Vietnamese are portrayed as hard-working and able to escape poverty. South

Asians are portrayed as hard-working and intelligent. Pacific Islanders and

Native Hawaiians, though lumped with Asian Americans, are seldom portrayed

as model minorities and are more closely associated with stereotypes of “island


The persistence of the model minority stereotype also creates a racial hierarchy

by placing Asian Americans above blacks, Latinos, and “other non-whites.” It also

functions as a disciplining agent for Asian Americans to be “good” national sub-

jects if they want to retain their privileged status. Furthermore, a demarcation is

created between the “good” culture of Asian Americans and the “bad” culture of

“other non-whites”; the dominance of the white group and the reproduction of

white virtue are never called into question. The ideology of meritocracy as a

cornerstone for achievement in the American imagination is further reinforced

by the “truth” of perceived successes of Asian Americans and the “myths” of

why they are successful.

—Dawn Lee Tu

Further ReadingLee, Stacey. Unraveling the Model Minority Stereotype: Listening to Asian American

Youth. New York: Teacher’s College Press, 1996.

Osajima, Keith. “Asian Americans as the Model Minority: An Analysis of the Popular

Press Image in the 1960s and 1980s.” In Min Zhou and James Gatewood, eds. Contem-

porary Asian America: A Multidisciplinary Reader. New York: New York University

Press, 2000.

Suzuki, Bob. “Education and the Socialization of Asian Americans: A Revisionist Analysis

of the ‘Model Minority’ Thesis.” In Don T. Nakanishi and Tina Yamano Nishida, eds. The

Asian American Educational Experience: A Sourcebook for Teachers and

Students. New York: Routledge, 1995.

Wu, Frank. Yellow: Race in America beyond Black and White. New York: Basic Books,


Mother-Daughter Narrative in AsianAmerican Literature

In the work of Asian American women writers, the theme of mother-daughter

relations has been immensely popular since the publication of Maxine Hong

Kingston’s The Woman Warrior and Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club. The mother-

daughter narrative is predominantly disclosed via the American-born daughter’s

perspectives. This use of the protagonist’s viewpoints allows mainstream

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American readers to identify with the daughter. Through this identification, this

explicit narrative formula makes the particular Asian American women’s experi-

ence accessible to its readers by using the daughter’s coming-of-age story. As

Patricia P. Chu observes, through this formula, in the process of establishing her

subjectivity, the daughter recoils from and then ultimately reconciles with her

immigrant mother, who embodies social marginality and Asianness, by discover-

ing the mother’s silenced traumatic past. By deepening her understanding of the

mother and by sharing the pains her mother experienced, the daughter is eventu-

ally healed from her own racial and/or sexual trauma inflicted by the abusive

power of American mainstream society, and starts to fully acknowledge and em-

brace herself as an Asian American woman.

In this popular narrative formula of the mother-daughter dyad, the mother’s

secret past is often conveyed to her daughter in a coded manner. The mother pre-

fers such indirect methods because of the ambivalence that exists between her

shames of the past, her desires for articulation, and her wishes to protect her

daughter from a similar painful experience. The use of this coded transmission

involves utilizing forms of folklore such as songs and stories. This approach is

widely used to avoid the direct confession of a brutal past. For instance, in Comfort

Woman by Korean American author Nora Okja Keller, protagonist Akiko, a former

Korean comfort woman, or sex slave, of the Japanese military during World War

II, uses various forms of Korean folklore to convey her messages to her biracial

daughter Beccah. Also, Akiko uses folklore to pass down her ethnic heritage to

her daughter, and thus she employs folklore as an effective means of creating

Korean/American women’s genealogy.

Therefore, from the daughter’s perspective, the rich cultural imagery expressed

in folklore tradition operates as the keys to connect her with her mother, her Asian

American community, and her ancestral origin in Asia. Furthermore, the daughter

often attempts to gain her strength and wisdom by identifying herself with a

female character of a folklore story. An example of this can be found in the novel

Monkey Bridge by Vietnamese American author Lan Cao. Here in an effort to

manipulate her college interview, young Vietnamese refugee Mai attempts to fol-

low a strategy employed by the legendary Trung sisters, who prevented Chinese

invasions in Vietnam.

Among Asian American women writers, especially in the subgenre of mother-

daughter relationships, folklore tradition is generally used for celebrating the

strength of the ties among women and for proclaiming Asian/American feminism.

Thus, these authors often revise and modify the original stories to make them more

suitable for their own story lines. Mother-daughter narratives in Asian American

literature reveal the authors’ fertile imagination that contrives variations of the

folklore of their ethnic origins.

—Yasuko Kase

72 Pan Asian Americans: Mother-Daughter Narrative

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Further ReadingCao, Lan. Monkey Bridge. New York: Penguin, 1997.

Chu, Patricia P. “To Hide Her True Self”: Sentimentality and the Search for an Intersubjective

Self in Nora Okja Keller’s Comfort Woman.” In Eleanor Ty and Donald G. Goellnicht, eds.

Asian North American Identities: Beyond the Hyphen. Bloomington: Indiana University

Press, 61–83.

Keller, Nora Okja. Comfort Woman. New York: Penguin, 1997.

Kingston, Maxine Hong. The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood among Ghosts.

New York: Vintage International, 1989.

Tan, Amy. The Joy Luck Club. New York: Putnam, 1989.

Orientalism and Folklore

In his influential book Orientalism (1978), Palestinian American scholar Edward

W. Said (1935–2003) describes the relations between Western culture and imperi-

alism. According to Said, Western culture and knowledge are profoundly inter-

twined with the power of political system, and thus even the aesthetic and

epistemic values are not innocent from this system. Theoretically incorporating

Michel Foucault’s notion of discourse and Antonio Gramsci’s hegemony, Said

declares that Orientalism is a Western corporate institution of domination over

the Other, the Orient. In other words, Orientalism is an enormous hegemonic sys-

tem that produces cultural expressions about the Other to legitimize Western

colonial domination. In this unsymmetrical system of representation, the Other is

denied its own subject position for self-representation by being reduced to the

mere object of Western knowledge. The Orient is studied in academia, displayed

in museums, and illustrated in various cultural expressions by the West.

By extending Said’s theoretical notion of Orientalism, which is geographically

focused on the Middle East, to the studies about the particular racial subordination

of Asian Americans in U.S. society, the scholars of Asian American studies have

been developing arguments concerning problematic representations about Asian

Americans and the exoticization of their ethnic cultures including the folklore tradi-

tion in American mainstream society. Historically associated with foreignness

because of their inscribed racial Otherness, Asian Americans have needed to

strongly claim their denied American identity. Therefore, whereas Asian American

folklore tradition can strengthen their racial and ethnic pride by offering a rich cul-

tural heritage, it has also provoked either fetishization or stigmatization by main-

stream society and thus has evoked ambivalent feelings among Asian Americans

toward their own folk cultures. For example, as King-Kok Cheung points out, during

World War II Japanese Americans were forced to abandon their ethnic heritage,

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