I have recently been exploring Chiung Hwang Chen’s 2004 book Mormon and Asian American Model Minority Discourses in News and Popular Media which, along with her and her husband Ethan Yorgason’s 1999 Dialogue article, makes the case that the media has portrayed both Asian Americans and Mormons in the last fifty years utilizing what Asian American scholars have identified as a model minority discourse.  Although Chen is not a historian, the way that she tracks changes in representation over time feels quite historical and, in some ways, might be considered a continuation of what Terryl Givens was trying to do in The Viper on the Hearth.  Although I have some critiques of the book which I will get to later, I thought it might be relevant to also consider some of the advantages to her approach.
For example, Chen makes a powerful comparison between the historical path of Mormons and Asian Americans. Both groups represented the epitome of marginalization at the turn of the twentieth century. Chinese, Japanese, and Filipino immigrants came to represent the “Yellow Peril” that had the potential of overwhelming American communities on the West Coast both militarily and economically. Asian immigrants were considered inassimilable and even pathological which eventually led to laws created to bar their immigration to and restrict their economic participation in the United States. Asian Americans became the first group stigmatized as illegal aliens (a category that did not exist until the 1884 Chinese Exclusion Act) and were excluded from the American dream through measures such as Alien Land Laws (legislation which restricted all Asian immigrants from owning land). Mormons likewise suffered from overblown media portrayals. At the turn of the century, they still fought the perception that Mormons were evil, sex-starved polygamists at worst and foolish, backward bumpkins at best. Although Chen would benefit by incorporating some of Katherine Flake’s and Sally Gordon’s scholarship on this period, she presents a workable summary of the ways in which the media portrayed Mormons in the years before and following the Manifesto. 
Chen continues by showing how portrayals of both Mormons and Asian Americans had changed by the years following World War II. Her argument is much more nuanced, but, for the sake of time, I am trying to show the merits of her argument that Asian Americans and Mormons have suffered similar rhetorical treatment by the media over time. In the last fifty years, despite some notable exceptions, both Mormons and Asian Americans have been treated as model minorities by the media. News stories have gushed over their success in assimilating into mainstream American society. In documenting this transition, Chen builds on observations made by Alexander about the incredible transition that occurred in the church over the course of the twentieth century as well as a long historiography of Asian American scholars.  While the majority of other scholars have imperatively focused on the actions of Church leaders in affecting this change, Chen employs the comparative context of Asian Americans to argue how changing perceptions of both groups also reflected the discursive needs of society at large. The idea of the model minority allows American society to embrace those who are “safely” different because of their supposed assimilation into American society. These model minorities are portrayed in contrast to other minorities that represent foreignness, laziness, or inferiority. Although model minorities are accepted as conditional members of society, their position as minorities is never forgotten even as their role as “model” citizens feeds the American need for continued examples of the American progress.
I do find Chen’s easy grouping of Asians and Mormons as rhetorically equivalent groups a little troubling. Although many scholars have painted Mormons as an ethnic group-especially in the nineteenth century-I find myself a little skeptical. Chen, to her credit, acknowledges the differences and difficulties of the comparison she is making. She feels that the excavations uncovered by this comparison make the rhetorical slight of hand acceptable. Although I find the comparison even more problematic than she, I am inclined to agree about the fruitfulness of her project.
I found Chen’s argument fascinating in light of recent political events. The Mitt Romney presidential campaign would have presented Chen with ample evidence for the continued relevance of her conception of Mormons as model minorities. It seems that news organizations always focused on his success while at the same time mentioning the fact that he was Mormon. How many times did we hear that Romney was the most qualified candidate for president, but that he would have to find ways to win over Evangelical voters because he was Mormon? In the same moment, analysts acknowledged his place as a “model” politician while at the same time reiterating his minority status. Similar rhetorical maneuvering occurs regularly in portrayals of Asian Americans or Asians in general. Think about how the Chinese with the Olympics have been constantly portrayed as master organizers while at the time being authoritarian violators of human rights. I don’t want to downplay the reality and horror of China’s human rights violations, but it is interesting to see how the media want to have their cake and eat it too.
Finally, I just wanted to commend Chen’s work as one fruitful way for exploring Mormon history in the twentieth century without needing to use restricted sources to tell a relevant, fascinating story. Her work also represents a powerful example of finding imaginative ways to engage Mormon history while connecting it to a larger national story. Asian American scholars have argued that the model minority discourse was created in order to criticize minorities that were not “model” citizens. She argues that the Mormon model minority myth was created to regularize American conceptions of family and hard work. Chen posits that looking at national portrayals of Mormons and Asian Americans offers a way to better understand discourses of difference in American history. Has anyone else read her work? What do you think? What do you think about her comparison between Asian Americans and Mormons? Are there other reasons that you can think of why Mormons might have been portrayed as model minorities?
 Chiung Hwang Chen, Mormon and Asian American Model Minority Discourses in News and Popular Magazines (Lewistin, NY: The Edwin Mellon Press, 2004); Chiung Hwang Chen and Ethan Yorgason, “‘Those Amazing Mormons’: The Media’s Construction of Latter-day Saints as a Model Minority,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 32, no. 2 (1999): 107-128.
 Terryl Givens, The Viper on the Hearth: Mormons, Myths, and the Construction of Heresy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997).
 Sally Barringer Gordon, The Mormon Question: Polygamy and Constitutional Conflict in Nineteenth-Century America (Chapel Hills: The University of North Carolina Press, 2001); Kathleen Flake, The Politics of American Religious Identity: The Seating of Senator Reed Smoot, Mormon Apostle (Chapel Hills: The University of North Carolina Press, 2003).
 Thomas G. Alexander, Mormonism in Transition: A History of the Latter-day Saints, 1890-1930 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1986); Thomas K. Nakayama, “‘Model Minority’ and the Media: Discourse on Asian America, Journal of Communication Inquiry 12, no. 1 (1988): 65-73; Keith Osajima, “Asian Americans as the Model Minority: An Analysis of the Popular Press Image in the 1960s and 1980s, in Reflections on Shattered Windows: Promises and Prospects for Asian American Studies, ed. Gary Y. Okihiro et. al. (Pullman: Washington University Press, 1988), 165-174 .