Written by Deanna Hoang-Yen Tran

The Asian-American and Pacific Islander community’s label as the model minority is detrimental to the well-being of the community.

In response to the topic of the model minority myth, a female Asian UCLA pre-med student majoring in Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology stated, “I believe that a lot of Asians come here in the United States with already some kind of stability, some kind of financial or economic upper hand that other racial groups may not have when they come here. In terms of the model minority myth where they work hard and pursue high education and climb the social ladder, I believe it goes hand-in-hand with the Asian values that are ingrained in us where you have to work hard, thinking about your family so that you have to find good jobs and be able to support them to provide stability.”

The model minority myth is believed by both non-Asians and Asians, posing an even greater danger towards future advances in the community. Marjorie Kagawa-Singer, PhD, MA, MN, RN, FAAN Faculty Associate, UCLA Center for Health Policy Research professor, UCLA School of Public Health and Department of Asian-American Studies, revealed the facts of the model minority myth in an interview.

API Stereotype:

●        The “model minority” is a term coined by the government, implying that if the other minorities followed the example of Asians, the other minorities wouldn’t have any problems that required federal aid or assistance.

●        The model minority claims Asians are (1) healthy (2) wealthy (3) highly educated. This stereotype for the Asian-American and Pacific Islander community has proved detrimental for members of the community who seek aid from the government. Other minority groups, primarily African-Americans, Latinos, and American Indians, claim that their communities lack these three traits and therefore require more governmental assistance. This has resulted in more fighting between the minority groups since Asians are being set up against the other groups.


●        In reality, Asian-American and Pacific Islanders do need aid in health care. Members of the community are ineligible for many health care programs, but their health issues are becoming worse. Asian-American and Pacific Islanders have one of the lowest amounts of federal aid in cancer, which is the number one cause for death for the community. The community is one of the only groups where breast cancer rates are rising. Concerning the obesity epidemic in the United States where 2/3 of the people in this country are overweight or obese, Asian-American youth between the ages of 12 and 17 have the highest rates of obesity of all of the ethnic population groups.

●        More research needs to be done on the Asian-American and Pacific Islander community’s health problems. The statistics that do exist aggregate all of the subgroups of Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders, of which there are more than 50 different nationalities.

●        In studies that compile the subgroups of the Asian-American and Pacific Islander community, which number to be more than 50, much of the needs of the smaller groups become invisible. The community also has the highest level of limited English proficiency of the ethnic population groups, and 67% of the population is composed of first-generation immigrants. Therefore, the statistics from English surveys are not representative of the entire population and the numbers obtained are called insufficient for analysis.

●        A study in PubMed revealed that only 0.01% or 0.02% of funding for grants was related to Asian Pacific Islanders.

Why these needs are not being met:

●        The needs of the community are not being recognized. Asian-Americans believe the model minority myth themselves, as well as the power structure that would fund the required grants. Without support and awareness, the issues are being left untended.

●        The required statistics and research necessary to justify the claims of the advocates for more funding and assistance to the community is not being done. There is still a significant miscommunication concerning the needs of the community, resulting from a language and cultural barrier.

What actions should take place:

●        More awareness and attention of the needs of the Asian-American and Pacific Islander community is needed to promote advocacy for government aid to resolve the health issues of the community.

●        The people in positions of power should implement action and display more concern for the community

●        Research needs to be done to determine the actual numbers of the community, and the data collection must be done in a manner that regards the diversity of the nationalities and the high percentage of immigrants in the population.

●        Asian-Americans have the right to be eligible for the programs and governmental aid provided to other minority groups. Funding from the government should be allocated to tackle the rising health issues of the Asian-American and Pacific Islander community.

●        The miscommunication problems between the community, researchers, and policy makers need to be resolved. In order to discover the true numbers within the community, services such as translators should be established.

Professor Kagawa-Singer teaches a class on API health at the School of Public Health. This class is open to undergraduate UCLA students.


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