Dr. Andrea Louie Wins National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship

Dr. Louie next to a photo of Toy Len Goon operating a laundry press
Dr. Louie with a photo of her grandmother in the Guangdong Overseas Chinese Museum

Dr. Andrea Louie, Professor of Anthropology and founding director of the Asian Pacific American Studies Program at MSU, has been awarded a competitive 2020 National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship. The NEH Fellowship, worth $60,000, will support Dr. Louie to fully engage in her yearlong research project, culminating in a book titled Chinese American Mothering Across Generations: Toy Len Goon and the Creation and Recirculation of the Model Minority Myth (under contract with New York University Press). For her research, Dr. Louie will investigate the multiple narratives surrounding the story of Toy Len Goon, a Chinese immigrant who was selected as U.S. Mother of the Year in 1952.

Toy Len Goon, a Chinese American widow from Portland, Maine received widespread media attention after being selected as U.S. Mother of the Year by the American Mother’s Committee in 1952. Toy Len Goon was publicly lauded as a successful immigrant woman who had raised “good American citizens” after the death of her husband, a WWI U.S. veteran. She accomplished this while running the family’s hand laundry, and refusing welfare. While deserving of this honor, she was also chosen precisely because she was a Chinese American woman who could represent the virtues of mothering and upward socioeconomic mobility during the Cold War era. As the U.S. was trying to validate its claim as leader of the free world, her example was used to further the goals of containing Communism and integrating minorities into broader American society.

Although Dr. Louie is not the first to call attention to Toy Len Goon’s remarkable story, as Toy Len Goon’s granddaughter, and as a scholar of Asian American Studies and cultural anthropology, she is well positioned to examine the construction of the model minority myth embodied by this historical moment. Toy Len Goon was portrayed as a symbol of strong mothering, family values, and Chinese immigrant success. However, Dr. Louie believes that the public presentation of her story flattens out the complex relationships she had with both her Chinese homeland and the U.S., and does not do justice to the challenges she and her family faced.  

“I am grateful to have been awarded an NEH Fellowship to work on this project,” Dr. Louie expressed. “Toy Len Goon’s story is important to me not only because of my personal connection, but also because examining the various ways it has been told and interpreted allows us to think about how immigration narratives connect to broader questions of race, gender, and belonging in the nation, particularly in relation to Asian Americans as ‘model minorities.’ While these issues were important during the Cold War, they remain relevant today.”

Dr. Louie’s fellowship is among $30.9 million in grants awarded by the NEH for 188 humanities projects across the nation. Only eight percent of NEH Fellowship applicants were funded, with 99 fellowships approved out of 1,220 applicants across NEH’s four fellowship programs. For more information about the National Endowment for the Humanities, visit www.neh.gov. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this project do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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National Endowment for the Humanities official seal

08.23.20