Looking at the invisible minority

In a new book, English Professor David L. Eng and psychotherapist Shinhee Han illuminate the lives and struggles of Asian-American students over a 20-year period.

“Asian Americans are seen as model minorities, a stereotype suggesting that they’re all good at school, hardworking, rich, and compliant,” says David L. Eng, Richard L. Fisher Professor of English. “Race relations are still profoundly seen as a white and black phenomenon in the United States, and Asian Americans are liminal to that dynamic.”

Book cover of Racial Melancholia, Racial Dissociation

Eng points out that Asian Americans are included in diversity statistics at universities but not in affirmative action programs. They’re the poorest racial group in New York City but also the most stratified by wealth. Once repudiated and degraded (immigrants from Asian countries were banned from entering or naturalizing in the U.S. from the late 1800s until 1943), Asian Americans are now extolled—but, Eng believes, at a high cost. “In order to be seen, to be accepted by a dominant society, you are racialized as colorblind and socialized to be invisible.”

In their new book, “Racial Melancholia, Racial Dissociation: On the Social and Psychic Lives of Asian Americans,” Eng and coauthor Shinhee Han, a psychotherapist practicing in New York City, draw on more than 20 years of experience working with Asian and Asian-American students. “The classroom for me and the clinic for Shinhee have been social barometers of the changing patterns of immigration, assimilation, and racialization, from Generation X to Y,” he says.

Read the article by Susan Ahlborn in full at Omnia