In their recent book JewAsian, Helen Kiyong Kim and Noah Samuel Leavitt (themselves a married couple) explore marriages between Jews and Asian-Americans, unions that, statistics suggest, seem to be disproportionately common. The vast majority of the couples they interview stressed that shared “cultural values”—which they often described as being particularly Jewish, Chinese, or Asian—brought them together. Kim and Leavitt also found that a majority of these couples have chosen to raise their children as Jews. In her review, Naomi Schaefer Riley skewers some of the conclusions they draw from their data:
Kim and Leavitt are concerned by the fact that these families seem to be doing less to emphasize Asian values. So they speculate: “Jewish American and Asian American couples may choose to instill Judaism in their children as a way of trading their minority racial status as Asian or racially ambiguous for a religious identity that is closely associated with whiteness in the United States.” This, of course, is complete academic rubbish. The most likely explanation is that it’s more difficult to pass down culture from one generation to another than to pass down religion. You can try to teach children to appreciate language or food or history. But it is religion that tends to last because it involves holy rituals that can be practiced regularly and together.
Kim and Leavitt, however, have a specific agenda. They are worried that the notion of a “model minority” is an invidious stereotype. “This narrative,” they write, “continues to support the ‘bootstraps’ model of advancement while also silencing not only Asian Americans who may not fit this model of advancement but also other racial and ethnic groups who may also hold the same values but may not be able to succeed because of institutional and racial [discrimination].”
[Other studies have] torn that fear to shreds by showing that Nigerians have much better outcomes in America than American-born blacks even though they would presumably suffer the same kinds of institutional discrimination—because of the values with which they are raised.
The aim of Kim and Leavitt in studying these marriages is not to figure out why they occur and why they seem to exhibit less tension than other intermarriages with regard to child-rearing. Instead, they wonder whether “both groups might eventually be permitted to see themselves differently, freed from the constraints of the model-minority narratives that bind . . . them.” For the sake of their children and the future of America, let’s hope not.