The Department of Asian American Studies congratulates Prof. erin K. Ninh on the featuring of her new book, Passing for Perfect: College Imposters and Other Model Minorities, in the news and cultural magazine The New Yorker. In his article The Difficulties of Being a Perfect Asian American (March 10, 2022), cultural commentator and New Yorker staff writer Hua Hsu describes how Prof. Ninh's book, along with filmmaker Debbie Lum's new documentary Try Harder!, examine "how Asian Americans internalize the myth of the model minority." From Hsu's article:
Ninh’s fascinating book tells the stories of scammers, grifters, and impostors—Asian Americans following the high-pressure, expectation-heavy paths that can lead down darker alleys of faux accomplishment. There is Azia Kim, who masqueraded as a Stanford undergrad for months, even persuading two students to allow her to share a dorm room. Elizabeth Okazaki did something similar there, posing as a graduate student, attending class, and sleeping at a campus lab. Unlike the students caught up in the Varsity Blues scandal, these young people gave exhausting performances that weren’t going to result in a diploma or job. And, in the case of Jennifer Pan, who spent years tricking her parents into believing that she was attending the University of Toronto, the subterfuge resulted in tragedy. In 2010, she hired hitmen to murder them.
What compelled these impostors? To what extent were their actions driven by a need to keep up an illusion of excellence? Ninh, who teaches at the University of California, Santa Barbara, explores these stories not to rationalize them but to point out how they suggest a mood, a limited set of emotional possibilities for Asian Americans. “What if what seem to be outlandish and outlier behaviors are instead depressingly Asian American?” Ninh writes. Being a model minority, she argues, doesn’t require one to believe in the myth. Ninh asserts that a relationship to high achievement is “coded into one’s programming” as an Asian American, and that “its litmus test is whether an Asian American feels pride or shame by those standards.” Whether you are Amy Chua, extolling the virtues of being a “tiger parent,” or someone making fun of Chua, you are perpetuating the success-or-bust framework. A joking dismissal doesn’t debunk the stereotype so much as it signals the impossibility of living outside of it.
Congratulations, Prof. Ninh, in continuing to bring awareness to the pull and the price of the model minority myth!