INQ: Model Minority-Its Origin as a Term? ( Sat, 8 Jun 1996 09:03:27 -0500)

Date: Fri, 7 Jun 1996 17:45:38 -0400

From: Jeff Finlay <

Date: Fri, 07 Jun 1996 13:45:53 -0700

From: (Annalee Newitz)

I'm teaching an American Cultures class this summer called "The Model Minority," in which we'll be reading literature and film by and about so-called model minorities. While I've found many definitions of this term, I've yet to encounter a discussion/explaination of where the term "model minority" originates in the U.S.

I suspect it comes out of social darwinist discourse, or racial eugenics, in which racial/ethnic "models" and "types" played a significant role.

Does anyone have any better ideas, or perhaps (I hope!) an actual answer regarding where/how the term "model minority" got coined?

Thanks so much.

Annalee Newitz

Annalee Newitz

English and American Studies Co-Director, _Bad


UC Berkeley

Re: QUERY: Model Minority-Its Origin as a Term? (2) ( Mon, 10 Jun 1996 05:15:08 -0500)

[Bonnie Kae Grover <grover@SPOT.COLORADO.EDU writes:]

Robert S. Chang discusses the model minority myth in his 81 California Law Review 1244 (1993) article, "Toward an Asian American Legal Scholarship: Critical Race Theory, Post-Structuralism, and Narrative Space." The article is excerpted in Critical Race Theory: The Cutting Edge, edited by Richard Delgado (1995), and will be expanded in Robert Chang's forthcoming book with NYU Press. He cites as one early source of the model minority notion "Success Story of One Minority Group in U.S." an article which appeared in U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT, Dec. 26, 1966, at 73, and reprinted in ROOTS: AN ASIAN AMERICAN READER at p. 6, edited by Amy Tachiki et al.


Robert S. Chang is a professor of law at California Western School of Law in San Diego. He would probably be an excellent source for determining as precisely as possible the origins of this term.

Bonnie Kae Grover

[Arthur Hu < writes:]

The title was first widely known by the title of a Newsweek article that came out in the 70's, I'm sure people in the Asian Am community had thrown it around since the 60's. It's a hated term by activists who wish Asians were poor and downtrodden like other proper minorities.

+- Views do not reflect any other organization or


Arthur Hu Join my diversity mailing list or Check index and articles on


12422 107th Pl NE Kirkland WA 98034

Re: QUERY: Model Minority-Its Origin as a Term? ( Mon, 10 Jun 1996 18:23:45 -0500)

[partha mazumdar <MAZUMDAR@KUHUB.CC.UKANS.EDU writes:]

Most standard Asian American textbooks date the concept of the model minority (as it's used to signify Asian Americans) to a January 1966 New York Times Magazine article by William Petersen (I'm currently away from my books and notes, but I think the citation is something like: William Petersen, "Success Story Japanese-American Style", New York Times Magazine, January 6, 1966).

Both Takaki's and Chan's textbooks most probably have this

citation and a little explaination on the history of the concept

* coming out of a reaction of the Great Society social programs geared to assisting African Americans. Look, this concept claimed, you don't need any special programs, look at these Asian Americans who are crime-free, have strong families, and are making it without any special assistance. ("Model" minority implies a minority to be modeled after.)

However, although the actually idea dates back to at least 1966 (my own research has found allusions to this concept before the mid-1960s), I have no idea when the actual term "model minority" started. Maybe it was the 1982 Newsweek cover story entitled the same. I don't know if the term matters as much as does the proplagation of the concept. But, if I were a betting man, I'd bet the 1982 Newsweek article (sorry, again, I'm away from my notes so I can't provide an exact citation, but it shouldn't be *that* hard to find).

As far as I know, there is no published summary of the history of the model minority thesis. But, as mentioned above, both the mentioned textbooks have discussions of the thesis. In 1977, Bob Suzuki wrote a seminal article on the thesis for _Amerasia Journal_.

partha mazumdar

QUERY: Model Minority-Its Origin as a Term (7) ( Tue, 11 Jun 1996 06:00:10 -0500)

[Jeff Finlay, co-editor of H-Amstdy, sends these responses:]

[1] Cyrus R. K. Patell <

According to Harry H. L. Kitano and Roger Daniels in _Asian Americans: Emerging Minorities," the term "model minority" was coined in 1966 by the sociologist William Petersen, "who at first applied it only to Japanese Americans."

[2] Robert J Wilson <

Tak Fujitane, in the Japanese literature/history department at UCSan Diego, has some informed essays on use of "model minority" in double sense to explain Japan as an "ethnic" US subject citizen and as national/transnational agent of capital in the world system after the war and within the US global hegemony.

[3] Chris Labarthe <"

A film you should definitely look at is Robert Downey Sr.'s Putney Swope (1968?-69?)

[4] (Peter X Feng):

The term probably originated in the late 1960s, and so probably does not come out of early-20th C. discourse about race. (Keep in mind that attitudes toward Asian Americans in the first half of this century was highly influenced by U.S. foreign relations with Asia-in short, Asian Americans weren't popularly considered models of anything but cheap labor until the late 1950s or so.)

The concept of the model minority-if not the precise phraseology-is usually traced back to "Success Story, Japanese-American Style" by William Peterson in THE NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE (9 Jan 66) and "Success Story of One Minority Group in U.S. [re: Chinese Americans]" in US NEWS & WORLD REPORT (26 Dec 66). Note that both of these articles single out particularAsian ethnicities.

I'd suggest doing a Lexis-Nexus type search for early appearances of the actual phrase "model minority."

[5] Alice J. Saab <ajs4631@is2.NYU.EDU:

Peter Kwong's The New Chinatown ( Hill And Wang, 1987) has a chapter entitled "the Model Minority" in which he discusses the differences between what he calls " uptown chinese" and "downtown chinese"

[6] Ruth Hsu <

You may want to take a look at Sucheng Chan's Asian Americans. An Interpretive History (1991) for the history of the term as applied to Asian Americans. Omi and Winant's Racial Formation in the United States (the 1994 edition) is also very interesting on this issue. Other than those sources, you may want to look at the 'seminal' texts of sociologists and historians in the fifties and sixties who worked on various 'assimilationist' theories for other applications. The term model minority is most often associated w/asian americans.

[7] Mollycuddle Kim <

I would suggest looking at Gary Okihiro's _Margins and Mainstreams_. I think there is something in there. Better yet, however, since you're at Berkeley, you should just go ask the Asian American Studies Department (specifically, either Takaki or Wang). Good luck.

Re: QUERY: Model Minority-Its Origin as a Term ( Thu, 13 Jun 1996 05:24:26 -0500)

[michael k. masatsugu <miket@SFSU.EDU writes:]

Try Gary Okihiro's *Margins and Mainstreams* Okihiro examines constructions of "yellow peril" and "model minority" arguing that they are two sides of the same coin.

* michael k. masatsugu *

* san francisco state university *

* history department *

* *