The failure of ignoring Southeast Asian groups

Not all Asian Americans are as successful as you think

Jazzy Nguyen, Co-Editor-In-Chief

Mei Lin Lee-Stahr/Special to the Bear Witness

In my sophomore year, group projects were always a hassle, especially in World History where your table group was your project group.

Everytime my teacher would finish outlining the requirements for the project, my group would jump onto their phones with comments like “You got this, Jazzy,” and “Can you just do it? You’re smart.”

For a stereotype that doesn’t even connect back to Southeast Asians, it’s something that I have noticed throughout my life– college applications especially.

The Model Minority Myth among Asians is viewed as a positive thing. We’re typecast as wealthy, smart, gifted, and guaranteed to succeed. Yet this myth undervalues their effort and works to pitch minority groups against each other. Ironically, the myth goes beyond the stereotype to further disadvantage Southeast Asian Americans by grouping them with South and East Asian groups.

The Model Minority Myth creates the assumption that Asian Americans are the wealthiest racial group in America. While white and Asian Americans have the lowest poverty rate at 7.3% compared to that of black and Hispanic Americans at 18.8% and 15.7%, respectively (US Census 2020), the numbers culminate to overshadow the poverty that is present among the Southeast Asian American population.

Immigrants from Southeast Asian countries have arrived en masse as recently as the early 2000s. Many immigrate to escape from war-torn countries, instead of high-skilled H-1B visas in the tech industry.

At the same time, the majority of immigrants from East Asian countries have either been in America for generations, or are from families that have the means to immigrate to America by choice.

Additionally, lumping the 19 distinct Asian American groups into one monolith ignores the disparities that they face.

A 2021 Pew research report showed that despite the Asian success myth, there are large differences in poverty among Asian subgroups. Most of the Asian origin groups analyzed (12 of 19) had poverty rates that were as high as or higher than the U.S. average in 2019. At 25%, Mongolians had the highest poverty rates among Asian groups, while the lowest rate was among Indians, at 6%.

The oversimplification of Asian success that stems from the Model Minority Myth puts Southeast Asians at a disadvantage– especially within the collegiate system of affirmative action– a college admission process that reviews its applicants with race as a factor. Because colleges admit certain percentages of each race in the name of diversity and equity, South Asians, East Asians, and South East Asians directly compete with each other for admission.

A December 2021 NPR story highlighted this disparity, telling the story of a Hmong doctoral candidate who was deemed ineligible for a prestigious fellowship because she was considered Asian American, and not Hmong, who are among the least represented ethnic groups in STEM fields.

The system that was meant to help reduce the influence of social and economical disadvantages that are common to specific racial groups has failed the Southeast Asian Americans spectacularly.

In order to level the playing field, Southeast Asians should fall into their own category, and be grouped with ethnic groups that share proximity and similar financial statistics.