Chapter Ten
Asian Americans and
Pacific Islanders:
A Model Minority?
© Pine Forge Press, an imprint of Sage Publications, 2003
A Model Minority?

Asian American and Pacific Islander groups differ from each other in
language, customs and culture, physical appearance and, most
importantly, in the ways in which they have entered American society.
– Some groups have experienced discrimination and rejection much like
colonized groups.
– Others have developed strong enclave economies.
– Still others more closely immigrant minority group.
– Some have followed all three modes of incorporation.

One of our major concerns will be to explore the perception that Asian
Americans are “model minorities.”
© Pine Forge Press, an imprint of Sage Publications, 2003
© Pine Forge Press, an imprint of Sage Publications, 2003
Origins and Cultures

Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders speak
many different languages and practice a diversity
of religions.

Asian cultures predate the founding of the United
States by centuries or even millennia.

Although no two of these cultures are the same,
some general similarities can be identified.
© Pine Forge Press, an imprint of Sage Publications, 2003
Origins and Cultures

Asian cultures tend to stress group membership over individual selfinterest.

Asian cultures stress sensitivity to the opinions and judgments of
others and to the importance of avoiding public embarrassment and not
giving offense—saving face.

Traditional Asian cultures were male dominated, and women were
consigned to subordinate roles.

The experiences of Asian Americans in the United States modified
these patriarchal values and traditional traits.
© Pine Forge Press, an imprint of Sage Publications, 2003
Contact Situation and the Development
of the Chinese American Community

Chinese immigrants were “pushed” by the disruption
of traditional social relations, caused by the
colonization of much of China by more industrialized
European nations, and by rapid population growth
(Chan, 1990, pp. 37-75; Lyman, 1974; Tsai, 1986).

At the same time, immigrants were “pulled” to the
West Coast of the United States by the Gold Rush of
1849 and by other opportunities created by the
development of the West.
© Pine Forge Press, an imprint of Sage Publications, 2003
Contact Situation and the Development
of the Chinese American Community

Ethnocentrism based on racial, cultural, and language
differences was present from the beginning.

At first, competition for jobs between Chinese immigrants and
native-born workers was muted by an abundance of jobs, but as
the West Coast economy changed and eastern Anglo migration
continued, the Chinese came to be seen as a threat, and elements
of the dominant group tried to limit competition.

The Chinese controlled few power resources with which to
withstand these attacks as they were a small group, and by law,
were not permitted to become citizens.
© Pine Forge Press, an imprint of Sage Publications, 2003
Contact Situation and the Development
of the Chinese American Community

In 1882, the anti-Chinese campaign experienced its ultimate
triumph when the U.S. Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion
Act banning virtually all immigration from China.

Consistent with the predictions of split labor market theory,
native-born workers, organized labor, and white owners of small
businesses felt threatened by the Chinese and supported the
Chinese Exclusion Act (Boswell, 1986).

Conflicts such as the anti-Chinese campaign can be especially
intense because they confound racial and ethnic antagonisms
with disputes between different social classes.
© Pine Forge Press, an imprint of Sage Publications, 2003
Contact Situation and the Development
of the Chinese American Community

Following the Chinese Exclusion Act, the number of Chinese in the
United States actually declined as many Chinese male sojourners were
not replaced by newcomers (Chan, 1990, p. 66).

At the end of the 19th century males outnumbered females by more
than 25 to 1, and the sex ratio did not approach parity for decades.

The scarcity of Chinese women in the United States delayed the
second generation and it wasn’t until the 1920s, that as many as one
third of all Chinese in the United States were native born.

The decades-long absence of a more Americanized, English-speaking
generation increased the isolation of Chinese Americans.
© Pine Forge Press, an imprint of Sage Publications, 2003
Contact Situation and the Development
of the Chinese American Community

The Chinese became increasingly urbanized as the anti-Chinese
campaign and rising racism took their toll.

The earliest urban Chinese included merchants and skilled artisans
who were experienced in commerce, and who established
businesses and retail stores that were typically small in scope and
modest in profits.

As the number of urban Chinese increased, new services were
required, the size of the cheap labor pool available to Chinese
merchants and entrepreneurs increased, and the Chinatowns
became the economic, cultural, and social centers of the
community.
© Pine Forge Press, an imprint of Sage Publications, 2003
Contact Situation and the Development
of the Chinese American Community

The social structure was based on a variety of types of
organizations, including families, clans, and huiguans.

Life was not always peaceful, and there were numerous
disputes over control of resources and the organizational
infrastructure—“Tong Wars.”

Despite internal conflicts, American Chinatowns evolved
into highly organized, largely self-contained communities
complete with their own leadership and decision-making
structures—CCBA.
© Pine Forge Press, an imprint of Sage Publications, 2003
Contact Situation and the Development
of the Chinese American Community

Despite the widespread poverty, discrimination, and pressures
created by the unbalanced sex ratio, Chinatowns appeared and
grew in New York, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, and many
other cities.

Chinese Americans responded to their exclusion by finding
economic opportunity in areas where dominant group
competition for jobs was weak, continuing their tendency to be
an “invisible” minority group—restaurants and laundries.

Relatively hidden from general view, Chinatown became the
world in which the second generation grew to adulthood.
© Pine Forge Press, an imprint of Sage Publications, 2003
Contact Situation and the Development
of the Chinese American Community

The second generation tended to look beyond the enclave to fill their
needs.

They founded organizations their own that were more compatible with
their American lifestyles (Lai, 1980, p. 225).

WWII brought more opportunities—jobs, military service, GI Bill,
socioeconomic mobility.

Women of the second generation also pursued education, and as early
as 1960, their median years of schooling were slightly higher than for
Chinese American men (Kitano & Daniels, 1995, p. 48).
© Pine Forge Press, an imprint of Sage Publications, 2003
Contact Situation and the Development
of the Chinese American Community

Although well-educated Chinese Americans could find good jobs in
the mainstream economy, the highest, most lucrative positions—and
those that required direct supervision of whites—were still closed to
them.

Many Chinese Americans who stayed in the Chinatowns and the
immigrants who began arriving after 1965, rely for survival on lowwage jobs in the garment industry, the service sector, and the small
businesses of the enclave economy.

Thus, Chinese Americans are often said to be “bipolar” in their
occupational structure (see Barringer, Takeuchi, & Levin, 1995;
Takaki, 1993, pp. 415–416; Wong, 1995, pp. 77–78; Zhou & Logan,
1989).
© Pine Forge Press, an imprint of Sage Publications, 2003
© Pine Forge Press, an imprint of Sage Publications, 2003
Contact Situation and the Development
of the Japanese American Community

The contact situation for Japanese immigrants resembled that of
the Chinese.

Although Japanese immigration was partly curtailed in 1907
when a “gentlemen’s agreement” was signed, a loophole
allowed females to continue to immigrate until the 1920s.

Japanese Americans were thus able to develop a second
generation without much delay that numbered about half of the
group by 1930, and were a majority of 63% on the eve of World
War II (Kitano & Daniels, 1995, p. 59).
© Pine Forge Press, an imprint of Sage Publications, 2003
Contact Situation and the Development
of the Japanese American Community

In 1910, between 30% and 40% of all Japanese in California were
engaged in agriculture, owninh small plots of land and comprising only
a minuscule percentage of West Coast farmers (Jibou, 1988, pp. 357–
358).

Their presence and relative success stimulated discriminatory
legislation in the Alien Land Act, which declared aliens who were
ineligible for citizenship to be also ineligible to own land (Kitano,
1980, p. 563).

Japanese Americans were able to dodge the discriminatory legislation,
mostly by putting titles of land in the names of their American-born
children, who were citizens by law (Jibou, 1988, p. 359).
© Pine Forge Press, an imprint of Sage Publications, 2003
Contact Situation and the Development
of the Japanese American Community

By World War II, the Issei (first generation) had come to dominate a
narrow but important segment of agriculture on the West Coast.

Other Issei in urban areas, were concentrated in a narrow range of
businesses and services, such as domestic service and gardening
(Jibou, 1988, pp. 362).

Japanese Americans maximized their economic clout by doing
business with other Japanese-owned firms as often as possible.

In the years before World War II, the Japanese American community
was largely dependent for survival on their networks of cooperation
and mutual assistance, not on Americanization and integration.
© Pine Forge Press, an imprint of Sage Publications, 2003
Contact Situation and the Development
of the Japanese American Community

Unable to find acceptance in Anglo society, the Nisei (second
generation) established organizations that reflected their high levels of
Americanization—Japanese American Citizens League (Kitano &
Daniels, 1995, p. 64).

Although the Nisei enjoyed high levels of success in school, the
intense discrimination and racism of the 1930s prevented most of them
from translating their educational achievements into better jobs and
higher salaries.

Many Nisei were forced to remain within the enclave, and in many
cases, their demoralization and anger over their exclusion were
eventually swamped by the larger events of World War II.
© Pine Forge Press, an imprint of Sage Publications, 2003
Contact Situation and the Development
of the Japanese American Community

Two months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, President
Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which led to the
relocation of Japanese Americans living on the West Coast.

By the late summer of 1942, more than 110,000 Japanese
Americans, young and old, male and female—virtually the
entire West Coast population—had been transported to
relocation camps where they were imprisoned behind barbedwire fences patrolled by armed guards.

Many of these people were American citizens, and no one was
given the opportunity to refute the implicit charge of disloyalty.
© Pine Forge Press, an imprint of Sage Publications, 2003
Contact Situation and the Development
of the Japanese American Community

The government gave families little notice to prepare for
evacuation and secure their homes, businesses, and belongings.

Eventually more than 25,000 escaped the camps by volunteering
for military service, many with distinction.

The camps did reduce the extent to which women were relegated to
a subordinate role.

Some Japanese Americans brought lawsuits to end the program,
and in 1944, the Supreme Court ruled that detention was
unconstitutional.
© Pine Forge Press, an imprint of Sage Publications, 2003
Contact Situation and the Development
of the Japanese American Community

In 1948, Congress passed legislation to authorize compensation
to Japanese Americans, but these claims were eventually settled
for less than one tenth the amount of the actual economic losses.

Demand for meaningful redress and compensation continued,
and in 1988, Congress passed a bill granting reparations of
about $20,000 in cash to each of the 60,000 remaining survivors
of the camps.

The law also acknowledged that the relocation program had
been a grave injustice to Japanese Americans (Biskupic, 1989, p.
2879).
© Pine Forge Press, an imprint of Sage Publications, 2003
Contact Situation and the Development
of the Japanese American Community

For the Nisei, when the war ended they were unwilling to rebuild
the Japanese community as it had been before.

When anti-Asian prejudice declined in the 1950s and the job
market began to open, the Nisei were educationally prepared to
take advantage of resultant opportunities (Kitano, 1980, p. 567).

By 1960, Japanese Americans had an occupational profile very
similar to that of whites except that they were actually
overrepresented among professionals, and there was a tendency to
choose “safe” careers that did not require extensive contact with
the public or supervision of whites (Kitano & Daniels, 1988, p. 70).
© Pine Forge Press, an imprint of Sage Publications, 2003
Contact Situation and the Development
of the Japanese American Community

An additional factor contributing to the perception of “model
minority” status for Japanese Americans is the small number of
immigrants from Japan that the community has not had to
devote resources to.

Furthermore, recent immigrants from Japan tend to be highly
educated professional people whose socioeconomic
characteristics add to the perception of success and affluence.

In any case, the Sansei and Yonsei are highly integrated into the
occupational structure of the larger society.
© Pine Forge Press, an imprint of Sage Publications, 2003
Contact Situations and the Development of the
Chinese and Japanese American Communities

Unlike the situation of African Americans in the 1600s and
Mexican Americans in the 1800s, the dominant group had no
desire to control the labor of these groups.

Unlike Native Americans, Chinese Americans and Japanese
Americans in the early 20th century presented no military
danger to the larger society so there was little concern with their
activities once the economic threat had been eliminated.

Chinese Americans and Japanese Americans had the ingredients
and experiences necessary to form enclaves.
© Pine Forge Press, an imprint of Sage Publications, 2003
Contemporary Immigration from
Asia and and the Pacific Islands
© Pine Forge Press, an imprint of Sage Publications, 2003
Contemporary Immigration from
Asia and and the Pacific Islands
© Pine Forge Press, an imprint of Sage Publications, 2003
Contemporary Immigration from
Asia and and the Pacific Islands

Joblessness and lack of opportunity in the sending countries are
almost always a primary cause of the decision to move.

Spouses of military personnel and war refugees.

California received many more immigrants than any other state,
with New York a distant second.

The members of most Asian American groups are newcomers.

Recent immigrants from Asia and Latin America have very
different occupational and educational backgrounds.
© Pine Forge Press, an imprint of Sage Publications, 2003
Contemporary Immigration from
Asia and and the Pacific Islands
© Pine Forge Press, an imprint of Sage Publications, 2003
Contemporary Immigration from
Asia and and the Pacific Islands

The immigrants entering the primary labor market are
highly educated, skilled professionals and businesspeople.

The Asian groups with the highest percentages of educated
and skilled immigrants include those from Japan, the
Philippines, China, and India.

Because they tend to be affluent and enter a growing sector
of the labor force, Asian immigrants with professional
backgrounds tend to attract less notice and fewer racist
reactions than their more unskilled counterparts.
© Pine Forge Press, an imprint of Sage Publications, 2003
Contemporary Immigration from
Asia and and the Pacific Islands

Sizable groups of undocumented, uneducated, unskilled
laborers, and refugees compete for jobs in the secondary and
service economy of the larger society.

The experiences of these less skilled immigrants are strongly
affected by gender, with female immigrants often being more
vulnerable and more exploited.

Differing income returns between the genders might be
explained by the subordinate position of Asian women as they
gravitate toward jobs that give them the flexibility they need to
fill their domestic roles and support other family members.
© Pine Forge Press, an imprint of Sage Publications, 2003
Contemporary Immigration from
Asia and and the Pacific Islands

Some Asian immigrants have established ethnic enclaves.

Some members of these groups enter U.S. society as entrepreneurs,
owners of small retail shops, and other businesses, while their less
skilled and educated co-ethnics serve as a source of cheap labor to
staff the ethnic enterprises.

The enclave provides contacts, financial and other services, and
social support for the new immigrants of all social classes.

Koreans and Asian Indians have been particularly likely to follow
this path.
© Pine Forge Press, an imprint of Sage Publications, 2003
Contemporary Immigration from
Asia and and the Pacific Islands

Filipinos, the second largest Asian American group, entered as
agricultural workers, but the most recent are diversified and “bipolar”
in their educational and occupational profiles.

Many have entered under the family preference provisions, and more
than half since 1965 have been professionals in health and medical
fields.

Many female immigrants from the Philippines were nurses actively
recruited by U.S. hospitals to fill gaps in the labor force.

Language differences, anti-Asian prejudice and discrimination limit the
educational and occupational choices for the group as a whole.
© Pine Forge Press, an imprint of Sage Publications, 2003
Contemporary Immigration from
Asia and and the Pacific Islands

Koreans extremely small until the 1950s, when the rate of immigration
rose because of refugees and “war brides” after the Korean War.

Recent immigrants from Korea consist mostly of families and include
many highly educated people.

The high percentage of Christians among them may help them appear
more “acceptable” to the dominant group.

Korean Americans are heavily involved in small businesses and retail
stores often in deteriorated neighborhoods populated largely by other
minority groups, which has produced a great deal of animosity towards
the group—1992 L.A. riots.
© Pine Forge Press, an imprint of Sage Publications, 2003
Contemporary Immigration from
Asia and and the Pacific Islands

In 1975 when U.S. military withdrew, many Southeast Asians
who had collaborated with the United States fled in fear for their
lives.

This group included high-ranking officials and members of the
region’s educational and occupation elite, and later less well
educated and more impoverished refugees.

The Vietnamese are the largest of the Asian refugee groups, and
contrary to notions of model minorities, they have incomes,
educational levels, and segregation levels comparable to
colonized minority groups.
© Pine Forge Press, an imprint of Sage Publications, 2003
Contemporary Immigration from
Asia and and the Pacific Islands

Indians are the third-largest Asian American group today and tend to be a
select highly educated and skilled group.

In 1980, 11% of male Asian Indians were physicians as were 8% of the
females, compared with less than 1% of the total U.S. population.

Others from India are more oriented to commerce and small business, and
there is a sizable Indian ethnic enclave in many cities.

In 1990, the median income of immigrants from India was $18,000 above the
national norm of $30,320.

These skilled immigrants from India are part of a worldwide movement of
educated peoples from less developed countries to more developed countries.
© Pine Forge Press, an imprint of Sage Publications, 2003
Contemporary Relations

Although prejudice against Asian and Pacific Island groups may have
weakened overall, the continuing force of anti-Asian prejudice is
marked most dramatically by hate crimes against members of the
group.

Asian Americans have also been the victims of “positive”
stereotypes—“model minority.”

This label has been applied to these groups by others who have a
variety of hidden moral and political agendas.

The extent of acculturation of Asian Americans is highly variable
from group to group.
© Pine Forge Press, an imprint of Sage Publications, 2003
Contemporary Relations
© Pine Forge Press, an imprint of Sage Publications, 2003
Contemporary Relations
© Pine Forge Press, an imprint of Sage Publications, 2003
© Pine Forge Press, an imprint of Sage Publications, 2003
© Pine Forge Press, an imprint of Sage Publications, 2003
© Pine Forge Press, an imprint of Sage Publications, 2003
© Pine Forge Press, an imprint of Sage Publications, 2003
Contemporary Relations
© Pine Forge Press, an imprint of Sage Publications, 2003
Contemporary Relations
© Pine Forge Press, an imprint of Sage Publications, 2003
Contemporary Relations
© Pine Forge Press, an imprint of Sage Publications, 2003
Contemporary Relations
© Pine Forge Press, an imprint of Sage Publications, 2003
Contemporary Relations
© Pine Forge Press, an imprint of Sage Publications, 2003
Contemporary Relations
© Pine Forge Press, an imprint of Sage Publications, 2003
Contemporary Relations

The ability of Asian Americans to pursue their group interests has been
sharply limited by a number of factors, including their relatively small
size, institutionalized discrimination, and the same kinds of racist
practices that have limited the power resources of other minority
groups of color.

Contrary to the perception that Asian Americans are a “quiet” minority,
the group has a long history of political action, including a civil rights
movement in the 1960s and 1970s (Fong, 2002, pp. 273-281).

Asian Americans have been prominent in Hawaiian politics for
decades, but they are increasingly involved in West Coast political life
as well—Governor Gary Locke.
© Pine Forge Press, an imprint of Sage Publications, 2003
© Pine Forge Press, an imprint of Sage Publications, 2003
Comparing Minority Groups:
Explaining Asian American Success

A cultural explanation accepts the evidence of Asian American success
at face value and attributes it to the “good values” of traditional Asian
cultures, which are highly compatible with U.S. middle-class
Protestant value systems and presumably helped Asian Americans gain
acceptance and opportunities.

A structural explanation emphasizes contact situations, modes of
incorporation, enclave economies, group cohesion, position in the
labor market, and institutionalized discrimination.

Although this approach questions the whole notion that Asian
Americans are successful and stresses the facts of Asian American
poverty and the continuing patterns of racism and exclusion, this is not
to suggest that the cultural approach is wrong or irrelevant.
© Pine Forge Press, an imprint of Sage Publications, 2003
Comparing Minority Groups:
Explaining Asian American Success

Chinese and Japanese immigrants arrived in America at about the same
time as immigrants from southern and eastern Europe, yet the barriers
to upward mobility for European immigrants (or, at least for their
descendants) fell away more rapidly than the barriers for immigrants
from Asia.
– Whereas the cultural and linguistic markers that identified eastern- and
southern Europeans faded with each passing generation, the racial
characteristics of the Asian groups continued to separate them from the
larger society.
– Immigrants from southern and eastern Europe entered the industrializing
East Coast economy, where they took industrial and manufacturing jobs
that gave European immigrants and their descendants the potential for
upward mobility in the mainstream economy.
© Pine Forge Press, an imprint of Sage Publications, 2003
Comparing Minority Groups:
Explaining Asian American Success

Some Asian groups rank far above other racial minority groups on all the
commonly used measures of secondary structural integration and equality.

However, if we also observe the full range of differences within each
group (e.g., the “bipolar” nature of occupations among Chinese
Americans), we see that the images of success have been exaggerated and
need to be placed in a proper context.

The relative success of Chinese American and Japanese Americans has
become a device for scolding other minority groups.

The social class differences between these groups today flow from their
respective situations in the past.
© Pine Forge Press, an imprint of Sage Publications, 2003
Comparing Minority Groups:
Explaining Asian American Success

Many of the occupational and financial advances made by
Chinese Americans and Japanese Americans have been due
to the high levels of education achieved by the second
generations.

At the time that native-born Chinese Americans and
Japanese Americans reached educational parity with
whites, the vast majority of African Americans, Native
Americans, and Mexican Americans were still victimized
by Jim Crow laws and legalized segregation and excluded
from opportunities for anything but rudimentary education.
© Pine Forge Press, an imprint of Sage Publications, 2003
Comparing Minority Groups:
Explaining Asian American Success

The structural explanation is not consistent with traditional views
of the assimilation process.

The immigrant generation of Chinese Americans and Japanese
Americans responded to the massive discrimination they faced by
withdrawing, developing ethnic enclaves, and becoming “invisible”
to the larger society.

Like Cuban Americans, Chinese Americans and Japanese
Americans used their traditional cultures and patterns of social life
to create and build their own subcommunities from which they
launched the next generation.
© Pine Forge Press, an imprint of Sage Publications, 2003
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CHAPTER 5