News / USA

Q&A with Ellen Wu: 'The Color of Success'

FILE - Jessica Peng (L) and Lauren Sit talk about college admissions guidelines affecting Asian students at Lowell High School in San Francisco.
FILE - Jessica Peng (L) and Lauren Sit talk about college admissions guidelines affecting Asian students at Lowell High School in San Francisco.
The social perception of Asian Americans has moved through many phases over more than two centuries of U.S. history. Early migrant workers commanded almost no social status as they toiled to create much of the country’s early infrastructure, including the Transcontinental railroad. From being viewed as a “yellow peril,” Asian Americans endured internment camps during World War II and emerged as a “model minority.” Ellen Wu, assistant professor of history at Indiana University, Bloomington, traces this evolution in her new book, The Color of Success, as she tells VOA’s Jim Stevenson.
 
Q&A with Ellen Wu: 'The Color of Success'
Q&A with Ellen Wu: 'The Color of Success'i
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X

STEVENSON: How did Asian Americans go from a so-called “Yellow Peril” state into a model minority?
 
WU: The idea of the model minority became common thinking in American society in the 1940s. It began with World War II. At that time, the United States was of course fighting the Nazis, fighting the fascists and really invested in becoming this emergent world leader. America’s leaders were really interested in making sure that the rest of the world knew that the United States stood for freedom and democracy and aspired to achieving equality for people of all racial backgrounds.
 
With that global ambition in mind, U.S. political leaders knew they would have to start cleaning up race relations at home in order to gain a kind of global legitimacy. Liberals especially began to attack the structures of white supremacy, but in the U.S. west that was the kind of web of laws and social practices known as Asian exclusion. In my book, I talk about how in the 1940s and 1950s people of Asian ancestry start to be considered by other Americans as what I call “assimilating others.” In other words, they are still different from white folks but they are certainly capable of becoming like white folk.
 
And then there is another turning point that starts to happen in the 1950s and 1960s. That is really when I would say the geopolitics of World War II and the Cold War intersect with the demands of the black freedom movement. Really the model minority stereotype emerges out of that.
 
STEVENSON: The 1960s African American movement clearly was not focused on Asians and equality among Asians, but how did that help Asians gain more equality in our society?
 
WU: If we backtrack a bit and think about the civil rights movement and the things that it accomplished, I would say at that time Asian Americans did sometimes join forces with African American groups and others to push for things like desegregated housing. I would say Asian Americans are 100% indebted to the achievements of African American black freedom movement activists because they were very much at the forefront of pushing the nation to dismantle the structures and practices of racial discrimination. So Asian Americans then did benefit from increased access to better schools, better jobs, better housing and more integrated neighborhoods.
 
STEVENSON: Asian Americans are a very complex group. You are talking about Chinese, Japanese, Korean, many nations in Southeast Asia all being lumped together as Asian Americans. Going a little beyond your book, is the so-called model minority still a positive model?
 
WU: The thing about the model minority stereotype, what it hides from public view is that Asian American communities face all kinds of struggles – poverty, immigration struggles, public health problems. One example is Asian American women I believe are the one group with the highest suicide rates of any racial and gender group in the United States.
 
I don’t see the model minority stereotype as ever having been positive because it has always worked to further the problems of not only Asian Americans, but also further the injustices and problems and challenges that  people in these other groups have faced. Many Asian Americans I would say are working actually to destroy or obliterate the model minority mythology once and for all.

Jim Stevenson

For over 35 years, Jim Stevenson has been sharing stories with the world on the radio and internet. From both the field and the studio, Jim enjoys telling about specific events and uncovering the interesting periphery every story possesses. His broadcast career has been balanced between music, news, and sports, always blending the serious with the lighter side.

You May Like

Analyst: Joint-Arab Military Force Poses Perilous Challenge

Although international forces are desperately needed to counter the threat of the Islamic State group, analysts say conflicting alliances could escalate fighting More

Asia’s Middle Class Changes Demand for Wheat Grain Exporters

Changes in tastes and diets are boon for wheat exporters such as Australia and the United States More

S. African Comedian Taking Over Popular TV Show

Mixed-race comedian Trevor Noah, who is loved for his edgy jibes about race and language, is taking the helm from Jon Stewart at The Daily Show in US More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadistsi
X
Greg Flakus
March 30, 2015 6:48 PM
At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video With Coalition Airstrikes, Iraq Entering 'Last Page' of IS Battle

American warplanes joined Iraq's battle against the so-called 'Islamic State' in northern Iraq late Wednesday, as Iraqi ground troops launched a massive assault on Tikrit. Analysts say the offensive could take the coalition a step further towards Mosul, the largest city held by Islamic State forces. Others say it could also deepen already-dangerous sectarian tensions in the region. VOA's Heather Murdock has more from Cairo.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Hi-tech Motorbike Helmet's Goal: Improve Road Safety

In cities with heavily congested traffic, people can get around much faster on a motorcycle than in a car. But a rider who is not sure of his route may have to stop to look at the map or consult a GPS. A Russian start-up company is working to make navigation easier for motorcyclists. Designers at Moscow-based LiveMap are developing a smart helmet with a built-in navigation system, head-mounted display and voice recognition. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video DOJ: Illinois National Guard Soldier Tried to Join ISIS

U.S. federal law enforcement agents arrested two suburban Chicago men accused of trying to join ISIS overseas, while also plotting attacks in the United States. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports from the Midwest state of Illinois, one of those arrested is a soldier of the Illinois National Guard.
Video

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Traditional push-rim wheelchairs create a lot of stress for arm, shoulder and neck muscles and joints. A redesigned chair, based on readily available bicycle technology, radically increases mobility while reducing the physical effort. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More