The views and opinions expressed on this site and blog posts (excluding comments on blog posts left by others) are entirely my own and do not represent those of any employer or organization with whom I am currently or previously have been associated.
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.
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.
As we prepare to close May as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, the following recently released books describe a wide and interesting range of experiences, contributions, and legacies that are part of Asian American heritage, and how this heritage fits into the larger American mainstream.
The collective term “Asian American” comprises more than twenty distinct nationalities and ethnic groups, and today there are more than 12 million Asian Pacific Americans living in the United States. In this all-new collection of fascinating interviews with students, lawyers, engineers, politicians, stay-at-home moms, and activists, Joann Faung Jean Lee again draws upon her great skill and sensitivity as a journalist to reveal a rich mosaic of Asian American identities.
We hear a range of voices: Dale Minami recounts his historic involvement in a landmark legal case that changed the way America understands the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II; Ruby Chow remembers how she used her position as a beloved restaurateur to launch a successful campaign for county councilwoman in Seattle, Washington; and Daniel Jung speaks of the complexities of African American and Korean relations in Los Angeles, where his father owned a liquor store when Daniel was a teenager in the 1990s.
Candid and compelling, the interviews reveal intimate and often conflicting thoughts about Asian American identities, immigration, family, relationships, and educational and professional achievement.
Encyclopedia of Asian American Issues Today is the first major reference work focused on the full expanse of contemporary Asian American experiences in the United States. Drawing on over two decades of research, it takes an unprecedented look at the major issues confronting the Asian American community as a whole, and the specific ethnic identities within that community — from established groups such as Chinese, Japanese, and Korean Americans to newer groups such as Cambodian and Hmong Americans.
Across two volumes, Encyclopedia of Asian American Issues Today offers 110 entries on the current state of affairs, controversies, successes, and outlooks for future for Asian Americans. The set is divided into 11 thematic sections including diversity and demographics; education; health; identity; immigrants, refugees, and citizenship; law; media; politics; war; work and economy; youth, family, and the aged. Contributors include leading experts in the fields of Asian American studies, education, public health, political science, law, economics, and psychology.
Los Angeles has attracted intense attention as a “world city” characterized by multiculturalism and globalization. Yet, little is known about the historical transformation of a place whose leaders proudly proclaimed themselves white supremacists less than a century ago. In The Shifting Grounds of Race, Scott Kurashige highlights the role African Americans and Japanese Americans played in the social and political struggles that remade twentieth-century Los Angeles.
Linking paradigmatic events like Japanese American internment and the Black civil rights movement, Kurashige transcends the usual “black/white” dichotomy to explore the multiethnic dimensions of segregation and integration. Racism and sprawl shaped the dominant image of Los Angeles as a “white city.” But they simultaneously fostered a shared oppositional consciousness among Black and Japanese Americans living as neighbors within diverse urban communities.
Kurashige demonstrates why African Americans and Japanese Americans joined forces in the battle against discrimination and why the trajectories of the two groups diverged. Connecting local developments to national and international concerns, he reveals how critical shifts in postwar politics were shaped by a multiracial discourse that promoted the acceptance of Japanese Americans as a “model minority” while binding African Americans to the social ills underlying the 1965 Watts Rebellion. Multicultural Los Angeles ultimately encompassed both the new prosperity arising from transpacific commerce and the enduring problem of race and class divisions.
This extraordinarily ambitious book adds new depth and complexity to our understanding of the “urban crisis” and offers a window into America’s multiethnic future.
Arkansas, 1943. The Deep South during the heart of Jim Crow-era segregation. A Japanese-American person boards a bus, and immediately is faced with a dilemma. Not white. Not black. Where to sit?
By elucidating the experience of interstitial ethnic groups such as Mexican, Asian, and Native Americans—groups that are held to be neither black nor white — Leslie Bow explores how the color line accommodated — or refused to accommodate — “other” ethnicities within a binary racial system. Analyzing pre- and post-1954 American literature, film, autobiography, government documents, ethnography, photographs, and popular culture, Bow investigates the ways in which racially “in-between” people and communities were brought to heel within the South’s prevailing cultural logic, while locating the interstitial as a site of cultural anxiety and negotiation.
Spanning the pre- to the post- segregation eras, Partly Colored traces the compelling history of “third race” individuals in the U.S. South, and in the process forces us to contend with the multiracial panorama that constitutes American culture and history.
Kang explores cultural citizenship and immigrant community identity development in the International District (ID) of Seattle, WA. She investigates the particular social, political, and historical contexts within which a “multi-ethnic Asian American community” identity arose.
She finds that the ID as a subject is produced and sustained not through a singular identity but through multiple and contingent discourses of history, contribution, and change. Similarly, it is constructed through a constant processes of engagement, contestation and negotiation between the community and the various larger social and political structures of society, as well as among community members. The results suggest that it may be possible for immigrant subjects to alter the discourses that constitute them by generating counter-discourses.
Understanding the history of Asians in America is key to understanding the development of America itself. Asian American Chronology: Chronologies of the American Mosaic presents the most influential events in Asian American history as well as key moments that have remained under the historical radar. This in-depth record covers events from the 18th century to the present day, including the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.
Entries, organized chronologically by category, allow readers to trace the development of Asian peoples and culture in the United States over time, including the role of Chinese labor in building railroads, the importation of Filipino slaves, labor strikes and civil rights issues, Japanese-American internment, women’s roles, literature, music, politics, and increased immigration in the mid-20th century.
In addition to these broad topics, the book also treats individual events from the Rock Springs Massacre to the Gold Rush to the current prevalence of Japanese players in Major League Baseball.
As we conclude May as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, below is the transcript from a webchat that I recently did through the U.S. State Department with participants connected with U.S. embassies in various Asian countries. Overall, I think the webchat turned out well and I was happy to be a part of it.
At the same time, I noticed that many of the participants (presumably both U.S.- and foreign-based) have the same erroneous assumptions that I’ve discussed numerous times in this blog — that being “Asian” is the same as being “Asian American.” If anything, I hope that my answers helped to clarify both the similarities and differences between these two sets of experiences and issues.
What is Asian Pacific American heritage?
Asian Pacific American heritage includes the history, experiences, and contributions of Americans of Asian descent. These contributions can be cultural, economic, and political.
What are your specialties, what is your site about, and how can we participate on your website?
I mainly study the social and demographic characteristics of Asian Americans and different forms of assimilation and integration that they undergo, such as interracial and interethnic marriage, owning their own small business, living in an ethnic community, etc. My site discusses these and other political, economic, and cultural issues and news events related to Asian Americans. There is a comment section at the bottom of each of the articles an blog posts on my site where readers can share their reactions and opinions with each other. You can also contact me directly through a message form on my site as well.
I’m from Cambodia. What can I help contribute to the APA heritage?
Globalization and demographic changes have resulted in more connections between Asian countries and the U.S. so Asian Americans have a unique opportunity to be at the forefront on such changes for the benefit of everyone involved. Many Asian citizens already have connections to friends and relatives in the U.S. and can serve as a valuable part of this emerging network.
Have you studied in a foreign country and if so, what did you think?
Unfortunately I’ve never studied abroad, which is something that I regret not doing while in college.
Do you have any activities relating to Viet Nam and China around Hoang Sa Island?
I’m sorry but I don’t have any activities that relate directly to that region. My expertise is in Asian American issues, rather than Asian issues. In fact, I should take this opportunity to make a small correction in Jennryn’s introduction of me — I’m a professor of Asian American Studies, not Asian Studies.
Could you give some reflections about the relationship between Asia and the U.S?
It’s certainly a very complicated issue and one that contains many contradictions. For example, the U.S. loves the cheap labor and natural resources that Asia offers but is suspicious of the power that Asian countries represent. It’s a similar situation with Asian Americans — the rest of America loves the cultural contributions that Asian Americans have added to American society like Chinese restaurants, but is wary that Asian Americans frequently are more educated and make more money than the rest of the U.S.
A coworker of mine would like to ask C.N. Le about the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. She says this year, it will feature Asian Americans (and Mexico). Dates are June 24-28 and July 1-5.
From what I know if it, I think it’s a good idea to include other racial/ethnic groups in these kinds of festivals. We all live in the same society and have to interact with a diverse group of people from different backgrounds, so it makes sense to get to know our neighbors more and to celebrate the many similarities and connections that we share together.
How can Asian culture spread in America?
In fact, many aspects of Asian culture has been incorporated into the American mainstream. This includes media and pop culture examples like anime, manga, martial arts movies, etc. Also includes food, some forms of fashion and other kinds of trends. The key component of this infusion of Asian culture into America is that hopefully Americans will understand and appreciate the history of the culture behind the trend, and not just see it as another commodity or accessory.
I want to study out side of my country but am poor in English, so what can I do?
Well I’m not an expert on study abroad advising but I presume that your school or college offers English classes for you to improve your English skills so that you can one day feel comfortable in studying in the U.S.
What kind of stereotypes do you address in your website?
There have been two main stereotypes that Asian Americans have encountered through the years. First is that all Asian Americans are foreigners — this is the idea that we’re outsiders and not ”real” Americans, even though many Asian Americans have been in the U.S. for several generations and in terms of their values, behaviors, and loyalty, are just as American as anybody else. Second is the stereotype that all Asian Americans are the same — that there are no differences between ethnic groups — that being Chinese American is the same as Japanese American etc.
People say that America is a melting-pot, what do you think about this?
There are some aspects of that melting pot image that is true. As I mentioned, different aspects of Asian culture have been incorporated into the American mainstream. Also, interracial marriage between different racial groups through the years have resulted in the emergence of a growing mixed race/multiracial population. On the other hand, in terms of political power the U.S. is still a very segregated society unfortunately.
What are main problems of population growth?
I’m not sure the main problem is population growth per se but rather the economic opportunities that are associated with growing populations. If a society has the proper resources where growing populations can be adequately cared for, educated, and employed, then the problems normally associated with population growth are less of a concern.
I don’t understand what you mean when you mention that Asian Americans are not real Americans and there are no differences between ethnic groups. Can you explain more?
I will use the example of Vincent Chin — he was a Chinese American living in Detroit in 1982 who was beaten to death by two White men who mistook him for being Japanese and blamed him for them losing their jobs as autoworkers. In this example, we see that the two White men did not differentiate between being Chinese or Japanese — that’s the stereotype that all Asians are the same. Second, they assumed that because of his Asian ancestry that he was not a real American and in fact, accused him of being an enemy of the U.S. by taking over their jobs — this is the stereotype that all Asians are foreginers and not real Americans.
Can you give us an example of some of the interesting census statistics you deal with related to diversity?
Yes, Census statistics paint a very interesting picture — Asian Americans are currently about 5% of the total US population but will increase to about 10% in a few decades. The Latino population has increased significantly as well — from about 15% now to about 25% in a few decades. In fact, around the year 2045, Whites will no longer comprise a majority of the population — they’ll still be the largest racial group by far, but non-Whites will eventually make up more than 50% of the US population.
America is a new continent, what has America created as their own heritage?
America’s heritage is that it offers some of the best opportunities in the world for people to improve their lives. That is why billions of people around the world want to come to the U.S. and in fact, feel compelled to come here without authorization. The US is the first choice of destination for many people around the world because of all the opportunities it offers. But that is also why it is so frustrating when people come here and run into different barriers on their way to accessing those opportunities. Hopefully the US can remember and emphasize its role as the land of opportunity as we move forward in the 21st century.
Thanks for the opportunity to share my work. I enjoyed answering people’s questions and hope that we all continue these kinds of discussions in other parts of our work and lives.
I received the announcement below seeking Asian American stories to spotlight for an HBO documentary on Asian American Heritage. Part of me finds it a little sad that we have to give kudos to a media outlet like HBO for including Asian Americans — that we still are fighting to be part of the American mainstream. At any rate, here’s your chance to be (a little more) rich and (possibly) famous.
Asian American Heritage Project Seeking Stories
I was hired to direct a documentary PSA series for HBO which shoots at the end of this month in NYC. It is my first directorial project for HBO and luckily the subject matter has the potential to be fantastic but needs to be handled with care. You might laugh out loud when you hear what it is, but it’s an HBO Asian American Heritage Doc PSA. I know I am Asian and am not the most seemingly culturally Asian guy out there, but I am told they hired me because I am both inside and outside those circles. Works for me!
Now here is where you come in. I want you and/or your friends to be in it! And you are on this email because I think you might be able to send some good candidates. And if you or they get chosen, they’ll be on HBO in May and get paid, etc.
So do you have a story to tell about your experience as an Asian American? Can you tell the story on camera? Your story could be funny or inspirational or touching. It could be about your grandmother or your education or your favorite food. It could be your immigration story, your family’s unique approach to holidays, your job. As long as it’s real and as long as it’s uniquely you.
As an example, we currently have a story of a Korean kid who was adopted into an Italian family in Pennsylvania. He grew up 100% culturally Italian while looking very Korean to his peers. He won the outstanding Italian American scholarship for college and accepted the award in front of a room full of confused old Italians. Hilarity ensues and lessons are learned.
We also have a story of a grandfather who came to America from China. He couldn’t read the menu at McDonalds but was hungry as hell. All he could read were the words “Happy” and “Meal” so that’s what he ordered. He still cherishes the toy he received on that day.
We want a wide range of stories about how being Asian in America has shaped you in some way. We can also explore issues such as Asian fetishes and why Asians seemingly love break dancing and rap (I’m learning a lot about that one). And it would be great to hear from some folks who left a lot behind to come here and do not regret their decisions one bit. But most of all we want to show strength and color from all ages, demographics and backgrounds.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org with your story and a little about your background and we will be in touch. And if you’re camera shy (or if this isn’t relevant to you) but know someone who is amazing, who is a great storyteller (maybe it’s your uncle, maybe it’s your best friend growing up), let them know. Spread the word.
I am looking for all Asian nationalities (East Asia, South Asia and Southeast Asia). Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Indian, Pakistani, Filipino, Vietnamese, Laotian, Hmong, Sri Lankan, Thai, Malaysian, Cambodian, etc. etc. (the list is endless). I am also looking for Bi-Racial folks, Adoptees, Transplants (Asian Americans from non-Asian countries – Brazil, Argentina, UK etc), Gay and Lesbian, 1st Generation, 2nd Generation, 3rd Generation, etc.
Religious or non-religious (Buddhist, Christian, Catholic, Shinto, Muslim, Hindu, Jain, Judaism, and others). Individuals who embrace or question their “Asian Heritage/Identity.” All ages, all incomes and all genders. You can get a PDF flyer of the project too.
Wow, this email is long. Thanks for reading this far and I hope you or someone you know sends their stories along!
As we continue celebrating May as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, a common question I get from readers is, what are some common inventions that came from Asians? Basically, this question relates to the larger inquiry of what have been the contributions of Asians and Asian Americans to American society and the world through the years/centuries?
While I can’t give an exhaustive list, to help us answer one part of that question, HowStuffWorks recently featured the Top 10 Ancient Chinese Inventions. Their article includes an extended description and historical summary for each invention (certainly worth reading) but for those who want to cut to the chase, here is their list in reverse order:
9. The Compass
6. The Wheelbarrow
2. Hang Gliders
As probably the oldest and most well-known Asian culture, the Chinese and their inventions certainly deserve to be recognized since such inventions undoubtedly have had a significant impact on world civilizations and events throughout history. At the same time, we should remember that many other Asian cultures, along with Asian Americans, have made other contributions to benefit their society in many other ways.
To commemorate and celebrate the contributions to our nation made by people of African descent, American historian Carter G. Woodson established Black History Week. The first celebration occurred on Feb. 12, 1926. For many years, the second week of February was set aside for this celebration to coincide with the birthdays of abolitionist/editor Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. In 1976, as part of the nation’s bicentennial, the week was expanded into Black History Month. Each year, U. S. presidents proclaim February as National African-American History Month.
As of July 1, 2007, the estimated population of black residents in the United States, including those of more than one race. They made up 13.5 percent of the total U.S. population.
The projected black population of the United States (including those of more than one race) for July 1, 2050. On that date, according to the projection, blacks would constitute 15 percent of the nation’s total population.
Percentage of Mississippi’s population that is black, highest of any state. Blacks also make up more than a quarter of the population in Louisiana (32%), Georgia (31%), Maryland (30%), South Carolina (29%) and Alabama (27%). They comprise 56% of the population in the District of Columbia.
Number of single-race black military veterans in the United States in 2007. More military veterans are black than any other minority group.
Percentage of single-race blacks 25 and older who had a bachelor’s degree or higher in 2007.
Among single-race blacks 25 and older, the number who had an advanced degree in 2007 (e.g., master’s, doctorate, medical or law). In 1997, 717,000 blacks had this level of education.
Revenues for black-owned businesses in 2002. The number of black-owned businesses totaled nearly 1.2 million in 2002. Black-owned firms accounted for 5 percent of all non-farm businesses in the United States.
The annual median income of single-race black households in 2007, up from $32,876 (in 2007 constant dollars) in 2006.
Poverty rate in 2007 for single-race blacks, statistically unchanged from 2006.
Percentage of families among households with a single-race black householder. There were 8.5 million black family households.
Nationally, the percentage of households with a householder who is single-race black who lived in owner-occupied homes. The rate was higher in certain states, such as Mississippi, where it reached 59%.
The percentage of single-race blacks 16 and older who work in management, professional and related occupations. There are 49,730 black physicians and surgeons, 70,620 postsecondary teachers, 49,050 lawyers, and 57,720 chief executives.
The first American Indian Day was celebrated in May 1916 in New York. Red Fox James, a Blackfeet Indian, rode horseback from state to state, getting endorsements from 24 state governments, to have a day to honor American Indians. In 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed a joint congressional resolution designating November 1990 as “National American Indian Heritage Month.”
As of July 1, 2007, the estimated population of American Indians and Alaska Natives, including those of more than one race. They made up 1.5% of the total population.
Median age of the single-race American Indian and Alaska Native population in 2007, younger than the median of 36.6 for the population as a whole. About 27% of American Indians and Alaska Natives were younger than 18, and 8% were 65 and older.
Number of states where American Indians and Alaska Natives were the largest race or ethnic minority group in 2007. These states are Alaska, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Dakota.
The proportion of Alaska’s population identified as American Indian and Alaska Native as of July 1, 2007, the highest rate for this race group of any state. Alaska was followed by Oklahoma (11%) and New Mexico (10%).
The percentage of American Indians and Alaska Natives 25 and older who had at least a high school diploma. Also, 13% had at least a bachelor’s degree.
The percentage of civilian-employed American Indian and Alaska Native people 16 and older who worked in management, professional and related occupations. In addition, 23 percent worked in sales and office occupations and about the same percentage worked in service occupations.
The 2007 median income of households where the householder reported being American Indian and Alaska Native and no other race.
The 2007 poverty rate of people who reported they were American Indian and Alaska Native and no other race.