The Invention of the Model Minority

Authored by: Ellen D. Wu

The Routledge Handbook of Asian American Studies

Print publication date:  December  2016
Online publication date:  December  2016

Print ISBN: 9780415738255
eBook ISBN: 9781315817514
Adobe ISBN: 9781317813927


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The metamorphosis of Asians in American society from “yellow perils” to “model minorities” in the mid-twentieth century stands as one of the most arresting racial makeovers in U.S. history. To contemporaries, the rapid evolution from despised Orientals to the country’s most exceptional and beloved people of color was so breathtaking that it was literally front-page news: the New York Times (1970) declared ethnic Japanese and Chinese “an American success story,” having witnessed “the almost total disappearance of discrimination.” Remarkably, their “assimilation into the mainstream of American life” was a situation that would have been “unthinkable twenty years ago.” 1 How did this happen? And what were the consequences of this transformation— if more image than reality—not only for Asian Americans but also for the nation as a whole?

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