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

Captured IS Militants Explain Why They Fought

Fighters from Turkey, Syria tell VOA Kurdish Service what drew them to extremism, jihad More

Security Experts Split on Kenyan Barrier Wall

Experts divided on whether initiative aiming to keep out al-Shabab militants is long-awaited solution or misguided effort More

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Officials say they hope to turn Manila into the next Macau, which has long been Asia’s gambling hub More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
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 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 US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
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.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

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