Category Archives: Race & Ethnicity

Why Asian Americans hate hearing “Where are you from?”

This has been a good week for sometimes contentious but bracing conversations on Facebook. The latest one started when I posted a link to an excellent Forbes article by Ruchika Tulshyan titled “‘Where Are You From?’ And Other Big Networking Racial Faux Pas”

The article raises the oft-aired complaint by Asian Americans that asking “Where are you from?” (sometimes linked to the even more irritating “You speak English so well…”) is a social, racial no-no.

I certainly can’t argue with that. I’ve written plenty about this very topic. I once criticized Martha Stewart for pulling the “Where are you from?” card, and in the post also included the conversation from my book, “Being Japanese American” that so many Asian American are all too familiar with, which starts with “You speak English so well” and veers off into “where are you from?” territory.

The Forbes piece quotes a South Asian news producer making a point that many Asian Americans should learn by heart and recite whenever we’re asked the question:

“I’m American – just like our president is American, just like the actress, Mindy Kaling is American, just like Abraham Lincoln is American. I am also American. I think once people realize that being American doesn’t mean being white, then we can move the conversation forward and we can have a better dialogue about race.” says Shefali Kulkarni, digital producer at PRI’s The World.

Tulshyan offers these suggestions for more appropriate ways to learn about someone’s ethnic heritage (I generally ask people “What’s your ethnic heritage?”):


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Asian-Americans and the ‘model minority’ myth

Source: The Korean Herald –

Previews of Amy Chua’s forthcoming book, “The Triple Package” (co-written with husband Jed Rubenfeld), detonated a social media uproar among Asian-Americans. Many were infuriated by the New York Post’s report that Chua, the self-styled Tiger Mom, was identifying eight superior “cultural” groups in the United States: Jewish, Indian, Chinese, Iranian, Lebanese, Nigerian, Cuban and Mormon. For Asian-Americans, the problem is about another Chua production that seems to perpetuate the “model minority” myth and, in particular, the notion that Asians are culturally ? even genetically ? endowed with the characteristics that enable them to succeed in American society.

Before the mid-20th century, the Tiger Mom did not exist in the national imagination. Instead, Americans believed that Chinese culture was disgusting and vile, viewing U.S. Chinatowns as depraved colonies of prostitutes, gamblers and opium addicts bereft of decency. Lawmakers and citizens deployed these arguments to justify and maintain the segregation, marginalization and exclusion of Chinese from mainline society between the 1870s and World War II. Those efforts were more than effective: to have a “Chinaman’s chance” at that time meant that one had zero prospects.

There is danger in offering culture as a formula for success, because our ideas of culture are hardly fixed. The history of Americans’ views about Chinese immigrant behaviors shows that “culture” often serves as a blank screen onto which individuals project various political agendas, depending on the exigencies of the moment.

During World War II, white liberals agonized that racism was damaging the United States’ ability to fight a war for democracy against the Axis powers. Many felt that the Chinese exclusion laws, which had barred migrants from China from entering the country or becoming naturalized citizens since the 1870s, risked America’s trans-Pacific alliance with China against Japan. A coast-to-coast campaign emerged to overturn the laws. The Citizens Committee to Repeal Chinese Exclusion recognized that it would have to neutralize deep-seated fear of “yellow peril” coolie hordes. So it strategically recast Chinese in its promotional materials as “law-abiding, peace-loving, courteous people living quietly among us.” Congress repealed the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1943.

In the 1950s, journalists, social scientists and policymakers recycled this fledgling idea, circulating it further and wider as they groped for a solution to what they perceived as a national juvenile delinquency crisis. The New York Times Magazine emphasized that Chinese youths displayed “unquestioned obedience” toward their elders, while Look magazine celebrated their “high moral sense.” U.S. Rep. Arthur Klein of New York praised his Manhattan Chinatown constituents for their “respect for parents and teachers,” “stable and loving home life” and thirst for education.


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The Model Minority Myth: What 50 Years of Research Does and Does Not Tell Us



The Model Minority Myth: What 50 Years of Research Does and Does Not Tell Us

by Dr. Nicholas D. Hartlep

Nicholas Hartlep

Nicholas Hartlep

It is little wonder why Asian-Americans are perceived by the wider higher education community to be paragons of scholarly success, despite their treatment by the U.S. government, historically, as political pariahs (as seen in the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the lawful internment of innocent Japanese-Americans during the early 1940s).

The Asian-American student population supposedly scores off-the-charts on high-stakes college admission tests, such as the SAT. Public perception of Asian-American success is evidenced in the phrase “the Asian invasion” — the notion that Asian-Americans are overrepresented on college campuses. Still, Robert Teranishi, associate professor of higher education at New York University and author of the book Asians in the Ivory Tower: Dilemmas of Racial Inequality in American Higher Education, says, “Despite the perception that Asian-American Pacific Islander students are heavily concentrated in selective universities, the largest concentration of AAPI college enrollment is in community colleges.”

While some in the ivory tower (such as Arthur Sakamoto) endorse the claim that Asian-Americans are successful in higher education, Teranishi’s research under the auspices of the National Commission on Asian-American and Pacific Islander Research in Education (CARE) indicates that this “problem-free” façade is empirically inaccurate. Others who have objectively considered the data, such as Frank Wu, agree. Moreover, Asian-Americans are also believed to have superior mental health despite evidence to the contrary.

The model minority characterization of Asians began largely as a result of William Petersen’s 1966 New York Times Magazine article “Success, Japanese-American Style.” Despite the persistence of this myth nearly fifty years later, it is still not understood well by the higher education community, leaving a false narrative of the Asian-American experience intact.

What does research tell us?

Poring over five decades of research on the model minority stereotype (MMS) while myself conducting research for two forthcoming books, The Model Minority Stereotype: Demystifying Success (2013, Information Age Publishing) and The Model Minority Stereotype Reader: Critical and Challenging Readings For the 21st Century (Cognella Publishing, 2013), I have found that research conducted on the MMS is compelling and conclusive.

First, research reveals that Asian-Americans were intentionally selected to be model minorities. African-Americans could have been constructed to be model minorities, but it was not their fate. Petersen’s 1966 story came about, not because the Asian population was superior to other minorities, but because the U.S. government needed a way to shift negative international attention away from itself. Alison Reiko Loader, a Ph.D. candidate in communication studies at Concordia University in Montreal, wrote an illuminating article on this issue, “We’re Asian, More Expected of Us: Representation, The Model Minority & Whiteness on King of the Hill.” She comments that “the model minority stereotype is not as flattering as it may first appear. The expectation of overachievement diminishes individual accomplishment and diversity amongst people of Asian descent by making them all seem the same. By portraying Asians as successful, it also effectively silences them and conceals racism against them.”

According to Loader and others, the MMS shielded the status quo, insulating politicians from accusations that African-Americans were unsuccessful due to racism and discrimination in the United States. Since Asians had “made it,” they were presented as verification that America was a land of opportunity. Northwestern Professor Shalini Shankar posits that schools seem to perpetuate the model minority due to the fact that the stereotype is so functional. “The model minority has gained currency because it allows schools to focus on their more successful Asian-American students as role models for other students. In these contexts, I see the model minority as a functional stereotype, not a myth.” Petersen’s MMS construct helped fortify the meritocratic and American Dream narratives being espoused during the peak of the African-American Civil Rights Movement.

It also certainly helped that Petersen’s story came on the heels of the release of The Negro Family: The Case For National Action (the 1965 Moynihan Report), written by Assistant Secretary of Labor Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Moynihan’s report blamed African-American ghetto culture for the difficulty the population experienced. Petersen’s decision to write an Asian-American success narrative was as purposeful as it was politically intentional.

Furthermore, research on the MMS reveals that Asian-Americans do, in fact, experience racism and mental health challenges. According to Eliza Noh, “Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for Asian-American women age 15-24.” Other mental health experts cite the “model minority” stereotype and its attendant high expectations as a likely cause or contributor to suicide. Paradoxically, since Asian-Americans are perceived as having few, if any, mental health problems — an argument often advanced due to this population’s low utilization rates — Asian-American mental health needs go largely unmet. “In reality, the underutilization may be a reflection of barriers to accessing care, including the absence or awareness of culturally and linguistically appropriate services,” says Dr. Shalini Tendulkar, a researcher at the Institute for Community Health at the Cambridge Health Alliance and an instructor in medicine at the Harvard Medical School. “Additionally, it is imperative that we recognize that even within the Asian-American race, mental health disparities exist. Unfortunately, these disparities are often obscured when we examine aggregated data.”

What does research not tell us?

Research does not tell us whether MMS critics are themselves elitist, although the charge has been made by Sakamoto, Takei and Woo, who in their article, “The Myth of the Model Minority Myth,” contend that the over-education argument — the notion that Asian-Americans’ returns on education are unequal compared to non-Hispanic Whites — is highly elitist since it argues for increased income inequality: the need for highly educated Asian-American workers to earn even higher salaries in order to put them on par with comparable White workers.

Sakamoto notes, “Much of the existing research on the MMS examines Asian-Americans’ oppression and lack of parity with Whites.” And although much of MMS scholarship showcases how the stereotype divides and conquers people of color, according to Sakamoto, it does not provide actionable solutions. The former is a strength of the scholarship, but the latter is a liability. Actionable solutions are important to the diverse higher education community.

For instance, those who want to understand the MMS more fully might find themselves caught between two kinds of model minority resources: erudite articles with technical discussions of the myth, or books and websites on the myth with concrete data. Texts of the first type focus on the MMS but are often so technical they are inaccessible go the lay reader; they also lack practical applications to the college classroom. Texts of the second type, while generally more accessibly written, often leave readers without a clear sense of higher education implications. Consequently, the future trajectory of model minority research in higher education remains to be seen. Research does not tell us where the sociology of the stereotype will lead.

According to Teranishi, “Higher education should reconsider the model minority myth and develop strategies to demythologize the stereotype.” Wu also reminds us that the MMS “is a means of putting down African-Americans and Hispanics.” Asian-American collegians are not “problem-free.” They should be considered “people of color,” and they should be able to access affirmative action. According to Noh, “They also should be provided the mental health care services that they need.”

Research over the last 50 years informs us that Asian-Americans were intentionally picked to be model minorities and that Asian-Americans experience racism and mental health difficulties. The MMS is not a burden exclusively for Asian-Americans. In the previous installment of this series, we considered how the MMS negatively impacts other minority groups. The final installment will explore policy suggestions to combat the stereotype.

Dr. Hartlep is an assistant professor of educational foundations and author of the forthcoming books, The Model Minority Stereotype: Demystifying Success (2013, Information Age Publishing) and The Model Minority Stereotype Reader: Critical and Challenging Readings For the 21st Century (Cognella Publishing, 2013). He can be followed on Twitter @nhartlep.


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Six Words: Ask Who I Am, Not What

A submission to the Race Card Project, which asks people to describe their experience with race in six words.



Cliff Owen/AP

This month NPR begins a series of occasional conversations about The Race Card Project, where people can submit their thoughts on race and cultural identity in six words. Thousands of people have shared their six-word stories and every so often NPR Host/Special Correspondent Michele Norris will dip into the trove of six-word stories to explore issues surrounding race and cultural identity for Morning Edition. You can find hundreds of six-wordsubmissions and submit your own at

Jessica Hong, second from left, at brunch with friends. "Though I am clearly the lone Asian person, I don't think I've ever felt like the 'Asian friend' amongst these girls," she says.

Jessica Hong, second from left, at brunch with friends. "Though I am clearly the lone Asian person, I don't think I've ever felt like the 'Asian friend' amongst these girls," she says.



Courtesy of Amy Heather

Sometimes the themes that surface in The Race Card Project involve deep philosophical differences and seismic divides over fairness, opportunity, equal treatment and festering historic wounds. And then sometimes the six-word essays reveal personal memories or smaller moments in everyday life. For example, dozens of people have submitted Race Cards that touch upon a simple, seemingly innocuous encounter revolving around a question that goes something like this: Where do you really come from?

On paper it looks like a straightforward expression of curiosity or perhaps a social icebreaker. But dozens of people have said that their heart breaks a little when they hear that inquiry.

Jessica Hong is a 29-year-old reservationist living in New Orleans. She is originally from Seattle and she heard about The Race Card Project via comedian W. Kamau Bell on Twitter. As a Korean-American, Hong is constantly asked about her heritage and those queries became the basis for her six words: "Ask who I am, not what."

Listen here.

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Chinese American Women: A History of Resilience and Resistance

This exhibit explores the lives of Chinese American women during their first one hundred years in the United States. It portrays a hidden history of strength, innovation, and resilience. American history has often overlooked early Chinese immigrants, leaving their lives unrecorded. Chinese American women, in particular, have often been forgotten in the history of migrations, settlement, labor, and civil rights. Many Chinese American men have found a place in U.S. history because of their work in the gold mines, on the railroads and on public projects such as draining marshes and building roads. The daily activities of Chinese American women remain less documented.  … read more

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Leonard Pitts: Race is the stupidest idea in history.

Leonard Pitts: Race is the stupidest idea in history



On New Year’s Day, it will be 150 years since Abraham Lincoln set black people free from slavery.

And there is no such thing as black people.

The first of those statements is not precisely true; a clarification will be offered momentarily. The second statement is not precisely false. And the clarification begins here:

It is a clarification needed not simply because it helps us to better understand the milestone of history we commemorate this week, but also because it helps us to better understand America right here in the tumultuous now. The Republican Party, to take an example not quite at random, enters the new year still nursing its wounds after an election debacle most observers laid upon its inability to sway Hispanics, young voters and, yes, black people. Then there is the Trayvon Martin shooting, the mass incarceration phenomenon, the birther foolishness.

A century and a half later, in other words, race is still a story. Black people are still a story.

How can that be, if there is no such thing as black people?

Granted, most of us think otherwise. The average 18-year-old American kid, says historian Matt Wray, thinks of race “as a set of facts about who people are, which is somehow tied to blood and biology and ancestry.”

But that kid is wrong. If you doubt that, try a simple challenge: Define “black people.”

Maybe you think of it as African ancestry. But Africa is a place on a map — not a bloodline. And, as the example of Charlize Theron, the fair-skinned, blond actress from South Africa, amply illustrates, it is entirely possible to come from there, yet not be what we think of as “black.” Indeed, Theron, who became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2008, is by definition an African American. Yet, she fits no one’s conception of that term, either.

Read more here:

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Japanese American Living Legacy

For those of you on Facebook I found a very interesting page. They also have a website at

Japanese American Living Legacy?


Japanese American Living Legacy is a nonprofit organization based out of California State University, Fullerton. All of the board of directors, staff and advisors are volunteers.

Japanese American Living Legacy is committed to educating the general public about the roles of immigrant Japanese and Americans of Japanese ancestry in American history. Our goal is to use oral histories as the primary means to capture and convey the lives, experiences and memories of these people and to promote the education of all Americans by engaging the general public in community enrichment programs.


Welcome to the Japanese American Living Legacy organization’s website. JA Living Legacy was started in 2005 to help preserve the memories and experiences of the Japanese American community through the capturing of oral histories. It is our firm belief that the Japanese American experience is an important part of this country’s history and must be shared to educate all Americans.

We are a California non-profit organization specializing in the areas of veterans, agriculture and the community at large. Please feel free to contact us. We are pleased to offer our services to the Japanese American community.

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