Panel Addresses Public Misconceptions of Asian Americans, So-Called ‘Model Minority’

Jessica Eu • The Student Life

It’s common to believe that “Asian Americans are doing just fine,” or that “If Asian Americans can do it, why can’t everyone else?”

These misconceptions and more about Asian Americans were addressed this past Tuesday by a panel hosted by the Pomona Student Union and the Asian American Resource Center at Rose Hills Theatre on Pomona College’s campus.

The panel focused on challenging common stereotypes inflicted upon Asian Americans, bringing light to the vast diversity of ethnicities within the Asian race. Asian Americans are seen as the model minority, meaning that other minorities should follow the Asian Americans because they are the “successful” minority.

Additionally, speakers addressed the misconception that Asian Americans do not face the level of discrimination experienced by other minorities. The panel countered this misconception by casting light on the discrepancies caused by grouping all Asian Americans as a monolithic entity and as the perpetual foreigners.

The panel consisted of three individuals who work to provide resources and support for various Asian ethnic minorities: Calvin Chang (Empowering Pacific Islander Communities), Saima Husain (South Asian Network) and Dan Ichinose (Asian Americans Advancing Justice).

Jessica Eu • The Student Life

The first question was: “What is the model minority myth?” Chang answered by explaining how the ideal of a model minority results in the oversimplification of a complex, diverse people—that Asian Americans are the healthy and fit model for other minorities. Husain joked that Asians seem to be fine because people conceive them to all be “perfect”—they’re smart, studious, successful people who come from intact families.

She went on to say that this model minority creates a dangerous distinction between a ‘good’ person of color and a ‘bad’ one.

This myth that Asian Americans are “doing OK” undermines the critical problems many ethnic minorities of the Asian race face. Ichinose informed the audience that many statistics are erroneous because a broad range of Asian ethnicities are represented as one category. The panel also addressed the media’s role in this phenomenon. Husain illustrated that many South Asian characters on television are doctors and engineers and that they are all successful individuals. In fact, only two percent of the CEOs in the United States are Asian Americans.

The disadvantages of generalizing all Asian Americans also carry over into college admissions. The astonishing disparities shown in University of California, Los Angeles’ undergraduate admissions resonated with Brina Jablonski CMC ’18.

“One of the facts that shocked me was that at UCLA, there was only a seven percent acceptance of an Asian ethnicity,” she said. “Grouping all together puts some students who are applying to universities at a disadvantage.”

10 percent of Asian Americans are undocumented and 27 percent of Asian Americans are low-income; compare that to the 21 percent low-income white population. Each individual speaker has made their own distinctive efforts to break and discount the model minority myth.

Husain has worked to provide support for Asian American victims of domestic violence, continuously challenging social injustices in the South Asian community. Ichinose aims to counter the idea of a model minority by collecting and publicizing data on several Asian American ethnic groups. Chang has pressured UC schools and California State University campuses to share and report their data more honestly by providing statistics with an ethnic break down.

“I thought it was a great panel because I think it really emphasized the different communities within the Asian community,” said Alice Timken PO ’16. “It is overlooked a lot of the time.”

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