Although Asians are often depicted as a “model minority,” there have been contrasting images of Asian Americans throughout U.S. history. In the 19th century, many laborers saw Chinese immigrants as a threat, claiming they were taking their jobs and driving down wages. Those fears led to the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, an attempt to prevent Chinese immigrants from settling in the country. In 1917, immigrants from all of Asia were restricted from coming through the Asiatic Barred Zone Act, also known as the Immigration Act of 1917. A little more than a generation later, Japanese immigrants, alongside many U.S.-born residents and their U.S. citizen children, were incarcerated in internment camps during World War II. Without evidence, people of Japanese ancestry were treated as a 5th column, loyal to Japan. 

After the second world war, a new stereotype began to emerge. The idea was that East Asians were a model minority, hard-working, and therefore good for the country. The model minority stereotype exists alongside other stereotypes of Asians. This short video from the Washington Post explores the idea of the model minority myth and the historical context in which it developed.

Essential and Guiding Questions:

  • What are the public stories of migration?
  • What messages about migration are people hearing through media and thought leaders?
  • How can we assess whether available public stories about migration are reliable and representative?
  • How do stories of migration influence how people think and (re)act?

Learning Goals:

  • To learn about the evolution of stereotypes about Asian immigrants and their descendants.
  • To consider the impact of those stereotypes
  • To promote reflection on the significance of stereotypes against Asians and other groups.

Teaching Suggestions

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