Model Minority: The Reality

The construction of the term of “Model Minority” came about during the racial conflicts of the Cold War Era in the United States. Its purpose was to define a racial group as the standard for other races in America. The Asian Americans represented their idea of ethnic integration through political obedience, and self-progression that countered the protest for social transformation. The question is whether this was just a farce initiated by the government to put a happy face on immigrants or whether it was the reality of Asian Americans.

When you look at the movie Flow Drum Song by Rodgers and Hammerstein created in 1961, you get to see the Asian American portrayal during the model minority era. It clearly depicts the hegemonic standards towards the Asian American ethnicity. The discourses of tradition and adaptation were used in order demonstrate how immigrants should behave in the United States. Through the analysis of the characters, they display the character of the Model Minority. Auntie Liang works for 5 years taking classes on becoming a citizen of the United States learning the ins and outs of how to become a productive member of society. They then sing the song “Chop Suey” in order to display the pride that comes with assimilating American culture into your life. Linda Low and Sammy Fong display modern workers that have social confidence and familiarity. Aside from being illegal, Mei Li represents the transition that immigrants should follow according to society. She beings her assimilation by studying the culture and wanting to fit in. She then chooses the western ideology for marriage over the Confucian ideals when she accepts that she should try to get to know Wang Ta before their engagement. She is following the American middle class woman’s dream of trying to find a husband to take care of them. Wang Ta as the college graduate and his little brother as the baseball player fit into the image of American youth striving for excellence. For the time period this movie provide an excellent propaganda for the continued use of the “Model Minority” as the prime example of assimilation.

Flower Drum Song - Nancy Kwan, Jack Soo, Miyoshi Umeki, James Shigeta

In the film “Better Luck Tomorrow” directed by Justin Lin in 2002 demonstrates the possibility of the other end of the spectrum when it comes to Model Minorities. Although there is still an example of a model minority in Stephanie Vandergosh, the movie surrounds the lives of a group of Asian American students struggling with their identity. From the beginning of the movie they represent the model minority by being straight edge academics striving for a good college education by rigorous preparation. As a result of the hegemonic oppression through the standards of the “Model Minority” the group takes their life into their own hands. They break the hegemonic oppression through resistance of their projected image. The group began to become invested in criminal activity in order to gain a sense of power. You can see this when ben said “It felt good to do things that I couldn’t put on my college applications” referring to the scams they would pull. Not only that but they manipulated their image of “model minorities” as an alibi for their behavior. Ben said “as long as our grades were there, we were trusted”. In their pent up aggression against the system, their crimes escalated until eventually they murdered Steve. Steve’s reasoning for his involvement in this revolt was “It’s not about the cash, it’s about breaking the cycle”. The standard of the “model minority” forced those that fell into the category to be stereotyped. The hegemonic discourse of “model minority” narrowed the agency for Asian Americans into either compliance or rebellion. The only way to feel included in society was to revolt against this stereotype to feel included in actual society. The film ended in an ambiguous cliff hanger that reflects the state in which the racial morality of the US is still in question.


What once served as an ideal slogan in order to motivate the immigrants of the United States and the Asian American community has become an agency reducing image. A benefit of the “model minority” has been the continued support of the cohesion of the Asian American community. In both of the films the social dynamic between the groups have been strong regardless of the society implications.


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