Commentary Magazine

The Model Minority

To the Editor:

In addition to those other standout “model minorities” described by Louis Winnick [“America’s ‘Model Minority,’” August 1990], there should be mentioned a small but upwardly mobile minority that has already made its mark in the San Francisco Bay Area: the Palestinian Arabs. Coming mainly from Ramallah and Jerusalem, they have shown the same drive and family orientation characteristic of those groups praised by Mr. Winnick.

I do not agree with their political aims, but I do admire what they have done.

Emanuel Friedman
Burlingame, California



To the Editor:

If, as Louis Winnick shows us, Asian immigrants have progressed so quickly in American society, the obvious question is why American blacks, our major minority, have failed to do so, even with . . . a prodigious number of formal and informal compensatory programs.

Both groups have suffered past discrimination, but . . . while Asian families have been close, and have provided both emotional and material support to their members, the same has not been true, generally speaking, of black families. Black leaders have resisted discussion of this factor, and have gone along with and encouraged misbegotten welfare programs which have served further to induce family instability.

While Asian immigrants have used discrimination to help weld their determination to the opportunities available, blacks have been encouraged, by their “leaders” and by guilt-ridden white media spokesmen, university professors, and politicians, to blame their . . . misfortunes on their “stars” rather than upon themselves. . . .

There now appears to be some stirring in the black community and leadership toward self-help and away from blaming others. Unfortunately, however, the self-styled spokesmen in the universities, the media, and the halls of government—“the best and the brightest,” and, as they never hesitate to tell us, the most caring—have not changed their tune one whit. Most of them live far from the problems about which they pontificate, but to them ideas are more important than people. . . .

It is fortunate that inner-directed Asian-Americans have escaped these “caring” hands and done it for themselves, in spite of all obstacles.

Frederic Wile
New York City



To the Editor:

Louis Winnick’s article, “America’s ‘Model Minority,’” was very exciting, showing how an industrious, self-denying, but also self-serving minority can progress in the wonderful ambience of America. However, I think the author’s statement, “A blessing for them and a blessing for America,” is rather strong medicine, perhaps a little overdrawn and premature.

I wish the new Asian immigrants all the luck they deserve, but I have qualms, especially about their lack of sympathy for the underdog, for other ethnic groups, for the downtrodden. Asian-Americans have not had much opportunity to show this feature of their character, but their initial venture into politics has not been very gratifying.

I am referring particularly to the successful efforts of the Japanese-American community to have a law passed granting $20,000 and an apology to all Japanese in the four Western states (the area designated a military zone during World War II) who were placed in relocation centers, though they had free passage anywhere else in the United States. This law suggests that we reacted to Japan racially rather than on grounds of military necessity. . . .

The Japanese enemy aliens were interned along with German and Italian enemy aliens, but the law provides the $20,000 and apology only to the Japanese. . . . Should we similarly give reparations and an apology to the German Nazis and Italian fascists who were interned in the same camps?

Without detracting from the obvious energy, sacrifice, and accomplishment of the Japanese, I might point out that they come from a community which has done wonders in this technological age, but which has also kept its Korean minority subjugated, deprived of citizenship and other privileges in the homogeneous, essentially racist society of Japan. While the U.S. accepted thousands of boat people, Japan accepted none.

Unfortunately, the hardworking and industrious Japanese in our midst come from a tradition that does not speak for democracy, for sharing, for universality. I hope the author’s offer of a blessing will turn out to foretell a change for the better.

Jerome Greenblatt
Laguna Hills, California



Louis Winnick writes:

Emanuel Friedman is eminently correct in reminding us that Asian-Americans do not possess exclusive title to the honorific, “model minority.” He would add to the roster the Bay Area’s Palestinian Arabs, but could just as readily have added California’s Armenians and Greeks, as well as the Lebanese everywhere, and, dare I say (but of course I did), America’s Jews. In fact, measured by the paired indexes of high social and economic achievement and low incidence of crime and dependency, there is a lengthy list of ethnic groupings which would qualify for one rung or another on the honor roll. I singled out Asian-Americans, as does almost everyone in the immigrant-research community, for these special reasons: (1) they surmounted a history of violent racial discrimination of a kind experienced by few U.S. minorities other than blacks and Native Americans; (2) the post-1965 waves are advancing at a pace surpassing that of any other immigrant group; and (3) the sheer size of the inflows. Based on current immigration policies and demographic trends, the Asian-American total will approach ten million by the year 2000 and will climb indefinitely thereafter. Quality will be powerfully multiplied by quantity.

I have no quarrel with Frederic Wile’s explanation for the disparate outcomes of American blacks and American Asians. I hope he is right in discerning a swelling of the self-help theme in the black community. That theme has a deep and respected heritage in black history. But too much has gone wretchedly wrong in the contemporary inner city. It is increasingly a habitat from which the self-helpers have chosen to escape, leaving behind an underclass which defies available—or even known—remedies. Mr. Wile appears not to have excessive faith in the practical outcome of the self-help prescription. Nor do I, even if neither of us can think of a more time-tested solution.

Jerome Greenblatt errs, I believe, in equating the treatment of Japanese residents with that of German and Italian aliens during the first fearful years of World War II. The detention and relocation of Japanese were wholesale and systemic, based on racial attributes and not on individually identified threats or risks. Indeed, much has been written about the ruthless internment of the émigrés of one enemy nation and the mild sanctions infrequently applied to the émigrés of the other two. The political calculus is one part of the answer; the Japanese vote was as nothing compared to the ethnic German and Italian vote. But the larger answer is the military calculus. Wrong-headed as it seems now, the war cabinet genuinely perceived, during the post-Pearl Harbor hysteria, an imminent danger from Japanese naval and air attacks on West Coast installations and populations. The probability of incursions by the German and Italian fleets was deemed remote, although in both cases sabotage was a concern.

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