By Guest Contributor: Felix Huang
We create stories
– Roberto Suro,“U.S. Immigration Policy” (lecture, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA, Fall 2015).
2015 was a pretty good year for Asian Americans on TV. Fresh Off the Boat debuted and is now in the middle of a strong second season. Dr. Ken premiered in October and has already been renewed. Master of None was released in November, receiving much acclaim. (The Mindy Project, though, was cancelled by Fox, but later picked up by Hulu.)
These were not the only stories about Asian Americans circulating in public discourse. In an October New York Times column, Nicholas Kristof asked what he framed as an “awkward question”, wondering, “Why are Asian-Americans so successful in America?” A week earlier, an author at The Economist (unidentified, as per The Economist’s practice) had penned a piece about how “The Model Minority is Losing Patience,” referencing the joint complaint against Harvard to the Department of Education made by a group of Asian American groups.
Both pieces exhibit more nuance than other Model Minority hot takes routinely peddled out in the mainstream. But both pieces are still painfully clumsy in talking about Asian Americans, especially when considering the broader political and historical context of race in America. (And there were indeed swift responses highlighting their flaws.)
 cultural capital, i.e. knowledge on how to navigate dominant cultural norms. C.f. Pierre Bourdieu and Paul DiMaggio. Both pieces also cite (and arguably misunderstand) sociologists Jennifer Lee and Min Zhou’s research that suggests coethnic resources and networks—what they term as “ethnic capital”—account for intergenerational success among Vietnamese and Chinese Americans in a way that the prevailing socioeconomic and cultural explanatory models of intergenerational mobility do not. As the educational and economic attainment of some Asian American populations continues to both fascinate and confound commentators, Asian Americans are now finally making significant strides in what is sometimes posed in contrast to “successes” in educational and economic attainment: media representation.
This is an awkward question, but here goes: How does a respected New York Times opinion-maker expend so many words to say so very little with accuracy about Asian Americans?
Late last week, columnist Nicholas Kristof reignited his earlier conversation on American racial inequity (collected in a series of columns tagged “When Whites Just Don’t Get It”) when he set out to explore the purported cultural underpinnings of supposed Asian American exceptionalism (“The Asian Advantage”). What resulted was an embarrassingly under-reasoned meandering through Asian American & Pacific Islander (AAPI) identity politics, one rife with the kind of Model Minority Myth generalizations and stereotypes best relegated to the set of Fox News’ The O’Reilly Factor.
Since 2001, Reappropriate has been the web's foremost Asian American activism, identity, feminism, and pop culture blog!