May 24, 2022 - News

Dispelling Iowa's Asian "model minority myth"

Percentage of Iowans 25 years or older who have graduated high school
Data: American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates; Chart: Simran Parwani/Axios Visuals

The stereotype that all Asian Americans in the U.S. are well-educated and successful — or the "model minority myth" — has long been used as a trope of how discrimination can be overcome.

  • But new numbers from the State Data Center shows that many in Iowa's AAPI community are actually suffering academically and financially, in comparison to the rest of the state.

Why it matters: The "model minority myth" not only erases the struggles Asian Americans face, it's also been weaponized and used against Latino and Black communities.

State of play: At face value, some statistics make it seem like Asian Americans in Iowa are doing just fine.

  • 51% of Iowa's Asian population who have a high school degree have also achieved a bachelor's degree or higher. That's a higher rate than any other race or ethnicity in the state.
  • Iowa's higher education rate for those 25 and older is 29%.

Yes, but: International students are also counted in Iowa's higher education rate, Trevalova Augustin, of the state's Office of Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs, told Axios.

Plus: Only 80% of Asian Americans 25 and older in Iowa have a high school degree, which is lower than the state's average of 92%.

By the numbers: The median household income for Asian Americans in Iowa is $58,341 — lower than the state's $61,691.

  • The poverty rate for Asian Americans is 14.5% — higher than the state's 11.2%. It's even higher for Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders — 34.1%.

What they're saying: In comparison to other states' AAPI populations, Iowa's has a large share of Southeast Asian people. That comes with its own unique challenges, said Christine Her, a Hmong American born in Des Moines who runs ArtForce Iowa.

  • Many Southeast Asian families fled war-torn countries and came to the U.S. recently as refugees, like those from Myanmar, Her said.
  • "They're not doing well, but they get lumped in with other Asian kids, like the Chinese and the Japanese who have been here for generations," Her said. "They're new to America. They don't have generations and ties of being here."

Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Des Moines.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Des Moines stories

Des Moinespostcard

Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Des Moines.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more