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Crazy Rich Asians: How the Model Minority Myth Kills Opportunity

Ted Thai for Time Magazine

At first glance, you would probably think I’m not a party animal. In fact, you’d presume that I’d rather stay at home, tinker with some math equations and study for upcoming tests. You’d infer that I’m an introverted, bland, cookie-cutter type of gal. In your mind, I would already be packaged into a box before I spoke, because it is easier to assume than to listen. It is easier to assume that each one of our lives consist of SAT prep books and Tiger Moms, instead of reaching deeper for our unique, vividly captivating backgrounds.

The problem with this way of thinking lies within the fact that this “general stereotyping” feeds into a larger, more impactful mindset called the model minority myth, a standard that lumps all aspects of Asian Americans as one, despite our socioeconomic diversity.

This issue becomes most problematic in the college admissions process. In an attempt to create a diverse freshman class, admissions directors hold AAPI applicants to a higher standard, as Asians have been traditionally labeled as “high scorers,” an assumption upheld by society itself. Consequently, this ignores the fact that some students may not have the resources to attend weekly prep courses or engage in extracurriculars, costing bright Asian American applicants a chance to reach their full potential.

What Is the Model Minority Myth?

The term model minority was coined in the 1960s, used to describe a demographic group whose members appear to achieve higher socioeconomic success than the population average. Usually, this success is measured by income, low criminality, and education. This ideology is most associated with the AAPI population, where stories of whiz kids and wealthy transfer students plaster the faces of Asian Americans. But wait a minute… aren’t these connotations positive? Isn’t it good to be associated with success? The answer is: well, not really.

You see, while we joke around about the surface-level stereotypes that Asian Americans are prone to (most of which refer to our level of academic achievement), we are oblivious to the blaring problem that affects hundreds of thousands of our AAPI peers: the lack of resources to reach that level of success.

As the New York Times reported this past August, income disparity is most prevalent in the Asian American population despite us having the highest median income of any racial group. As of 2016, the top 10th percentile of Asian Americans earns 10.7 times as much as the bottom 10th percentile, rendering a visual income disparity virtually invisible. Indeed, in New York City, Asians experience the highest poverty rates of any immigrant group.

We generalize the AAPI population into a category of extremely wealthy and educated, but in reality, it’s just a select few “Crazy Rich Asians” that mask over a majority of this racial group, misrepresenting the lives of thousands of Asian families.

Crazy Rich Asians (released in 2018), directed by Jon M. Chu, focuses on the luxury of an elite Asian family in Singapore. (Issued by IMDb)

Why Must This Mindset Be Eradicated?

With the income disparity in mind, let’s look to Luther Burbank High School in Sacramento, California, where more than three quarters of the student body qualifies for free lunches, one fifth of which are Hmong students. Last year, Burbank’s school counselors made it their goal to get every eligible senior to apply for college, walking about 400 students through the college application process. However, the massive undertaking wasn’t easy, as many Hmong students met significant financial barriers, as well as a hard time negotiating with parents who expected them to remain home. Not only did the students lack knowledge in how to apply for college, they also had to worry about meeting the “model minority standard” on paper, as extracurricular involvement and other educational resources were out of their grasp.

Andrea Ucini for The Washington Post

Low income is an obstacle that hundred of thousands AAPI students face in silence. Additionally, the added weight of the model minority myth makes it even harder for them to socially advance with higher education and shine a light on the multiple issues in their communities. But what’s perhaps the most disturbing thing about this “Crazy Rich Asians” mentality is that the stereotypes that sprout from it clamp over the mouths of struggling students, setting an unreachable standard and denying a much needed opportunity for their brilliant minds to be on an equal playing field.

Ultimately, there can’t be a model minority if the many models of this minority aren’t given a shot to prove themselves. Thus, it is up to us, the ones who can see college as an option, to take action and educate others on the ignored income disparity that impacts our fellow AAPI students. Because the students from California to New York deserve as much of a chance as you and I to create change in the world.


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