According to the 2009 American Community Survey, there are fifteen million Asian-Pacific Americans who make up forty-three different ethnic groups and who originally came from twenty-eight Asian countries and fifteen Pacific islands. The “model minority” myth disregards the social and economic hardships faced by recently arrived Southeast Asian refugees, particularly the Hmong. In the 1990s, high school graduation rates were about 35 percent for Cambodian Americans, 36 percent for Lao Americans, and 58 percent for Vietnamese Americans— and all of these numbers are well below the overall average of 82 percent for Asian Americans as a whole. Due to the “model minority” myth, public schools do not even bother to record Asian-Pacific American student dropout rates; yet, at the time of the study, about half of Hmong female students dropped out of school before graduation (Walker-Moffat 1995; Xiong and Tatum 1999). A Hmong woman comments, “As Asian Americans, we face the ‘model minority’ myth that hurts so many Hmong because we have so many challenges.” In addition, since Hmong and other Asian Americans are perceived in American society as “strangers from a different shore,” the validity of their professional decision making is often put on trial. As a Hmong American female attorney attests, “As a prosecutor of color, people presumed I held a bias in favor of other people of color and could not prosecute a case neutrally without regard to race.”
“Women in the Hmong Diaspora” by Dia Cha
in Diversity in Diaspora: Hmong Americans in the Twenty-First Century(2013)
Recently, I learned something that I feel is incredibly unjust.
As history teaches and many people in my hometown know, during the Vietnam War, Laos was decidedly neutral. However, the North Vietnamese forces were sneaking through Laos to conduct military strikes against South Vietnam. Clearly, Laotians didn’t like this happening because it meant possible danger, so they struck up a secret alliance with the U.S. CIA. The Hmong (the largest minority ethnic group in Laos) were a significant help and essential in the American fight. These soldiers rescued many American pilots, identified locations for American bomb strikes, fought Vietnamese communist forces, protected the jungle and mountain areas occupied by American forces, sabotaged Vietnamese supply lines, and gathered intelligence for the U.S.
It is evident that without these Hmong soldiers, the loss of American soldiers would have been far greater. Laos suffered a casualty rate five times higher than the rate experienced by American soldiers. Hmong soldiers risked their very own lives for the lives of American soldiers. How honorable is that? Many American citizens had the Hmong to thank for being able to see their loved ones come home safely from the Vietnam War.
Unfortunately, after the Americans abandoned Laos, communists gained control of the country. They destroyed and killed off so many villages. Only 75% of the Hmong in Laos survived the Vietnam War and its aftermath. Of these survivors, one-third of these people decided to do the dangerous in order to keep themselves safe. They fled to Thailand. I’ve heard stories of how parents had to drug their own babies in order to keep them from crying and revealing their location to the communists just to get across the boarder. The treks were awful.
As many people began to realize, Thailand refugee camps are no place to raise a family, so with the help of private American organizations, some Hmong families were flown to America to give them safety as a thank you for their remarkable role in the American fight. I’m going to say it again: these were private organizations. The U.S. government played no role in helping Hmong soldiers and their families at all after the Vietnam war despite any promises that may have been made. Is that really how we thank our allies?
I am a citizen of the United States of America. I happen to live in one of the few areas that has a high population of Hmong-Americans. It may seem insignificant when I tell you that my state’s population is 1% Hmong, but as for my city, it is so much greater. My graduating high school class was 19.5% Hmong-American. I know people who have incredible family stories: their grandparents were born in Laos and fought for the Americans then fled to Thailand, their parents were born in Thailand then moved to America, and they themselves were born in America and are beginning to start their own families.
What I found to be shocking and unjust recently was that even though these Hmong people who are Vietnam War veterans that had fought for the U.S., risked their lives for American citizens, and are now U.S. veterans, they are not considered Vietnam War veterans by our American government, and therefore, they receive no benefits. This may seem like a tedious problem to the majority of America, but to me, and to my city, it is an outraging problem and we wish to thank them and for the United States Government to treat them as the heroes they are. These are beautiful, brave people who continue to inspire me everyday.
Shoutout to all the amazing immigrants who are in this country illegally. Or any country for that matter. They risk everything for their families. They leave the only place they’ve ever known and start over, for a better future. Not just for them, but for their children and families back home. Shoutout to the immigrants who work their asses off at minimum wage jobs because they can’t work anywhere else due to their legal status. Shoutout to the immigrants who are scared every day that they’ll be sent back to their homes to start over once again. Each one of you has earned my respect over the years and I appreciate everything you have done.
I want to comment on why the Model Minority Myth is bad - not good, not neutral, but nothing other than bad.
Firstly, no racial stereotype is positive. They are reductive and created with the intention to limit one’s humanity. They are caricatures of an entire group of people.
The Model Minority Myth was created by white people.
It was coined in the 1960’s when the New York Times Newspaper ran stories describing the success of Asian-Americans (I believe specifically Japanese-American and then Chinese American people) in the US despite marginalization(they didn’t want to say racism) basically saying that through cultural influences which promoted strong family values and hard work ethic, Asian Americans were able to “thrive” in the US despite the barriers that were present.
This was the 1960’s, an era that included numerous social & political movements not only in the US, but around the world. The Model Minority Myth was created in opposition to those movements, namely the Civil Rights Movement in a manner that proposed Asian Americans, who were/are racial minorities, were doing quite well in spite of the issues that were being highlighted throughout the Civil Rights Movement (a movement largely headed by Black Americans).
Not only were white people using Asian Americans as a means for justifying that things were fine the way they were, white people were pitting Asian Americans against other People of Color.
The Model Minority Myth contributes to the idea that all Asians are interchangeable. It ignores the differences in histories, economic status, and educational attainment among the people of various ethnicities who are racialized as Asian, collectively and individually.
Statistically, it just isn’t true when you look across the board at various ethnic groups racialized as Asian the level of economic and educational disparity. (For Hmong-American people, the percentage of those living in poverty is 25% & we’re also below in terms of educational attainment and annual median salary)
Having been perpetuated, it’s placed unfair expectations/pressures on Asian students academically and contributed to false ideas of our performance making academic aid and support more difficult (in terms of its availability and in asking for it)