In her new book, Passing for Perfect, erin Khuê Ninh considers the factors that drove college imposters such as Azia Kim—who pretended to be a Stanford freshman—and Jennifer Pan—who hired a hitman to kill her parents before they found out she had never received her high school diploma—to extreme lengths to appear successful. Why would someone make such an illogical choice? And how do they stage these lies so convincingly, and for so long?
These outlier examples prompt Ninh to address the larger issue of the pressures and difficulties of striving to be a “model minority,” where failure is too ruinous to admit. Passing for Perfect insists that being a model minority is not a myth but is coded into one’s programming as an identity—a set of convictions and aspirations, regardless of present socioeconomic status or future attainability—and that the true cost of turning children into high-achieving professionals may be higher than anyone can bear.
erin Khuê Ninh is an Associate Professor of Asian American Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She is the author of Ingratitude: The Debt-Bound Daughter in Asian American Literature, which won the 2013 Literary Studies Book Award from the Association for Asian American Studies.