Making and breaking the model minority myth
Today the Boston Globe profiled two Vietnamese American brothers who are both students at the Boston Latin School, one of the top public schools in the United States. Boston Latin is analogous to New York City’s famed (and very Asian) Stuyvesant High School in that they both take only students who score well on city-wide examinations; thus, Boston Latin students come from a broad spectrum of the city’s population. 15-year-old George Huynh and 17-year-old Johnny live in the impoverished neighborhood of Dorchester with their widowed mother, a Vietnamese immigrant who speaks no English. Their abusive father had committed suicide three years ago. The brothers struggle with poverty and a broken family, and are incredibly determined to move forward.
It’s a life of welfare, of food stamps, of Section 8 housing, of putting out cockroach and mouse traps at home. Hard, but not that unusual in their part of town. What is comparatively rare is their will to break out, and to do it together.
After high school, Johnny’s thinking, he would like to go to a local university and study computer science, because he’s been told that’s a pretty stable path, and stable sounds appealing. Maybe he can get married, he says. Maybe he can get a dog.
“I just want to fit in,’’ he says. “I’m tired of being known as that poor kid who is struggling.’’
This heartbreaking feature story manages to reinforce and break down the model minority myth at the same time. While the Huynh brothers are placed in a narrative of upward mobility in face of structural barriers, their story shows quite clearly that not all Asians in the US are experiencing the same success. The descriptions of the conditions in which they live and their mother’s retelling of her struggles with poverty, domestic violence, and mental health issues remind readers that a monolithic conception of Asian mobility does not account for every Asian American.
Photo: George (foreground) and Johnny on the bus. Photo credit: Boston Globe.