Model Minority Mutiny
250 Years of Asian American Social History
“Unless we know ourselves and our history, and other people and their history, there is really no way we can really have positive kind of interaction where there is mutual understanding.”
-Yuri Kochiyama, human rights activist
From Sikh-American farmers fighting British imperialism to the intersectional work of human rights activist Yuri Kochiyama, Asian Americans have played a fundamental role in the shaping of American race relations today. Yet for years, Asian Americans have lived under the stereotype of being the “model minority,” a myth has been active throughout much of Asian American social history--a history spanning approximately 250 years--and has proven to cause more damage than good.
In 1987, TIME Magazine released a cover with the headline “Those Asian-American Whiz Kids,” coupled with an image of beaming Asian students, falsely portraying Asian Americans as the faceless ethnic group that experienced robotic-like success. Both then and now, this dominant narrative has reigned over the diverse range of individuals that encompass the “Asian American experience.”
The Asian presence in America extends far beyond just the railroad workers along the Transcontinental, or the internment camps post-World War II. Rather, the Asian American experience is intersectional and inclusive. Not only does using the term “model minority” reinforce pre-existing stereotypes, it also undermines the experiences of marginalized Asian Americans; these misplaced generalizations render their experiences trivial at best and invisible at worst. The stereotype perpetuates conflict between communities of color, prohibiting solidarity and promoting racial hierarchies.
This syllabus seeks to amplify the voices that need to be heard, while also dismantling the myth that has driven a rift through Asian American identity. We cover state violence, sexuality and queerness, representation in pop culture, contemporary activism and more. This is meant to start conversations, not finalize them.
It’s time for a revolt.
This syllabus was written and complied by Valerie Wu and edited by Abaki Beck. It was last edited on September 25, 2017.
Historical Timeline: Essential Chronology
Filipino Presence in Louisiana, 1763 - Filipinos are the oldest Asian American community in North America, as many ships left from the Manila-Acapulco trade route to settle in Louisiana's bayou country.
California Gold Rush, 1848 - Many Chinese laborers came to California during the Gold Rush and faced harsh treatment, including taxes only imposed on them, racist violence, and were even victims of murder. In 1852, Chinese laborers sue for unequal treatment by state tax collectors, but are not allowed to testify in court.
Chinese Exclusion Act, 1882 - The nation’s first immigration law, this act excluded Chinese people from entering the United States. It was originally meant to last 10 years, but was extended to bar Chinese immigration until 1902. It was not officially repealed until 1943. Though initially intended to exclude Chinese laborers, it was eventually extended to apply to Japanese, Indians, Filipinos, Koreans, and other Asian immigrants.
“Oriental School” built in San Francisco, 1885 - Even though Joseph and Mary Tape had successfully sued San Francisco’s school board a year before in order to enroll their daughter in public school, a new “oriental school” was constructed by the city the next year to ensure segregation. This occurred despite the legal requirement for integration.
United States v. Wong Kim Ark, 1898 - This case found that individuals born in the United States were still considered citizens--even if their parents were not--and could not be stripped of that citizenship because of their parents’ country of origin.
Founding of the Gader Party, 1913 - Indian Americans founded the Gader Party (“Party of Rebellion”) of political activists and published weekly revolutionary newspapers. Some California Sikh farmers returned to India to fight against British imperialism between 1890 and 1920, where they were occasionally jailed or executed.
United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind, 1923 - This case ruled that Bhagat Singh Thind was ineligible for U.S. citizenship, as he was neither white nor black. Thind, who was Indian, argued that he was descended from Aryans, and should thus legally be considered Caucasian. The court argued that, because of his skin color, his appearance did not fit the “common understanding” of whiteness, and was thus ineligible for citizenship. This case helped define race and whiteness in the U.S.
Executive Order 9066, 1941 - President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued an executive order to imprison Japanese Americans and Japanese immigrants in military camps after the attack on Pearl Harbor. There were ten government run prison camps in five states during WWII. The same year, 2,265 Latin American Japanese people became prisoners of war and were brought to the U.S. to be forced in the same prison camps.
Magnuson Act, 1943 - Repealed the Chinese Exclusion Act and allowed Chinese immigration for the first time since 1882. It also naturalized some Chinese people who already lived in the United States.
For a more extensive timeline, check out this PBS resource.
Book suggestion: At America’s Gates: Chinese Immigration During the Exclusion Era, 1882-1943 by Erika Lee. The University of North Carolina Press; First Paperback Edition edition (May 19, 2003)
Book suggestion: From Orphan to Adoptee: U.S. Empire and Genealogies of Korean Adoption by SooJin Pate.Univ Of Minnesota Press (April 14, 2014)
Book suggestion: Bengali Harlem and the Lost Histories of South Asian America by Vivek Bald, Harvard University Press; Reprint edition (March 23, 2015)
Book Suggestion: Immigrant Acts: On Asian American Cultural Politics by Lisa Lowe. Duke University Press Books (1996)
Article: Yellow Peril: 19th Century Scapegoating by John Kuo Wei Tchen and Dylan Yeats
Article: How the White Establishment Waged a ‘War’ Against Chinese Restaurants in the U.S. by Kat Chow
Lecture: From Myth to Mutiny: Dispelling the Model Minority by Juliana Hu Pegues (video)
State Violence Against Asian Americans
Article: The Injustice of Japanese-American Internment Camp Resonates Strongly to this Day by T.A. Frail
Article: Easy to Forget by Jasmine Cui
Article: Why Vincent Chin Matters by Frank H. Wu
Article: As Chinese Exclusion Act Turns 135, Experts Point to Parallels Today by Kat Chow
Article: Remembrance and Resistance: ‘Comfort Women’ and the U.S. Pivot to Asia by Miho Kim Lee
Article: Behind the Mask of Human Rights: “Comfort Women,”Heteronormativity, & Empires by elisa lee
Documentary: NBC Asian America Presents: Deported by Sahra V. Nguyen
Queerness & Sexuality
Book suggestion: Q&A: Queer in Asian America edited by David L. Eng and Alice Y. Hom
Book suggestion: Witness Aloud: Lesbian, Gay, & Bisexual Asian/Pacific American Writing, The APA Journal 2:1 (Spring/Summer 1993)
Book Suggestion: The Very Inside: An Anthology of Writing by Asian and Pacific Islander Lesbian and Bisexual Women edited by Sharon Lim-Hing. Sister Vision (August 26, 1998)
Article: Coming Home: Queer South Asians and The Politics of Family by Alok-Vaid Menon
Article: 3 Reasons Queer Asians Can’t Discard Their Families by xoài phạm
Film: API Hair & Queerness by API Equality, Northern California
Pop Culture Representation
Article: Miss Cylon: Empire and Adoption in "Battlestar Galactica" by Juliana Hu Pegues
Article: Asian Eyes: Westernized Beauty Standards and Asian Identity by Julie Feng
Article: Watching Gook by Christina Qiu
Article: All-American Girl at 20: The Evolution of Asian Americans on TV by E. Alex Jung
Article: Why are Asian Americans missing from our textbooks? by Ellen Lee
Article: Why am I Brown? South Asian Fiction and Pandering to White Audiences by Jabeen Akhtar
Video: What are the effects of Asian stereotypes? Interviews by Sad Asian Girls Club
Video: How can we debunk the Model Minority myth? Interviews by Sad Asian Girls Club
Voices on Community & Identity
Book suggestion: After: Poems by Fatimah Asghar. Yes Yes Books (2015). See TedX talk here.
Book suggestion: American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang. Square Fish; Reprint edition (December 23, 2008)
Book suggestion: The Best We Could Do: an Illustrated Memoir by Thi Bui. Harry N. Abrams (March 7, 2017)
Book suggestion: Song I Sing, Poems by Bao Phi. Coffee House Press (2011)
Article: A Trip through My History: Why Asian American Cultural Institutions Are Important by Isabelle St. Clair
Article: It’s Not Easy Being Asian-American by Justin Chan
Article: The Audacity to Dream: On Asian Women, Feminism, and My Grandmother by Karissa Chen
Article: The Invisibility of Asian Americans by Grace Ji-Sun Kim
Article: The Skin I’m in by Naeem Mohaiemen
Article: Radical Chinatown by Gavin Huang
Article: I'm Asian American, and I'm tired of being used by white supremacists for their agenda by Alicia Soller
Poetry: “Ode to Enclaves” and “Discovery” by Chrysanthemum Tran
Poetry: “Choi Jeong Min” by Franny Choi (video)
Poetry: “10 Things You Should Know About Being Asian from the South” by G. Yamazawa (video)
Poetry: "Bring in Brown to Keep Black Down" by Alok Vaid-Menon
Prose: “Inherited” by Rona Wang
Book suggestion: Passing It On by Yuri Kochiyama. UCLA Asian American Studies Press Center (2004)
Article: Feminism and Race: Just Who Counts As a ‘Woman of Color’? by Lindsey Yoo
Article: The Racial Justice Movements Needs a Model Minority Mutiny by Soya Jung
Article: What Does Model Minority Mutiny Demand? by Soya Jung
Article: A Letter From Young Asian-Americans to Their Families on Black Lives Matter by Sheeran Marisol Meraji and Kat Chow
Article: ‘Model Minority’ Myth Used Again as Racial Wedge Between Asians and Blacks by Kat Chow
Article: The New Normal: On Dissidence, Apology, and Transcendence in Contemporary Chinese Art by Henry Zhang
Resource: Masterlist of Asian Tumblr pages
Asian American Studies Course Syllabi from Cornell University
First Days Project, a digital archive of South Asian immigrant stories
Open in Emergency - Asian American mental health resource kit