Asian Americans first started coming in significant numbers during the California Gold Rush.
Chinese immigrants came to do mining, then they ended up working on the Transcontinental Railroad, and agriculture.
But by the 1950s and 1960s, the idea of the model minority had begun to take root.
Some people think that racism toward Asians diminished because Asians “proved themselves” through their actions. Then, as now, the stories of successful Asians were elevated, while the stories of less successful Asians were diminished.
As historian Ellen Wu explains in her book, “The Color of Success,” the model minority stereotype has a fascinating origin story, one that’s tangled up in geopolitics, the Cold War and the civil rights movement.
African Americans in the 1940s made very similar appeals.
But in the postwar moment, Wu argues, it was only convenient for political leaders to hear the Asian voices.
I thought that might be a very interesting question to try to unravel.
How did these earliest stereotypes — these very negative, nasty images — take root?When those jobs died down, a lot of them moved to the cities where they started working in manufacturing.At that time, in the 1870s, the economy wasn’t doing that well in California.“The insinuation was that hard work along with unwavering faith in the government and liberal democracy as opposed to political protest were the keys to overcoming racial barriers as well as achieving full citizenship,” she writes.Recently, Wu and I chatted on the phone about her book and the model minority stereotype — how it was equal parts truth, propaganda and self-enforcing prophecy.Between 19, something remarkable happened to Asian Americans.