centers as support groups for new immigrants, including weekend schools for children to learn home language and culture. The rate of social change in USA is so disorienting that maintenance of some traditional culture during economic progress may stabilize families and individuals, and protect immigrants from temptations of over-indulgence.


Contrast: Mexican Americans and other Latino / Hispanic ethnicities, traditionally associated with Catholicism, are increasingly converting to Evangelical Protestantism, with accompanying commitments to individualism, nuclear families, and politics supporting wealth over equality.

Reason for emphasizing: This "holding apart" in Jewish American culture reappears in the Exodus narrative and also in dominant culture.


Another possible candidate for "Model Minority": Greek-Americans?

In early to mid 20th century, Greeks fled instability in homeland, migrated to USA, developed economic niche operating diners in Eastern USA.

Greeks maintained somewhat distinct culture around Greek Orthodox Church, which encouraged ethnic marriage.

Literature and other arts:

Jeffrey Eugenides's novel Middlesex about a Greek-American family in Detroit won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

Academy Award winning director Elia Kazan (A Streetcar Named Desire, On the Waterfront) was Greek American.

2002 comedy My Big Fat Greek Wedding starring and written by Nia Vardalos.

Other media figures of Greek-American descent: Jennifer Aniston, Zach Galifianakis, Amy Sedaris, David Sedaris. 

Another possible candidate for "Model Minority": Nigerian Americans?

African immigration to the USA is a recent phenomenon, but Nigerian Americans show some traits of model minorities:

Commitment to education & higher education.

Family stability, traditional gender roles.

Community support for members' business and educational initiatives.

Some selective assimilation; e.g. some "Nigerian suburbs" or suburban enclaves.

British colonization of Nigeria: British accents (prestige), British manners

Background of evangelical Christianity from American and British missionaries:

Some Nigerian Americans and other American Africans are even more evangelical than white American evangelicals. (White conservative evangelicals have a bad historical relationship with African Americans but often think very well of American Africans and evangelical missions to black nations in Africa or the Caribbean, e.g. Haiti.)



Challenges to "Model Minority" identification

article on "model minority" as stereotyping

Asian Nation site on Model Minority image & reality

Forbes magazine article on Indian Americans as new Model Minority

Wikipedia on model minority

article on Interrogating Stereotypes: The Case of the Asian "Model Minority"

declining Asian-American intermarriage

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