Mormon and Asian American Model Minority Discourses in News and Popular Magazines

Author: Chen, Chiung Hwang
News and popular magazines’ coverage of Mormons and Asian Americans in the past several decades have helped to construct a model minority stereotype of Mormons and Asian Americans. Journalists emphasize the economic success and apparently thrifty, hardworking, and self-reliant nature of members of both the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Asian American community. At the same time, journalists portray both groups as deviating from mainstream American culture and discursively place them as others, when compared to American norms. Unlike most negative stereotypes (“greedy Jews,” “criminal blacks,” “fighting Irish,” “savage American Indians,” “cunning Asians,” etc.), the model minority stereotype appears to celebrate both minority groups through depicting their success, hard work, and self-reliance. Positive stereotyping is preferable to negative stereotyping, yet still may be problematic in significant ways. At the same time the model minority stereotype seems to praise Mormons and Asian Americans, it also distances the groups from American norms and posits them as others who do not entirely belong within mainstream America.

This book situates news and popular magazines’ coverage of Asian Americans and Mormons within model minority discourse, explains the discourse’s problematic nature, and points out how the two discourses shape power relations between majorities and minorities in American society. The book employs critical discourse analysis, a powerful tool to uncover ideology within dominant discourses and challenge unequal power structures in society. By so doing, it aims to improve society for minority groups. The book also explores journalistic narrative. By following conventional narrative forms and shared cultural meanings, journalists often adopt established cultural norms and reinforce status quo ideologies. Chen’s goal is not simply to analyze the model minority discourse in news and popular magazines or merely to provide a critique of journalists’ conventional narrative forms. She also uses her analysis of journalistic discourse as a means of consciousness-raising—for both minority groups and journalists—and to further encourage alternative approaches to writing about minority groups. She provides ideas for journalists to improve coverage of the two groups and minorities in general.

In this book, the author employs a postethnic perspective in examining magazines’ model minority discourses. This perspective recognizes and respects differences between groups, as multiculturalists advocate, but it also searches for common experiences between groups and suggests that different group experiences may not be wholly unique and dissimilar. Comparing religious identity with ethno-racial identity promotes a deeper understanding of the treatment of minorities by American culture. Utilizing Foucault’s notion of discourse, Chen argues that magazine coverage of Mormon and Asian American success has created a discursive practice. Model minority notions pervade writings about Mormons and Asian Americans more completely than they would as simply stereotypes. Model minority discourse encompasses a complex set of ways to create meaning. It glorifies certain culturally dominant values and practices; at the same time, it positions a group of people as representatives of, but not full participants in, the social life of the majority.


“Dr. Chiung Hwang Chen does not shirk the responsibility of a scholar to tackle tough issues. Her concern is with how media construct our images of minorities in this country. In terms of media, she looks at magazines. In terms of minorities, she focuses on Mormons and Asian Americans. Magazines, as a representative of media, make sense. But why Mormons and Asian Americans? Probably because she’s a member of both minority groups. Her vantage point infuses her work in a way that lends plausibility and credibility to the contribution that she has made in advancing our understanding of minority groups in the United States….. This book operates at several levels. Indirectly and most fundamentally, the book confronts the question of what is it to be an American. Or, to put it more precisely: What is it to be “Americanized?” In a way the question envelops the whole of the history of the United States. For what is the composition of this nation if not a rainbow of human colors and a kaleidoscope of hopes and dreams? At another level, the book addresses key issues of assimilation and enculturation. How do assimilation and enculturation occur? Or, do they? Assuming they do, is there a middle ground for people—yielding to assimilation yet maintaining group identity? Not a melting pot per se. But more of a tossed salad imagery, as some maintain, or, as others of a gustatory bent argue, a nation given to cross-cultural stir fry—different cultures influencing and being influenced by other cultures. This change in our thinking about assimilation portends a change in the way we perceive of assimilation….. From an academic standpoint, the book will interest scholars from several disciplines, notably sociology and communication. Sociologists of immigration and assimilation will find fresh insights on how people different most others in religion and ethnicity cope with their environment. When and how perceptions of minority groups change over time have long been the subject of scholarly inquiry, and Dr. Chen contributes to this debate….Those interested in mass media, both as an academic enterprise as well as the production of content, will find much in this book to test their theories and practices. The book challenges the press to ask itself questions about the way it covers minorities, from the narrative or story-telling approach to the overall impact of culture on the practice of journalism.” – (From the Commendatory Preface) Dr. Kenneth Starck, The University of Iowa

Table of Contents

List of Tables
Preface by Kenneth Starck
1. Journalistic Narrative and Critical Discourse Analysis
2. Early Mormon Images
3. Mormon Model Minority Discourse
4. Early Asian American Image: The Yellow Peril
5. Asian American Model Minority Discourse
A Comparison and Some Suggestions for Media