Watching “Model Minority: Do the Math”


On Monday, I attended a movie showing, hosted by the MA Governor’s Asian American Commission, entitled “Model Minority: Do the Math”. The movie was created and produced by Teja Arboleda and Darby Li Po Price. The documentary closely examines the lives of Asian American/Pacific Islander (AAPI) students in University of Illinois, Chicago and dealing with the popular myth that all Asian Americans are hard workers and high overachievers and don’t complain about anything. Therefore, they do not need any form of outside help or service.

However, the documentary emphasize that this belief has become a barrier for Asian Americans preventing them from seeking opportunities and services such as academic assistance and counseling and other social services that are available to other students of color especially within a school setting (with the exception of universities like USC and Harvard). This disparity has become a significant social issue among AAPI and serious mental health problems and risks. According to the 2001-2007 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, 18% of Pacific Islander high school students attempted suicide, the highest in any group. Moreover, most AAPI students often feel alone and isolated because they don’t have people to talk to about their problems or seek help.  In addition, because the AAPI demographic is diverse of various ethnicities and nationalities, schools lack the resources to help distinct and individual types of groups. Instead they just lump all of the AAPI students into one box.

Moreover, this myth narrows the career paths for AAPI individuals specifically within the science and engineering fields, leaving them with an idea that they should all grow up to be doctors, engineers, and scientists. The movie emphasized when Asian Americans try to break out of those fields, they are greeted with criticism and judgment by their peers, parents and teachers and Non-Asians. I found this segment especially disheartening. There was one particular Indian student, interviewed by the film makers, stated rather solemnly she will be pursuing a medical career. But then, you later see her hiding in the library and secretly sketching elaborate clothing designs, clearly illustrating her desire to become a fashion designer (knowing that would be looked down upon). There were definitely a large number of AAPI students who stated that they wished they had taken more art and music classes to pursue their creativity and expression along with their math and science and other “practical” courses.

Towards the end of the documentary, there was some sort of a happy ending. The “closeted-artsy” students actually “rebelled” and changed their course work from science to the arts! (Yay!) Furthermore,  students at the University of Illinois, Chicago and AAPI faculty collaborate and work together to educate non-AAPI faculty and University staff about AAPI students and how to work with them and the need to provide them, the same sources, they provide to other students.

After finishing watching this documentary, I realized how lucky I was growing up to have parents and a supported community to not push me into a specific career path. My parents let me pursue my inner passions for the arts by participating in show choir and high school women’s choir and being in musicals and playing the violin and taking dance classes. They supported the college/career path I wanted to pursue. Moreover, when I had trouble in school either academically or socially, my school would offer counseling services and academic help services to make sure I am caught up. Overall, I hope more and more people watch this documentary and dispel their notions of the model minority and realize this demographic group need as many opportunities and resources to succeed as all students.