Model Immigrant

Jin Kong is a guest research fellow with The Greater Cincinnati World Affairs Council (GCWAC) for the next six months. This fellowship is sponsored by The Mission Continues. Through this fellowship, Kong is researching to gain a better understanding of the populist sentiment towards immigrants in the Cincinnati region. This is one blog of many on his research of immigration and Cincinnati. To learn more about Jin Kong click here.


Research is similar to looking through a microscope: the subject is framed and the observer zooms in or out for clarity. In my research into this region’s editorials and Op-Eds on the topic of immigration, concepts such as “assimilation,”“citizenship,” and “deserving” persisted regardless of era or generation. There seem to be some importance they frame I’ve yet to see clearly. So, I decided to take a closer look; put these concepts under the proverbial microscope so to speak.

The kind of an immigration law this country needs is one that beyond any question whatever would make America inaccessible to any but desirables, and these only in such numbers as could be assimilated as citizens.

“They Shall Not Pass!” Cincinnati Enquirer, April 29, 1921

In 1965, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led the civil rights march in Alabama from Selma to Montgomery. The Voting Rights Act became law and the contested Moynihan Report was published. One year later, the United States had nearly 500,000 troops in Vietnam; the Miranda Rights became law; and William Petersen published his controversial New York Times article “Success Story, Japanese-American Style” in which he coined the term “model minority.”

But what is a model minority? And naturally to wonder, what is a prototypical modeled-after majority? Historically, “majority” of the world were ruled by hereditary monarchs, kings, emperors, and other types of privileged nobility. Nobility sets the standard from which society modeled, and birthright mattered.

Then came the French and American revolutions, which triggered an era of constitutional experiments. Self-determination overcame authoritarianism and “born-free” became the new aspiration. At the same time, the great world wars had propelled technology innovation, the condition was ripe for globalization. Varying social compacts developed and accelerated the spread of western democracy. Of the few, the United States constitutional representative democracy became the exciting new modeled-after majority, which people around the world envied.

The founding fathers of this country had achieved a feat when they set the American experiment on its course. However imperfect from a state of nature, Americans came together in hopes to form a more perfect union. Since all were supposedly created equal, we reasoned, no one has a natural right to govern others. Therefore, the only justifiable authority is the authority that is agreed upon by those to be governed. As such, the rights and obligations of individual citizenship were enumerated and contractually charged to the three branches of the government under the Constitution.

In the course of two-hundred and some years, we learned that “created equal” is something easier said than believed. The idea of “citizenship” became contentious. Not all are deemed equal to bargain for their rights under the Constitution. It took a while for emancipation, suffrage, and the eventual civil rights movement to help us gain some ground. But still today, concepts like the “model minority” is used to mark those deserving entitlements and those who are not deserving.

While the use of “model minority” itself seems harmless and well-intended, but it is contentious amongst rights activists. They argue that the concept itself perpetuates a hierarchy of “deservingness” to citizenship thereby creating two separate classes of person hood under the Constitution: one with full rights and privileges to enter into the social contract and be subjects of the Constitutional protection, and the other with less deserving of full person hood thereby relegated to the status of objects of the Constitution.

The very use of “model minority” then establishes a barrier for entry often aligned with another concept that emerged during my research: “assimilation”; which is often account for from fringe considerations including how one speaks American English, believes in American Christian religions, obey the laws, and embraces American values for success.

The concept of “model minority” should be recognized for what it is: a tacit consent to model after some person hood entitled: a citizen, a supremacist, a noble, a king, or whatever name you like. The United States experiment, as I see it, has no such thing. It is an explicit agreement in exchange for what’s earned in service to others and therefore elevated above any individual. The model of a constitutional person hood therefore has no race, color, sex, or ethnic origin; and it is an obligation owed more than rights earned. There can be no model minorities of any particular kind, only models from which the ideals of this country was funded.

The blog is in part of the Mission Continues blog series, written by Jin Kong and therefore all words and thoughts are his own and not a reflection of GCWAC. GCWAC nor Jin Kong owns any of the photos included. 


Model Immigrant — 2 Comments

  1. Jin. Interesting. It seems you equivocated model Minority with immigrant. I am not sure, nor does your blog really substantiate, this equivocation. Maybe it could be but off the top of my head, not sold.

    I am also not sure that you can say there is not a concept of a model citizen. Model is not about your race creed color or religion per se, but about your behavior, responsibility, and contributions as a citizen. Immigration then is about should we limit or control who is allowed to live in our country and attain the responsibility and privileges of citizens? And if we decide yes that some controls are indeed good for our country then what should those controls be and how they should be enacted? Perhaps our current national dialogue is to much about the second without first settling the first.

  2. Hi,

    As for the first, you raised an interesting question I noted during my research. When emancipation took place, the movement of African Americans between states were often referred to as “immigration.” Its a much more complex topic reserved for another inquiry.

    As for the second, I agree to the extent that some abstract sense of a model exist demonstrated by effort. In fact I hope that is the communicated meaning of my post? Or else I failed miserably as a writer. But I do not think control is the key. That requires reliance on enforcement. I’m one to prefer voluntary compliance (the “earned in service to others” that defines what the model should be). Cheers and thank you for commenting.

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