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Killing the Model Minority Stereotype: Asian American Counterstories and Complicity

reviewed by Yoon Pak - November 09, 2016

coverTitle: Killing the Model Minority Stereotype: Asian American Counterstories and Complicity
Author(s): Nicholas D. Hartlep & Bradley J. Porfilio (Eds.)
Publisher: Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
ISBN: 1681231107, Pages: 395, Year: 2015
Search for book at Amazon.com

Killing the Model Minority Stereotype: Asian American Counterstories and Complicity, edited by Nicholas D. Hartlep and Bradley J. Porfilio, offers critical interventions in considering the persistent and insidious means by which Asian Americans in schools and society are continuously cast as the model minority. For those of us who work to teach against the grain of white hegemony, the constant clamor of Asian academic superiority by educators, fellow Asians, and fellow Asian Americans is tiresome and inaccurate (e.g., Ng, Pak, & Hernandez, 2016). While I do not know if the book will engage in the killing of the model minority stereotype, a title that reads too violently for my taste, it does add important correctives to problematize how we all think about the place of Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI), a racial group that is comprised of at least 40 different ethnicities with histories that go back as far as the late 1700s, in racialized discourses. Along this vein, Hartlep and Porfilio bring together a range of emerging and senior scholars in this edited volume to address various areas ripe for further research. The book is divided into four parts titled: Model Minority Counterstories, The Model Minority in Non-U.S. Spaces, Asian American Complicity in Perpetuation of the Model Minority Myth, and Considerations When Conducting Research on the Model Minority Stereotype.

The construction of this book centers on the post-1960s creation of the model minority stereotype (MMS) set against the backdrop of the civil rights protests that placed African Americans’ struggles for political and social enfranchisement at the fore. Most authors in this volume provide a brief overview of this historical development and how the publication of articles in U.S. World and News Report and the weekly New York Times Magazine fomented continued reincarnations of MMS. All the authors reiterate the point, though not always stated explicitly, that MMS creates false racialized binaries between African Americans and Asian Americans that only serve white hegemonic interests. At the heart of it all is not necessarily the MMS, but how the normativity of whiteness and racism still pervade society. It also discusses the ways Asian Americans become complicit in perpetuating the harmful rhetoric of the monolithic cultural essentialist argument of academic success.

The first part includes counterstories of recent immigrants from Burma, the development of multiracial Asian identities, voices from Asian Pacific Islander (API) educators, and Asian American and Pacific Islander women’s (AAPI) experiences that are all presented in a nuanced manner. There is particular value in learning from AAPI educators’ narratives how they came to understand the field of teaching and plan to bring about change through their presence in the classroom and by incorporating a diverse curriculum. The second part embarks into newer territory by examining the MMS in Canada, New Zealand, and South Korea. Here the authors provide an entry point for how future researchers can delve deeper into manifestations of MMS in their own contexts and develop critical comparative work. While Canada’s historical context of Asian Canadians and immigrants with respect to multicultural policies has been documented, New Zealand’s Asian population is less well known to a U.S. audience. South Korea’s particular obsession with whiteness provides an interesting lens for deeper analysis, especially in connecting it to the MMS.

An original feature of this edited book comes in the last two parts. The third part addresses the role of Asian Americans’ complicity in perpetuating the MMS and how the younger generation navigates their identities in color conscious and colorblind ways. Although often talked about and critiqued within AAPI circles, there has been a level of reticence in bringing this topic to a general audience. The authors in this part begin conversations regarding how AAPIs can recognize their complicity and what future steps can be done to reposition themselves for a more socially just existence. The final part offers important methodological recommendations on ways to carefully disaggregate for subgroup analyses to provide more accurate portrayals of the AAPI population when utilizing large-scale quantitative data. The authors in this part assist researchers to make sense of the data gathered and be mindful of how this data was collected based on the types of questions asked.

This edited volume reminds scholars of the kinds of research that can advance future understandings of AAPIs in multidimensional ways. For example, the intersectional histories and current-day relationships affected by the structural impediments for academic achievement and failure experienced by underrepresented student groups would be important to investigate. Newer works in the field of history (Hsu, 2015; Wu, 2014) also add important context for investigating MMS as a continuation of the yellow peril from the late 19th through the early 20th centuries that predate the 1960s MMS framework. Such scholarship unravels the complex ways early Asian American immigrants needed to occupy and navigate liminal spaces that necessitated a move away from the heathen to an acceptable model citizen at that time. The choices were neither ever easy nor comfortable.

Further questions that come to mind relate to how researchers can work to de-center the MMS from AAPIs. History also reveals that the MMS, though not specifically called that, became mapped onto other racialized bodies in particularized locales that extend beyond the also problematic Asians are the New Jews discourse. Additionally, how can we work to merge research in critical refugee studies to ways of national/ethnic affiliations that also counters the MMS? Does research on AAPIs always have to be centered on the MMS? As educational researchers, how might we think otherwise to capture the complexities of AAPIs within racialized and global perspectives? I am hopeful that the readers of this edited volume engage in ways to eradicate MMS frameworks to solely characterize AAPI populations. While it will not go away anytime soon, the work to dismantle the foundations of the MMS can ensue.



Hsu, M. Y. (2015). The good immigrants: How the yellow peril became the model minority. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Ng, J., Pak, Y., & Hernandez, X. (2016). Beyond the perpetual foreigner and model minority stereotypes: A critical examination of how Asian Americans are framed. In M. Zhou & A. C. Ocampo (Eds.), Contemporary Asian America: A multidisciplinary reader (pp. 576–599). New York, NY: New York University Press.

Wu, E. D. (2014). The color of success: Asian Americans and the origins of the model minority. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: November 09, 2016
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 21728, Date Accessed: 1/16/2022 5:56:39 PM

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About the Author
  • Yoon Pak
    University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
    E-mail Author
    YOON PAK is Associate Professor and Acting Head of Education Policy, Organization and Leadership in the College of Education and Core Faculty in Asian American Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her research and teaching interests are in the history of American education and Asian American education as it relates to race, immigration, and democratic citizenship. Her recent publications include: Asian Americans in Higher Education: Charting New Realities (2014) published by Jossey-Bass (with co-authors Dina C. Maramba and Xavier Hernandez) and Extraordinary Lives of Ordinary People: Oral Histories of (Mis)Educational Opportunities in Challenging Notions of Achievement (Forthcoming 2016) published by Common Ground Publishing (with co-editors LaTasha Louise Nesbitt and Suzanne M. Reilly). She is currently working on research that examines Asian American pre-service teachers in the mid-twentieth century and their desires to enter teaching.
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