Heidi M. Pascual*
Publisher & Editor
* 2006 Journalist of the Year for the State
of Wisconsin (U.S.-SBA)
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|The “Model Minority Myth”: Truly a Myth
Before I immigrated to the U.S. in the late 1990s, I had this strong belief that I would be economically self sufficient and successful, just like many
Asians in America. The belief stemmed from glowing media reports that Asian Americans usually come already highly educated and focused on
reaching the American Dream (a status mainly highlighting material achievements earned through education, business success, political power,
and more). The excitement I felt once I boarded the plane for this country probably ranked 12th in my standard between 1-10. Additionally, I was
very excited to join my mother who left the Philippines in 1968 after I graduated from high school, and my younger siblings (by then all college
graduates from Illinois universities) who were all focused on their respective careers. In other words, I was going to join my family of American
Dreamers, and that all I needed to present were a college degree, proof of exemplary job performance for many years, and then when accepted
by an employer, prove I work hard on the job. Many Filipinos in the U.S. have succeeded, so I was confident I would be, too.
Well, looking back at my 12 years in the U.S., indeed I had some measure of success, particularly in regard to my career path in journalism, the
things I learned and re-learned as an immigrant of color, and meeting people of other races that made my stay in the U.S. most memorable,
challenging, and highly productive in terms of education outside of the school environment.
I am mentioning these because I learned that my initial belief was far from the truth.
Not ALL Asians in America achieve the American Dream. The “Model Minority Myth” is just that, a myth. Indeed, there are very successful and
wealthy educated Asians in America, but there are also increasing numbers down below society’s hierarchy. The Vietnam War contributed greatly
to the statistics because the refugees from the Asian countries affected by it struggled and continue to do so, with exceptions of course
(particularly the young ones who grew up in the U.S. and who have been educated here). The culture shock, social adjustments and
discrimination from ‘everywhere’ and every other groups are factors that Asians in the U.S. continuously face. I often hear people from our
community say “We don’t want to stir this society that’s why we prefer to just focus on improving our lives and those of our children.” The silence is
evident in many Asian communities, but young voices have started to speak louder and I hope the trend will continue.
My new knowledge about the mythical model minority has been strengthened by what I just read, a recent report from Pew Research Center that
explores income inequality in this country within ethnic/racial communities and disparities seen among them. The report, written by Rakesh
Kochhar and Anthony Cilluffo, is titled “Income Inequality in the U.S. Is Rising Most Rapidly Among Asians.” Their key finding says: From 1970 to
2016, the gap in the standard of living between Asians near the top and the bottom of the income ladder nearly doubled, and the distribution of
income among Asians transformed from being one of the most equal to being the most unequal among America’s major racial and ethnic
In 1970, the 90/10 ratio among Asians was 6.1, about as low as among whites (6.3). But the top-to-bottom gap in income among Asians
increased 77% from 1970 to 2016, a far greater increase than among whites (24%), Hispanics (15%) or blacks (7%). This marked difference in
the growth in inequality reflects the fact that Asians near the top experienced more growth in income from 1970 to 2016 than any other group while
Asians near the bottom experienced the least growth.
As I mentioned earlier, the Vietnam War had a lot to do with this, as there was a marked increase in immigration: Immigrants accounted for 81%
of the growth in the Asian adult population from 1970 to 2016, and the foreign-born share among Asians increased from 45% to 78% in this
Aside from the Vietnam War, the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 favored family reunification. The entry of refugees from the war, the report
says, resulted in the increase of the share of new Asian immigrants working in low-skill occupations while the share of the same group in high-
skill occupations decreased during the 20-year period (1970-1990).
It is important to note that our Indian brothers and sisters coped
well with the technological boom; hence their status as high-
skilled professionals much needed by the U.S. around the ‘80s
ad ‘90s. Many of them came via the H1-B Visa program, made
possible by the Immigration Act of 1990.
The higher-income Asians that belonged to the 90th percentile
saw their incomes nearly doubled from 1970-2016 (96%);
median-income level (50th percentile) had a 54% increase in
income; but those belonging to the 10th percentile increased only
11%. Therefore, inequality among Asians increased as the rich
become richer and the poor remain poor. It would probably take
more years for Asians below to reach the median-income level.
But I am sure the American Dream would not be that far to reach.
A number of things Asians in America are noted for: they don’t
mind dirtying their hands, working long hours, and efficiently
carrying their tasks with loyalty and devotion.
I am proud of our Asian communities especially the refugees
from the Vietnam War. The older folks didn’t even know an
English word when they arrived; no money to start their lives, but
their resilience was something for the books. Their children are
excelling in school; they’re able to buy their homes; and many of
them have achieved success not only in terms of money, but in
community service and further development and enrichment of
We are all dreamers, but Asians in America dream while they’re
awake and making things happen while some others are asleep
and complacently satisfied with where this American society has
placed them. We strongly refuse to be labelled “model minority”
for in reality, the definition of “model” seems to fit a rather
conservative acceptance of others who work hard for themselves
without active engagement with the rest who mind tackling
issues head on..