Asian Americans Lose Top Spot to a New Model Manatee
At the Washington Convention Center, over 2,000 delegates gathered at the annual convention of the American Coalition for the Advancement of Minorities to select a new Model Minority for 2020. Since the inception of the Model Minority in 1966, Asian Americans have been named every year with the exception of a brief period during the mid-1990s when the TV show Seinfeld was at its peak and Jewish Americans were given that title. This year, two groups tied for top spot after a record number of 21 ballots and 36 hours of deliberations. But ultimately, ACAM delegates voted for the Model Manatee.
“We are ecstatic and exhausted! This is the first time that a marine mammal has been chosen,” said Olisa Adebayo, a Nigerian member of the international delegation and a supporter of the Manatee, a Nigerian native animal. “I am proud that my fellow delegates were courageous and bold in making this historic decision. Manatees are an endangered species in my home country of Nigeria, but they are thriving in America. As an African, I believe that this was the best compromise that we could have hoped for.”
This year’s selection process was especially contentious due to the high support for the runner-up African Born Americans — the so-called Invisible Model Minority. Despite attaining higher academic achievements than Asian Americans, first-generation Africans who immigrated to the U.S. and their U.S. born children did not get enough votes after 21 ballots to secure the top spot this year. Supporters of African Born Americans eventually endorsed the manatee after a very long night of impassioned speeches, committee meetings and countless rounds of voting. But some ABA supporters stated that they are not happy with this decision and will file an appeal at a later date.
“I can’t believe they chose a marine mammal over us! Can’t we ever get a f*ckin’ break?” said an African American delegate who requested to remain anonymous. “Did you know that the manatee spends half of its day sleeping? How is that model behaviour? If I did that, some might call me lazy. There is clearly a double standard at play here.”
Other subgroups at this convention also voiced their concerns about this decree of the new Model Manatee. Practically all delegates agree that manatees are quite adorable and graceful. Early sea explorers used to mistaken them to be mermaids. However, many scholars argue that this label overlooks the diversity within the marine mammal species thus enabling most Americans to ignore the plight of many other marine mammals such as dolphins, whales and seals.
“Dolphins are highly social and intelligent creatures that deserve as much attention as the so-called Model Manatees. Frankly, I don’t even like to use that term,” said Harry Wu, Asian American Marine studies professor at the University of Calfornia, Oceanside. “Dolphins and other marine mammals are dying by the thousands every year in fishing nets.
By stereotyping all marine mammals as Model Manatees, we can just pat ourselves on the back and say ‘Job well done!’ when we really need to dig deeper and provide support to other marine mammals that have been left behind.”
As Wu wrote in his book The Myth of Model Manatee, politicians weaponized the term Model Manatee to pit one marine mammal species against another. “If the manatee managed to climb out of the endangered list in Florida, why can’t other marine mammals?” is a common excuse used by politicians and lawmakers in the panhandle to deny social programs and enacting progressive legislation to help whales that have been struggling due to declining fisheries and anti-whale sentiment. Whales are 20% more likely to be caught in fishing nets than Great White Sharks according to one nation-wide study suggesting that there is a bias among fishermen.
When asked to comment on the Model Manatee, Montague, a 48-year-old manatee from Florida, said, “I guess we should feel honoured to be chosen, but I have very mixed feelings towards it. Many of my whale friends in Florida have never recovered from off-shore drilling. Even some of my cousins are struggling and I don’t think that they would consider themselves to be model citizens.” Cold snaps due to climate change have been detrimental to manatee habitats off the coast of Florida.
Montague added that “his greatest fear is that the common use of Model Manatee will allow everyone to overlook many social and economic problems that still exist in many American minorities and marine mammal populations. I know that Asian Americans have carried this model label for 54 years, so I might sound like I’m overacting when we’re still on day one. I hope that we will use this media attention to shine a light on important marine mammal rights issues now so that no one is left behind. Cetacean lives matter!”