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Behind the Headlines: APA News Blog

Academic Version: Applying my personal experiences and academic research as a professor of Sociology and Asian American Studies to provide a more complete understanding of political, economic, and cultural issues and current events related to American race relations, and Asia/Asian America in particular.

Plain English: Trying to put my Ph.D. to good use.

July 12, 2011

Written by C.N.

New Books: Immigration at Community & Individual Level

In my last post, I looked at books that examine immigration at the institutional level. To complement that list, below are some recently-released books that highlight the issue of immigration on the community and individual level and provides a more ethnographic and personal account of how political, economic, and legal dynamics operate in the daily lives of immigrants and the neighborhoods in which they live. A book’s inclusion is for informational purposes only and does not necessarily mean a full endorsement of its contents.

Achieving Anew: How New Immigrants Do in American Schools, Jobs, and Neighborhoods, by Michael J. White and Jennifer E. Glick (Russell Sage Foundation)

'Achieving Anew' by White and Glick

Can the recent influx of immigrants successfully enter the mainstream of American life, or will many of them fail to thrive and become part of a permanent underclass? Achieving Anew examines immigrant life in school, at work, and in communities and demonstrates that recent immigrants and their children do make substantial progress over time, both within and between generations.

From policymakers to private citizens, our national conversation on immigration has consistently questioned the country’s ability to absorb increasing numbers of foreign nationals–now nearly one million legal entrants per year. Using census data, longitudinal education surveys, and other data, Michael White and Jennifer Glick place their study of new immigrant achievement within a context of recent developments in assimilation theory and policies regulating who gets in and what happens to them upon arrival.

They find that immigrant status itself is not an important predictor of educational achievement. First-generation immigrants arrive in the United States with less education than native-born Americans, but by the second and third generation, the children of immigrants are just as successful in school as native-born students with equivalent social and economic background. As with prior studies, the effects of socioeconomic background and family structure show through strongly. On education attainment, race and ethnicity have a strong impact on achievement initially, but less over time.

Looking at the labor force, White and Glick find no evidence to confirm the often-voiced worry that recent immigrants and their children are falling behind earlier arrivals. On the contrary, immigrants of more recent vintage tend to catch up to the occupational status of natives more quickly than in the past. Family background, educational preparation, and race/ethnicity all play a role in labor market success, just as they do for the native born, but the offspring of immigrants suffer no disadvantage due to their immigrant origins.

Although the picture is mixed and the continuing significance of racial factors remains a concern, Achieving Anew provides compelling reassurance that the recent wave of immigrants is making impressive progress in joining the American mainstream. The process of assimilation is not broken, the advent of a new underclass is not imminent, and the efforts to argue for the restriction of immigration based on these fears are largely mistaken.

Working in the Shadows: A Year of Doing the Jobs (Most) Americans Won’t Do, by Gabriel Thompson (Nation Books)

'Working in the Shadows' by Thompson

What is it like to do the back-breaking work of immigrants? To find out, Gabriel Thompson spent a year working alongside Latino immigrants, who initially thought he was either crazy or an undercover immigration agent. He stooped over lettuce fields in Arizona, and worked the graveyard shift at a chicken slaughterhouse in rural Alabama. He dodged taxis—not always successfully—as a bicycle delivery “boy” for an upscale Manhattan restaurant, and was fired from a flower shop by a boss who, he quickly realized, was nuts.

As one coworker explained, “These jobs make you old quick.” Back spasms occasionally keep Thompson in bed, where he suffers recurring nightmares involving iceberg lettuce and chicken carcasses. Combining personal narrative with investigative reporting, Thompson shines a bright light on the underside of the American economy, exposing harsh working conditions, union busting, and lax government enforcement—while telling the stories of workers, undocumented immigrants, and desperate US citizens alike, forced to live with chronic pain in the pursuit of $8 an hour.

Taking Local Control: Immigration Policy Activism in U.S. Cities and States, edited by Monica Varsanyi (Stanford University Press)

'Taking Local Control' by Varsanyi

With the number of undocumented immigrants in the United States at an all-time high and Congressional immigration reform seemingly at a standstill, cities and states across the nation have leapt into the fray, creating a wide range of policies—some more controversial than others—to address illegal immigration within their jurisdictions. These policies, both anti- and pro-immigrant in nature, run the gamut. Some call for the involvement of city police in immigration enforcement, debates over day laborer markets, the establishment of employer sanctions laws, and the implementation of anti-immigrant ordinances. Other policies call for cities and states to declare themselves “sanctuaries” for undocumented immigrants, passing laws to extend locally-funded health care and social services, offer English language training, and improve wages and working conditions.

While these state and local immigration policies continue to receive wide coverage in the popular press, they have received very little attention in the scholarly literature. This volume aims to fill the gap by offering perspectives from political scientists, legal scholars, sociologists, and geographers at the leading edge of this emerging field. Drawing on high profile case studies, the contributors seek to explain the explosion in state and local immigration policy activism, account for the policies that have been considered and passed, and explore the tensions that have emerged within communities and between different levels of government.

This timely entrant into the study of state and local immigration policy also illuminates the significant challenges and opportunities of comprehensive immigration reform, highlights the range of issues at stake, and charts a future research agenda that will more deeply explore the impacts of these policies on immigrant communities.

Immigrants Raising Citizens: Undocumented Parents and Their Young Children, by Hirokazu Yoshikawa (Russell Sage Foundation)

'Immigrants Raising Children' by Yoshikawa

There are now nearly four million children born in the United States who have undocumented immigrant parents. In the current debates around immigration reform, policymakers often view immigrants as an economic or labor market problem to be solved, but the issue has a very real human dimension. Immigrant parents without legal status are raising their citizen children under stressful work and financial conditions, with the constant threat of discovery and deportation that may narrow social contacts and limit participation in public programs that might benefit their children.

Immigrants Raising Citizens offers a compelling description of the everyday experiences of these parents, their very young children, and the consequences these experiences have on their children’s development. It challenges conventional wisdom about undocumented immigrants, viewing them not as lawbreakers or victims, but as the parents of citizens whose adult productivity will be essential to the nation’s future. The book’s findings are based on data from a three-year study of 380 infants from Dominican, Mexican, Chinese, and African American families, which included in-depth interviews, in-home child assessments, and parent surveys.

The book shows that undocumented parents share three sets of experiences that distinguish them from legal-status parents and may adversely influence their children’s development: avoidance of programs and authorities, isolated social networks, and poor work conditions. Fearing deportation, undocumented parents often avoid accessing valuable resources that could help their children’s development such as access to public programs and agencies providing child care and food subsidies. At the same time, many of these parents are forced to interact with illegal entities such as smugglers or loan sharks out of financial necessity. Undocumented immigrants also tend to have fewer reliable social ties to assist with child care or share information on child-rearing.

Compared to legal-status parents, undocumented parents experience significantly more exploitive work conditions, including long hours, inadequate pay and raises, few job benefits, and limited autonomy in job duties. These conditions can result in ongoing parental stress, economic hardship, and avoidance of center-based child care which is directly correlated with early skill development in children. The result is poorly developed cognitive skills, recognizable in children as young as two years old, which can negatively impact their future school performance and, eventually, their job prospects.

Immigrants Raising Citizens has important implications for immigration policy, labor law enforcement, and the structure of community services for immigrant families. In addition to low income and education levels, undocumented parents experience hardships due to their status that have potentially lifelong consequences for their children. With nothing less than the future contributions of these children at stake, the book presents a rigorous and sobering argument that the price for ignoring this reality may be too high to pay.

Nowhere to Be Home: Narratives From Survivors of Burma’s Military Regime, edited by Maggie Lemere and Zoe West (McSweeney Publishing)

'Nowhere to be Home' by Lemere and West

Decades of military oppression in Burma have led to the systematic destruction of thousands of ethnic minority villages, a standing army with one of the world’s highest number of child soldiers, and the displacement of millions of people. Nowhere to Be Home is an eye-opening collection of oral histories exposing the realities of life under military rule. In their own words, men and women from Burma describe their lives in the country that Human Rights Watch has called “the textbook example of a police state.”


July 7, 2011

Written by C.N.

New Books: Immigration at the Institutional Level

Below are some recently-released books that highlight the issue of immigration on the institutional level and how political, economic, and legal dynamics operate at the level of social institutions. A corresponding overview of books that look at immigration at the community and individual level is coming shortly. A book’s inclusion is for informational purposes only and does not necessarily mean a full endorsement of its contents.

Immigration Worldwide: Policies, Practices, and Trends, edited by Uma A. Segal, Doreen Elliott, and Nazneen S. Mayadas (Oxford University Press)

'Immigration Worldwide' by Segal, Elliott, and Mayadas

The ease of transportation, the opening of international immigration policies, the growing refugee movements, and the increasing size of unauthorized immigrant populations suggest that immigration worldwide is a phenomenon of utmost importance to professionals who develop policies and programs for, or provide services to, immigrants. Immigration occurs in both the wealthy nations of the global North and the poorer countries of the global South; it involves individuals who arrive with substantial human capital and those with little. It has far-reaching implications for a nation’s economy, public policies, social and health services, and culture.

The purpose of this volume, therefore, is to explore current patterns and policies of immigration in key countries and regions across the globe and analyze the implications for these countries and their immigrant populations. Each of its chapters, written by an international and interdisciplinary group of experts, explores how country conditions, policies, values, politics, and attitudes influence the process of immigration and subsequently affect immigrants, migration, and the nation itself.

No other volume explores the landscape of worldwide immigration as broadly as this does, with sweeping coverage of countries and empirical research, together with an analytic framework that sets the context of human migration against a wide backdrop of experiential factors that take shape long before an immigrant enters a host country. At once a sourcebook and an applied model of immigration studies, Immigration Worldwide is a valuable reference for scholars and students seeking a wide-ranging yet nuanced survey of the key issues salient to debates about the programs and policies that best serve immigrant populations and their host countries.

International Migration in the Age of Crisis and Globalization: Historical and Recent Experiences, by Andrés Solimano (Cambridge University Press)

'Intl. Migration in the Age of Crisis and Globalization' by Solimano

The international mobility of people and elites is a main feature of the global economy of today and yesterday. Immigration augments the labor force in receiving countries and provides many of the bodies and minds that are essential to any vibrant economy. Talented people are critical to the transfer of knowledge, ideas, fresh capital, contacts, and entrepreneurial capacities. This book is based on a blend of theory, varied country examples, and rich historical material ranging from the mid-nineteenth century to the early twenty-first century.

It discusses the conceptual underpinnings of the push and pull factors of current migration waves and their impacts for development on the source and receiving countries. The analysis reviews the historical context under which various migration experiences have taken place – both in periods of internationalism and in periods of nationalism – in order to contribute to debates on the desirability of and tensions and costs involved in the current process of international migration and globalization. These issues are relevant during both times of economic slumps and times of economic growth.

Weapons of Mass Migration: Forced Displacement, Coercion, and Foreign Policy, by Kelly M. Greenhill (Cornell University Press)

'Weapons of Mass Migration' by Greenhill

At first glance, the U.S. decision to escalate the war in Vietnam in the mid-1960s, China’s position on North Korea’s nuclear program in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and the EU resolution to lift what remained of the arms embargo against Libya in the mid-2000s would appear to share little in common. Yet each of these seemingly unconnected and far-reaching foreign policy decisions resulted at least in part from the exercise of a unique kind of coercion, one predicated on the intentional creation, manipulation, and exploitation of real or threatened mass population movements. In Weapons of Mass Migration, Kelly M. Greenhill offers the first systematic examination of this widely deployed but largely unrecognized instrument of state influence. She shows both how often this unorthodox brand of coercion has been attempted (more than fifty times in the last half century) and how successful it has been (well over half the time). She also tackles the questions of who employs this policy tool, to what ends, and how and why it ever works.

Coercers aim to affect target states’ behavior by exploiting the existence of competing political interests and groups, Greenhill argues, and by manipulating the costs or risks imposed on target state populations. This ‘coercion by punishment’ strategy can be effected in two ways: the first relies on straightforward threats to overwhelm a target’s capacity to accommodate a refugee or migrant influx; the second, on a kind of norms-enhanced political blackmail that exploits the existence of legal and normative commitments to those fleeing violence, persecution, or privation. The theory is further illustrated and tested in a variety of case studies from Europe, East Asia, and North America. To help potential targets better respond to–and protect themselves against–this kind of unconventional predation, Weapons of Mass Migration also offers practicable policy recommendations for scholars, government officials, and anyone concerned about the true victims of this kind of coercion–the displaced themselves.

Not Fit for Our Society: Immigration and Nativism in America, by Peter Schrag (University of California Press)

'Not Fit for Our Society' by Schrag

In a book of deep and telling ironies, Peter Schrag provides essential background for understanding the fractious debate over immigration. Covering the earliest days of the Republic to current events, Schrag sets the modern immigration controversy within the context of three centuries of debate over the same questions about who exactly is fit for citizenship. He finds that nativism has long colored our national history, and that the fear–and loathing–of newcomers has provided one of the faultlines of American cultural and political life.

Schrag describes the eerie similarities between the race-based arguments for restricting Irish, German, Slav, Italian, Jewish, and Chinese immigrants in the past and the arguments for restricting Latinos and others today. He links the terrible history of eugenic “science” to ideas, individuals, and groups now at the forefront of the fight against rational immigration policies. Not Fit for Our Society makes a powerful case for understanding the complex, often paradoxical history of immigration restriction as we work through the issues that inform, and often distort, the debate over who can become a citizen, who decides, and on what basis.

Asian Immigration to the United States, by Philip Q. Yang (Polity Press)

'Asian Immigration to the U.S.' Yang

In her research on popular culture of the Vietnamese diaspora, Nhi T. Lieu explores how people displaced by war reconstruct cultural identity in the aftermath of migration. Embracing American democratic ideals and consumer capitalism prior to arriving in the United States, postwar Vietnamese refugees endeavored to assimilate and live the American Dream. In The American Dream in Vietnamese, she claims that nowhere are these fantasies played out more vividly than in the Vietnamese American entertainment industry.

Lieu examines how live music variety shows and videos, beauty pageants, and Web sites created by and for Vietnamese Americans contributed to the shaping of their cultural identity. She shows how popular culture forms repositories for conflicting expectations of assimilation, cultural preservation, and invention, alongside gendered and classed dimensions of ethnic and diasporic identity.

The American Dream in Vietnamese demonstrates how the circulation of images manufactured by both Americans and Vietnamese immigrants serves to produce these immigrants’ paradoxical desires. Within these desires and their representations, Lieu finds the dramatization of the community’s struggle to define itself against the legacy of the refugee label, a classification that continues to pathologize their experiences in American society.


April 12, 2011

Written by C.N.

New Books: Assimilation and Contemporary Culture

Below are a few more recently-released books that highlight Asian Americans, immigration, and/or other racial/ethnic groups along a variety of historical and contemporary sociological issues. A book’s inclusion is for informational purposes only and does not necessarily mean a full endorsement of its contents.

These new titles explore various dimensions of cultural assimilation among Asian Americans and illustrate different ways in which Asian Americans are integrated into the rest of U.S. society and its institutions.

The New Chinese America: Class, Economy, and Social Hierarchy, by Xiaojian Zhao (Rutgers University Press)

'The New Chinese America' by Xiaojian Zhao

The 1965 Immigration Act altered the lives and outlook of Chinese Americans in fundamental ways. The New Chinese America explores the historical, economic, and social foundations of the Chinese American community, in order to reveal the emergence of a new social hierarchy after 1965. In this detailed and comprehensive study of contemporary Chinese America, Xiaojian Zhao uses class analysis to illuminate the difficulties of everyday survival for poor and undocumented immigrants and analyzes the process through which social mobility occurs.

Through ethnic ties, Chinese Americans have built an economy of their own in which entrepreneurs can maintain a competitive edge given their access to low-cost labor; workers who are shut out of the mainstream job market can find work and make a living; and consumers can enjoy high quality services at a great bargain. While the growth of the ethnic economy enhances ethnic bonds by increasing mutual dependencies among different groups of Chinese Americans, it also determines the limits of possibility for various individuals depending on their socioeconomic and immigration status.

My Mom is a Fob: Earnest Advice in Broken English from Your Asian-American Mom, by Teresa Wu and Serena Wu (Perigree Trade Publishing)

'My Mom is a Fob'

Fob (noun)-derived from the acronym F.O.B. (“Fresh off the Boat”). Does your mom still make Peking duck instead of turkey on Thanksgiving, own a giant cleaver, or take twenty-four more napkins than she needs at Chipotle? Your mom may be a fob.

Through their hit blog “My Mom Is a Fob,” Teresa and Serena Wu have seized ownership of this formerly derogatory term, applying it instead to the heartfelt, hilarious, and thoroughly unique ways that Asian mothers adapt to American culture, from the perspective of those who love them most: their children. Through texts, emails, phone calls, and more, My Mom Is a Fob showcases the stories of a community of Asian-American kids who know exactly what it’s like to be on the receiving end of that amazing, unconditional, and sometimes misspelled love.

It’s about those Asian mothers who refuse to get in the car without their sun-protective arm sheaths, the ones who send us passive-aggressive text messages “from the dog” in hopes that we’ll call home, and email us unsolicited advice about everything from homosexuality to constipation. In these pages you’ll find solace in the fact that thousands of moms out there are as painfully nosy, unintentionally hilarious, and endearingly fobby as yours is.

The Beautiful Generation: Asian Americans and the Cultural Economy of Fashion, by Thuy Linh Nguyen Tu (Duke University Press)

'The Beautiful Generation' by Thuy Linh Nguyen Tu

Since the 1990s, young Asian Americans including Doo-Ri Chung, Derek Lam, Thakoon Panichgul, Alexander Wang, and Jason Wu have emerged as leading fashion designers. They have won prestigious awards, been chosen to head major clothing labels, and had their designs featured in Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and other fashion magazines. At the same time that these designers were rising to prominence, the fashion world was embracing Asian chic. During the 1990s, “Asian” shapes, fabrics, iconography, and colors filled couture runways and mass-market clothing racks.

In The Beautiful Generation, Thuy Linh Nguyen Tu explores the role of Asian American designers in New York’s fashion industry, paying particular attention to how they relate to the garment workers who produce their goods and to Asianness as a fashionable commodity. She draws on conversations with design students, fashion curators, and fashion publicists; interviews with nearly thirty Asian American designers who have their own labels; and time spent with those designers in their shops and studios, on their factory visits, and at their fashion shows. The Beautiful Generation links the rise of Asian American designers to historical patterns of immigration, racial formation, and globalized labor, and to familial and family-like connections between designers and garment workers.

Race for Citizenship: Black Orientalism and Asian Uplift from Pre-Emancipation to Neoliberal America, by Helen Jun (New York University Press)

'Race for Citizenship' by Helen Jun

Helen Heran Jun explores how the history of U.S. citizenship has positioned Asian Americans and African Americans in interlocking socio-political relationships since the mid nineteenth century. Rejecting the conventional emphasis on ‘inter-racial prejudice,’ Jun demonstrates how a politics of inclusion has constituted a racial Other within Asian American and African American discourses of national identity.

Race for Citizenship examines three salient moments when African American and Asian American citizenship become acutely visible as related crises: the ‘Negro Problem’ and the ‘Yellow Question’ in the mid- to late 19th century; World War II-era questions around race, loyalty, and national identity in the context of internment and Jim Crow segregation; and post-Civil Rights discourses of disenfranchisement and national belonging under globalization.

Taking up a range of cultural texts—the 19th century black press, the writings of black feminist Anna Julia Cooper, Asian American novels, African American and Asian American commercial film and documentary—Jun does not seek to document signs of cross-racial identification, but instead demonstrates how the logic of citizenship compels racialized subjects to produce developmental narratives of inclusion in the effort to achieve political, economic, and social incorporation. Race for Citizenship provides a new model of comparative race studies by situating contemporary questions of differential racial formations within a long genealogy of anti-racist discourse constrained by liberal notions of inclusion.

The American Dream in Vietnamese, by Nhi T. Lieu (University of Minnesota Press)

'The American Dream in Vietnamese' by Nhi T. Lieu

In her research on popular culture of the Vietnamese diaspora, Nhi T. Lieu explores how people displaced by war reconstruct cultural identity in the aftermath of migration. Embracing American democratic ideals and consumer capitalism prior to arriving in the United States, postwar Vietnamese refugees endeavored to assimilate and live the American Dream. In The American Dream in Vietnamese, she claims that nowhere are these fantasies played out more vividly than in the Vietnamese American entertainment industry.

Lieu examines how live music variety shows and videos, beauty pageants, and Web sites created by and for Vietnamese Americans contributed to the shaping of their cultural identity. She shows how popular culture forms repositories for conflicting expectations of assimilation, cultural preservation, and invention, alongside gendered and classed dimensions of ethnic and diasporic identity.

The American Dream in Vietnamese demonstrates how the circulation of images manufactured by both Americans and Vietnamese immigrants serves to produce these immigrants’ paradoxical desires. Within these desires and their representations, Lieu finds the dramatization of the community’s struggle to define itself against the legacy of the refugee label, a classification that continues to pathologize their experiences in American society.


February 3, 2010

Written by C.N.

Orientalism in Mainstream Book Covers

For those who are unfamiliar, “Orientalism” is a term used by academics and cultural critics that generally refers to a set of biases, stereotypes, cultural images, and popular portrayals of Asians and/or Asian Americans — individually, nationally, or institutionally — as exotic, hypersexual, submissive, effeminate, dangerous, and/or inferior. Orientalism is frequently manifested in the overrepresentations of Asians and Asian Americans in mainstream TV shows and movies as one-dimensional geisha, ninja, prostitute, or martial arts characters.

As another examples, my fellow sociologist bloggers at Sociological Images alerted me to an interesting post by Caustic Cover Critic (CCC) that examines stereotypical elements in mainstream books and novels about China or Japan:

If you’re designing a cover for a book by a Chinese or Japanese writer, or with a Chinese or Japanese setting, it seems that there are some compulsory elements which must be included. For variety’s sake, there are four elements, but you MUST use at least one of them. Advanced designers, of course, may use two or more.

To summarize CCC’s post, the four elements (with some example covers) are:

#1: Blossoms

Element 1: BlossomsElement 1: BlossomsElement 1: Blossoms

#2: Fans

Element 2: FansElement 2: FansElement 2: Fans

#3: Dragons

Element 3: DragonsElement 3: DragonsElement 3: Dragons

#4: A Woman’s Neck

Element 4: Woman's NeckElement 4: Woman's Neck

As you can see, these elements are present in books that are written by both Asians/Asian Americans and non-Asians. In other words, even Asian and Asian American writers are not immune to Orientalist tendencies. In those cases, my guess is that such Asian/Asian American authors are “encouraged” (or perhaps even “compelled”) by their publishers (who are almost always American) to create these kinds of Orientalist covers to appeal to American perceptions and stereotypes of China, Japan, and other Asian countries and societies.

Either way, it is indeed sad to see that at least judging by these book covers, mainstream American society sees Asian and Asian American culture in such a one-dimensional and stereotypical way. As one of my colleagues once said to me, “It’s exhausting to be exotic.”


November 19, 2009

Written by C.N.

New Books: Different Aspects of Asian American Life

As part of this blog’s mission of making academic research and data more easily accessible, understandable, and applicable to a wider audience and to practical, everyday social issues, I highlight new sociological books about Asian Americans and other racial/ethnic groups as I hear about them. A book’s inclusion is for informational purposes only and does not necessarily mean a full endorsement of its complete contents.

While these three new books focus on their own particular detail of Asian American life, together they contribute to a larger and fuller understanding of the variety of issues that connect all Asian Americans, and Asian Americans to the rest of American society:

Asian Americans in New England: Culture and Community, edited by Monica Chiu (University Press of New England)

Asian Americans in New England, edited by Monica Chiu

This collection, the first to address Asian and Asian Americans’ contributions to New England, highlights a broad range of Asian American communities and historical experiences. From the poignant writings of a young Chinese immigrant to the influence of hip-hop in a New Hampshire Lao community, this original and unique collection seeks to establish a regional template for the study of Asian American lives and art far from the West Coast.

These essays provide not just a record of particular achievements but a full and vigorous engagement with Asian American culture along with an analysis of the depiction of Asian Americans in New England. This is an important and timely collection highlighting the creativity and diversity of one of the fastest-growing minority populations in the region.

The Cultural Capital of Asian American Studies: Autonomy and Representation in the University, by Mark Chiang (New York University Press)

The Cultural Capital of Asian American Studies, by Mark Chiang

Originating in the 1968 student-led strike at San Francisco State University, Asian American Studies was founded as a result of student and community protests that sought to make education more accessible and relevant. While members of the Asian American communities initially served on the departmental advisory boards, planning and developing areas of the curriculum, university pressures eventually dictated their expulsion. At that moment in history, the intellectual work of the field was split off from its relation to the community at large, giving rise to the entire problematic of representation in the academic sphere.

Even as the original objectives of the field have remained elusive, Asian American studies has nevertheless managed to establish itself in the university. Mark Chiang argues that the fundamental precondition of institutionalization within the university is the production of cultural capital, and that in the case of Asian American Studies (as well as other fields of minority studies), the accumulation of cultural capital has come primarily from the conversion of political capital.

In this way, the definition of cultural capital becomes the primary terrain of political struggle in the university, and outlines the very conditions of possibility for political work within the academy. Beginning with the theoretical debates over identity politics and cultural nationalism, and working through the origins of ethnic studies in the Third World Strike, the formation of the Asian American literary field, and the Blue’s Hanging controversy, The Cultural Capital of Asian American Studies articulates a new and innovative model of cultural and academic politics, illuminating the position of ethnic studies within the American university.

The Viet Kieu in America: Personal Accounts of Postwar Immigrants from Vietnam, edited by Nghia M. Vo (McFarland Publishing)

The Viet Kieu in America, edited by Nghia M. Vo

Vietnamese make up one of the largest refugee populations in the United States, some arriving by boat in 1975 after the fall of Saigon and others coming in the 1990s. This collection of 22 essays by 14 authors illuminates Vietnamese-American culture, views of freedom and oppression, and the issues of relocation, assimilation and transition for two million people. It contains personal experiences of the Vietnam War, life under Communist rule, and escape to America.


October 2, 2009

Written by C.N.

New Books: Achieving Racial Equality

As part of this blog’s mission of making academic research and data more easily accessible, understandable, and applicable to a wider audience and to practical, everyday social issues, I highlight new sociological books about Asian Americans and other racial/ethnic groups as I hear about them.

As some of my readers have lamented, one of the drawbacks about looking at racial issues is that much of the research and writing focuses on the negatives — what’s wrong with the situation, who/which groups is/are hurt the most, how society is not just flawed but even responsible for the mess, etc. With that in mind, these new books look at the positives and successes — how we can and have moved forward toward more racial equality.

Blurring the Color Line: The New Chance for a More Integrated America, by Richard Alba (Harvard University Press)

Blurring the Color Line by Richard Alba

Richard Alba argues that the social cleavages that separate Americans into distinct, unequal ethno-racial groups could narrow dramatically in the coming decades. During the mid-twentieth century, the dominant position of the United States in the postwar world economy led to a rapid expansion of education and labor opportunities. As a result of their newfound access to training and jobs, many ethnic and religious outsiders, among them Jews and Italians, finally gained full acceptance as members of the mainstream.

Alba proposes that this large-scale assimilation of white ethnics was a result of “non-zero-sum mobility,” which he defines as the social ascent of members of disadvantaged groups that can take place without affecting the life chances of those who are already members of the established majority.

Alba shows that non-zero-sum mobility could play out positively in the future as the baby-boom generation retires, opening up the higher rungs of the labor market. Because of the changing demography of the country, many fewer whites will be coming of age than will be retiring. Hence, the opportunity exists for members of other groups to move up.

However, Alba cautions, this demographic shift will only benefit disadvantaged American minorities if they are provided with access to education and training. In Blurring the Color Line, Alba explores a future in which socially mobile minorities could blur stark boundaries and gain much more control over the social expression of racial differences.

New Common Ground: A New America, A New World, by Amitai Etzioni (Potomac Books)

New Common Ground by Amitai Etzioni

Race, age, political affiliation, country of origin, native language—too often Americans define themselves, and are defined, by the differences that separate them. But if the 2008 presidential campaign has taught us anything, it is that we as a people want to look beyond these divisions to the values and interests that unite us.

New Common Ground embodies this zeitgeist, showing the ways that traditional boundaries among ethnic groups, political ideologies, and generations are blurring, and how to hasten the process. New Common Ground demonstrates that even though the deepest divide in America is said to be racial, the differences in viewpoints and values among races are declining, even in an age of increased intermarriage.

On immigration and other controversial matters, Etzioni argues for diversity within unity and the means to achieve that necessary end. New Common Ground is a provocative and insightful look into how we as Americans can reach consensus not just in spite of our diversity but also in ways that strengthen our commitment to the good of one and all as we seek to overcome the divisiveness that sometimes results from identity politics. The book closes by looking beyond our shores to the bridges that bring America closer to the rest of the world.

Chains of Babylon: The Rise of Asian America, by Daryl J. Maeda (University of Minnesota Press)

Chains of Babylon by Daryl J. Maeda

In Chains of Babylon, Daryl J. Maeda presents a cultural history of Asian American activism in the late 1960s and early 1970s, showing how the movement created the category of “Asian American” to join Asians of many ethnicities in racial solidarity. Drawing on the Black Power and antiwar movements, Asian American radicals argued that all Asians in the United States should resist assimilation and band together to oppose racism within the country and imperialism abroad.

As revealed in Maeda’s in-depth work, the Asian American movement contended that people of all Asian ethnicities in the United States shared a common relationship to oppression and exploitation with each other and with other nonwhite peoples. In the early stages of the civil rights era, the possibility of assimilation was held out to Asian Americans under a model minority myth.

Maeda insists that it was only in the disruption of that myth for both African Americans and Asian Americans in the 1960s and 1970s that the full Asian American culture and movement he describes could emerge. Maeda challenges accounts of the post-1968 era as hopelessly divisive by examining how racial and cultural identity enabled Asian Americans to see eye-to-eye with and support other groups of color in their campaigns for social justice.

Asian American opposition to the war in Vietnam, unlike that of the broader antiwar movement, was predicated on understanding it as a racial, specifically anti-Asian genocide. Throughout he argues that cultural critiques of racism and imperialism, the twin “chains of Babylon” of the title, informed the construction of a multiethnic Asian American identity committed to interracial and transnational solidarity.


September 17, 2009

Written by C.N.

New Book: Asian-White Interracial Marriage

As part of this blog’s mission of making academic research and data more easily accessible, understandable, and applicable to a wider audience and to practical, everyday social issues, I highlight new sociological books about Asian Americans and other racial/ethnic groups as I hear about them.

This particular book examines a consistently controversial and hot-button topic among all Americans, but particularly Asian Americans — interracial dating and marriage. The author’s findings are not likely to end the disagreements about the racial and gender dynamics inherent within such unions and may even add more fuel to the fire, but nonetheless it is a worthy contribution to the discussion.

Racing Romance: Love, Power, and Desire Among Asian American/ White Couples, by Kumiko Nemoto (Rutgers University Press)

Racing Romance by Kumiko Nemoto

Despite being far from the norm, interracial relationships are more popular than ever. Racing Romance sheds special light on the bonds between Whites and Asian Americans, an important topic that has not garnered well-deserved attention until now. Incorporating life-history narratives and interviews with those currently or previously involved with an interracial partner, Kumiko Nemoto addresses the contradictions and tensions — a result of race, class, and gender — that Asian Americans and Whites experience.

Similar to Black/White relationships, stereotypes have long played crucial roles in Asian American/White encounters. Partners grapple with media representations of Asian women as submissive or hypersexual and Asian men are often portrayed as weak laborers or powerful martial artists. Racing Romance reveals how allegedly progressive interracial relationships remain firmly shaped by the logic of patriarchy and gender inherent to the ideal of marriage, family, and nation in America, even as this ideal is juxtaposed with discourses of multiculturalism and color blindness.


September 4, 2009

Written by C.N.

New Books: Emerging Perspectives of Color

As part of this blog’s mission of making academic research and data more easily accessible, understandable, and applicable to a wider audience and to practical, everyday social issues, I highlight new sociological books about Asian Americans and other racial/ethnic groups as I hear about them.

The following two books connect history with the emerging 21st century from the point of view of African American and indigenous groups, respectively.

The End of White World Supremacy: Black Internationalism and the Problem of the Color Line, by Rod Bush (Temple University Press)

The End of White World Supremacy by Roderick Bush

The End of White World Supremacy explores a complex issue— integration of Blacks into White America—from multiple perspectives: within the United States, globally, and in the context of movements for social justice. Roderick Bush locates himself within a tradition of African American activism that goes back at least to W.E.B. Du Bois. In so doing, he communicates between two literatures—worldsystems analysis and radical Black social movement history—and sustains the dialogue throughout the book.

Bush explains how racial troubles in the U.S. are symptomatic of the troubled relationship between the white and dark worlds globally. Beginning with an account of white European dominance leading to capitalist dominance by White America, The End of White World Supremacy ultimately wonders whether, as Myrdal argued in the 1940s, the American creed can provide a pathway to break this historical conundrum and give birth to international social justice.

Indigenous Peoples and Globalization: Resistance and Revitalization, by Thomas Hall and James Fenelon (Paradigm Publishers)

Indigenous Peoples and Globalization by Hall and Fenelon

The issues native peoples face intensify with globalization. Through case studies from around the world, Hall and Fenelon demonstrate how indigenous peoples? movements can only be understood by linking highly localized processes with larger global and historical forces.

The authors show that indigenous peoples have been resisting and adapting to encounters with states for millennia. Unlike other anti-globalization activists, indigenous peoples primarily seek autonomy and the right to determine their own processes of adaptation and change, especially in relationship to their origin lands and community. The authors link their analyses to current understandings of the evolution of globalization.


August 28, 2009

Written by C.N.

New Books: Chinatowns & Little Saigons

As part of this blog’s mission of making academic research and data more easily accessible, understandable, and applicable to a wider audience and to practical, everyday social issues, I highlight new sociological books about Asian Americans and other racial/ethnic groups as I hear about them. This time around, two new books examine the history and contemporary dynamics of two sets of Asian American enclaves: Chinatowns and Little Saigons.

Little Saigons: Staying Vietnamese in America, by Karin Aguilar-San Juan (University of Minnesota Press)

Little Saigons by Karin-Aguilar-San Juan

Karin Aguilar-San Juan examines the contradictions of Vietnamese American community and identity in two emblematic yet different locales: Little Saigon in suburban Orange County, California (widely described as the capital of Vietnamese America) and the urban “Vietnamese town” of Fields Corner in Boston, Massachusetts. Their distinctive qualities challenge assumptions about identity and space, growth amid globalization, and processes of Americanization.

With a comparative and race-cognizant approach, Aguilar-San Juan shows how places like Little Saigon and Fields Corner are sites for the simultaneous preservation and redefinition of Vietnamese identity. Intervening in debates about race, ethnicity, multiculturalism, and suburbanization as a form of assimilation, this work elaborates on the significance of place as an integral element of community building and its role in defining Vietnamese American-ness.

Staying Vietnamese, according to Aguilar-San Juan, is not about replicating life in Viet Nam. Rather, it involves moving toward a state of equilibrium that, though always in flux, allows refugees, immigrants, and their U.S.-born offspring to recalibrate their sense of self in order to become Vietnamese anew in places far from their presumed geographic home.

American Chinatown: A People’s History of Five Neighborhoods, by Bonnie Tsui (Free Press)

American Chinatown by Bonnie Tsui

In American Chinatown, acclaimed travel writer Bonnie Tsui takes an affectionate, attentive look at the neighborhood that has bewitched her since childhood, when she eagerly awaited her grandfather’s return from the fortune cookie factory.

Tsui visits the country’s four most famous Chinatowns — San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, Honolulu — and makes her final, fascinating stop in Las Vegas; in her explorations, she focuses on the remarkable experiences of ordinary people. Tsui beautifully captures their vivid stories, giving readers a deeper look into what “Chinatown” means to its inhabitants, what each community takes on from its American home, and what their experience means to America at large. American Chinatown is an all-access pass.


August 12, 2009

Written by C.N.

New Books: White Privilege

As part of this blog’s mission of making academic research and data more easily accessible, understandable, and applicable to a wider audience and to practical, everyday social issues, I highlight new sociological books about Asian Americans and other racial/ethnic groups as I hear about them.

This time, I mention three books that focus on the issue of White privilege, an emotional but often misunderstood issue, particularly as it relates to White Americans, many (i.e., a large number but not all) of whom feel that when the topic is mentioned, they are being personally accused of being racist. As the following books describe in detail, it’s much more complicated than that and in fact, White privilege is rooted at the institutional level.

The White Racial Frame: Centuries of Racial Framing and Counter-Framing, by Joe Feagin (Routledge)

The White Racial Frame by Joe Feagin

In this book Joe R. Feagin extends the systemic racism framework in previous Routledge books by developing an innovative new concept, the white racial frame. Now four centuries-old, this white racial frame encompasses not only the stereotyping, bigotry, and racist ideology accented in other theories of “race,” but also the visual images, array of emotions, sounds of language, interlinking interpretations, and inclinations to discriminate that are still central to the frame’s everyday operation.

Deeply embedded in American minds and institutions, this white racial frame has for centuries functioned as a broad worldview, one essential to the routine legitimation, scripting, and maintenance of systemic racism in the United States. Here Feagin examines how and why this white racial frame emerged in North America, how and why it has evolved socially over time, which racial groups are framed within it, how it has operated in the past and in the present for both white Americans and Americans of color, and how the latter have long responded with strategies of resistance that include enduring counter-frames.

Between Barack and a Hard Place: Racism and White Denial in the Age of Obama, by Tim Wise (City Lights Publishers)

Between Barack and a Hard Place by Tim Wise

Wise, a white anti-racism activist and scholar (and author of White Like Me), pushes plenty of buttons in this methodical breakdown of racism’s place in the wake of Barack Obama’s victory. In the first of two essays, the author obliterates the canard of the US as a post-racial society; bigotry and institutionalized discrimination, he contends, have simply morphed into “Racism 2.0,” in which successful minorities are celebrated “as having ‘transcended’ their blackness in some way.”

While racial disparities in employment and income, housing, education and other areas persist, Obama has become an amiable sitcom dad like Bill Cosby, putting whites at ease by speaking, looking and acting “a certain way”-not to mention avoiding discussion of race. In his second, more incendiary essay, Wise concludes that whites must take responsibility for racism.

What the majority of whites fail to grasp, he says, is that they continue to benefit from a system of “entrenched privileges” centuries in the making, and that racism remains a serious obstacle for millions of African Americans. There’s no sugar coating here for whites, nor are there any news flashes for Americans of color, but Wise bravely enumerates the unpalatable truths of a nation still struggling to understand its legacy of racist oppression.

Silent Racism: How Well-Meaning White People Perpetuate the Racial Divide, by Barbara Trepagnier (Paradigm Publishers)

Silent Racism by Barbara Trepagnier

Vivid and engaging, Silent Racism persuasively demonstrates that silent racism – racism by people who classify themselves as not racist – is instrumental in the production of institutional racism. Trepagnier argues that heightened race awareness is more important in changing racial inequality than judging whether individuals are racist. The collective voices and confessions of non-racist; white women heard in this book help reveal that all individuals harbor some racist thoughts and feelings.

Trepagnier uses vivid focus group interviews to argue that the oppositional categories of racist/not racist are outdated. The oppositional categories should be replaced in contemporary thought with a continuum model that more accurately portrays today’s racial reality in the United States. A shift to a continuum model can raise the race awareness of well-meaning white people and improve race relations. Offering a fresh approach, Silent Racism is an essential resource for teaching and thinking about racism in the twenty-first century.

White Privilege: Essential Readings on the Other Side of Racism, by Paula S. Rothenberg (Worth Publishers)

White Privilege by Paula Rothenberg

Studies of racism often focus on its devastating effects on the victims of prejudice. But no discussion of race is complete without exploring the other side—the ways in which some people or groups actually benefit, deliberately or inadvertently, from racial bias. This is the subject of Paula Rothenberg’s groundbreaking anthology, White Privilege.

The new edition of White Privilege once again challenges readers to explore ideas for using the power and the concept of white privilege to help combat racism in their own lives, and includes key essays and articles by Peggy McIntosh, Richard Dyer, bell hooks, Robert Jensen, Allan G. Johnson, and others. Three additional essays add new levels of complexity to our understanding of the paradoxical nature of white privilege and the politics and economics that lie behind the social construction of whiteness, making this edition an even better choice for educators.

Brief, inexpensive, and easily integrated with other texts, this interdisciplinary collection of commonsense, non-rhetorical readings lets educators incorporate discussions of whiteness and white privilege into a variety of disciplines, including sociology, English composition, psychology, social work, women’s studies, political science, and American studies.


July 24, 2009

Written by C.N.

New Book: Multiracial Change in America

As part of this blog’s mission of making academic research and data more easily accessible, understandable, and applicable to a wider audience and to practical, everyday social issues, I highlight new sociological books about Asian Americans and other racial/ethnic groups as I hear about them. As always, please remember that I highlight them for informational purposes only and do not necessarily endorse their entire content or arguments.

Twenty-First Century Color Lines: Multiracial Change in Contemporary America, edited by Andrew Grant-Thomas and Gary Orfield (Temple University Press)

The result of work initiated by the Harvard Civil Rights Project, this collection provides an excellent overview of the contemporary racial and ethnic terrain in the United States. The well-respected contributors to “Twenty-First Century Color Lines” combine theoretical and empirical perspectives, answering fundamental questions about the present and future of multiracialism in the United States:

  • How are racial and ethnic identities promoted and defended across a spectrum of social, geopolitical and cultural contexts?
  • What do two generations of demographic and social shifts around issues of race look like ‘on the ground?’
  • What are the socio-cultural implications of changing demographics in the U.S.?
  • And what do the answers to these questions portend for our multiracial future?

This illuminating book addresses issues of work, education, family life and nationality for different ethnic groups, including Asians and Latinos as well as African Americans and Whites. Such diversity, gathered here in one volume, provides new perspectives on ethnicity in a society marked by profound racial transformations.

The contributors include: Luis A. Aviles, Juan Carlos Martinez-Cruzado, Nilanjana Dasgupta, Christina Gomez, Gerald Gurin, Patricia Gurin, Anthony Kwame Harrison, Maria-Rosario Jackson, John Matlock, Nancy McArdle, John Mollenkopf, John A. Powell, Doris Ramirez, David Roediger, Anayra Santory-Jorge, Jiannbin Lee Shiao, Mia H. Tuan, Katrina Wade-Golden and the editors.


July 9, 2009

Written by C.N.

New Book: Art in WWII Internment Camps

As part of this blog’s mission of making academic research and data more easily accessible, understandable, and applicable to a wider audience and to practical, everyday social issues, I highlight new sociological books about Asian Americans and other racial/ethnic groups as I hear about them. As always, please remember that I highlight them for informational purposes only and do not necessarily endorse their entire content or arguments.

Artifacts of Loss: Crafting Survival in Japanese American Concentration Camps, by Jane E. Dusselier (Rutgers University Press)

“Dusselier has given us an excellent thick description of the ways that Japanese American prisoners of both generations used arts and crafts as tools of survival. Future camp studies will have to take her work into account.”
– Roger Daniels, University of Cincinnati

In Artifacts of Loss, Jane E. Dusselier looks at the lives of Japanese American internees through the lens of their art. Dusselier urges her readers to consider these often overlooked folk crafts as meaningful political statements which are significant as material forms of protest and as representations of loss.

Jane E. Dusselier is an assistant professor of anthropology and Asian American studies at Iowa State University. Her previously published works include “Does Food Make Place? Food Protests in Japanese American Concentration Camps”.