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 the spring semester gets underway at many colleges and universities around the country, that means that new groups of students get their first introduction to Asian American Studies. With that in mind, these recently-published books provide some more details and sociological context about the history and contemporary dynamics of the Asian American community.
Asian Americans are often stereotyped as the “model minority.” Their sizeable presence at elite universities and high household incomes have helped construct the narrative of Asian American “exceptionalism.” While many scholars and activists characterize this as a myth, pundits claim that Asian Americans’ educational attainment is the result of unique cultural values. In The Asian American Achievement Paradox, sociologists Jennifer Lee and Min Zhou offer a compelling account of the academic achievement of the children of Asian immigrants.
Drawing on in-depth interviews with the adult children of Chinese immigrants and Vietnamese refugees and survey data, Lee and Zhou bridge sociology and social psychology to explain how immigration laws, institutions, and culture interact to foster high achievement among certain Asian American groups. For the Chinese and Vietnamese in Los Angeles, Lee and Zhou find that the educational attainment of the second generation is strikingly similar, despite the vastly different socioeconomic profiles of their immigrant parents. Because immigration policies after 1965 favor individuals with higher levels of education and professional skills, many Asian immigrants are highly educated when they arrive in the United States.
They bring a specific “success frame,” which is strictly defined as earning a degree from an elite university and working in a high-status field. This success frame is reinforced in many local Asian communities, which make resources such as college preparation courses and tutoring available to group members, including their low-income members. While the success frame accounts for part of Asian Americans’ high rates of achievement, Lee and Zhou also find that institutions, such as public schools, are crucial in supporting the cycle of Asian American achievement. Teachers and guidance counselors, for example, who presume that Asian American students are smart, disciplined, and studious, provide them with extra help and steer them toward competitive academic programs.
These institutional advantages, in turn, lead to better academic performance and outcomes among Asian American students. Yet the expectations of high achievement come with a cost: the notion of Asian American success creates an “achievement paradox” in which Asian Americans who do not fit the success frame feel like failures or racial outliers. While pundits ascribe Asian American success to the assumed superior traits intrinsic to Asian culture, Lee and Zhou show how historical, cultural, and institutional elements work together to confer advantages to specific populations. An insightful counter to notions of culture based on stereotypes, The Asian American Achievement Paradox offers a deft and nuanced understanding how and why certain immigrant groups succeed.
A New History of Asian America is a fresh and up-to-date history of Asians in the United States from the late eighteenth century to the present. Drawing on current scholarship, Shelley Lee brings forward the many strands of Asian American history, highlighting the distinctive nature of the Asian American experience while placing the narrative in the context of the major trajectories and turning points of U.S. history. Covering the history of Filipinos, Koreans, Asian Indians, and Southeast Indians as well as Chinese and Japanese, the book gives full attention to the diversity within Asian America.
A robust companion website features additional resources for students, including primary documents, a timeline, links, videos, and an image gallery. From the building of the transcontinental railroad to the celebrity of Jeremy Lin, people of Asian descent have been involved in and affected by the history of America. A New History of Asian America gives twenty-first-century students a clear, comprehensive, and contemporary introduction to this vital history.
Born out of the Civil Rights and Third World Liberation movements of the 1960s and 1970s, Asian American Studies has grown significantly over the past four decades, both as a distinct field of inquiry and as a potent site of critique. Characterized by transnational, trans-Pacific, and trans-hemispheric considerations of race, ethnicity, migration, immigration, gender, sexuality, and class, this multidisciplinary field engages with a set of concepts profoundly shaped by past and present histories of racialization and social formation.
The keywords included in this collection are central to social sciences, humanities, and cultural studies and reflect the ways in which Asian American Studies has transformed scholarly discourses, research agendas, and pedagogical frameworks.Spanning multiple histories, numerous migrations, and diverse populations, Keywords for Asian American Studies reconsiders and recalibrates the ever-shifting borders of Asian American studies as a distinctly interdisciplinary field.
While there are books on racism in universities, few examine the unique position of Asian American undergraduates. This new book captures the voices and experiences of Asian Americans navigating the currents of race, gender, and sexuality as factors in how youth construct relationships and identities. Interviews with 70 Asian Americans on an elite American campus show how students negotiate the sexualized racism of a large institution. The authors emphasize the students’ resilience and their means of resistance for overcoming the impact of structural racism.
In the past fifty years, Asian Americans have helped change the face of America and are now the fastest growing group in the United States. But as award-winning historian Erika Lee reminds us, Asian Americans also have deep roots in the country. The Making of Asian America tells the little-known history of Asian Americans and their role in American life, from the arrival of the first Asians in the Americas to the present-day.
An epic history of global journeys and new beginnings, this book shows how generations of Asian immigrants and their American-born descendants have made and remade Asian American life in the United States: sailors who came on the first trans-Pacific ships in the 1500s; indentured “coolies” who worked alongside African slaves in the Caribbean; and Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Korean, and South Asian immigrants who were recruited to work in the United States only to face massive racial discrimination, Asian exclusion laws, and for Japanese Americans, incarceration during World War II.
Over the past fifty years, a new Asian America has emerged out of community activism and the arrival of new immigrants and refugees. No longer a “despised minority,” Asian Americans are now held up as America’s “model minorities” in ways that reveal the complicated role that race still plays in the United States. Published to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the passage of the United States’ Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 that has remade our “nation of immigrants,” this is a new and definitive history of Asian Americans. But more than that, it is a new way of understanding America itself, its complicated histories of race and immigration, and its place in the world today.
The following new books look at the intersections and connections between race, ethnicity, immigration, and community and how different groups of color/immigrants negotiated the political, economic, and cultural landscape of U.S. society through the years, the impacts they’ve had on their new surroundings, and vice versa. As always, a book’s inclusion is for informational purposes only and does not necessarily mean a full endorsement of its contents.
While newly arrived immigrants are often the focus of public concern and debate, many Mexican immigrants and Mexican Americans have resided in the United States for generations. Latinos are the largest and fastest-growing ethnic group in the United States, and their racial identities change with each generation. While the attainment of education and middle class occupations signals a decline in cultural attachment for some, socioeconomic mobility is not a cultural death-knell, as others are highly ethnically identified. There are a variety of ways that middle class Mexican Americans relate to their ethnic heritage, and racialization despite assimilation among a segment of the second and third generations reveals the continuing role of race even among the U.S.-born.
Mexican Americans Across Generations investigates racial identity and assimilation in three-generation Mexican American families living in California. Through rich interviews with three generations of middle class Mexican American families, Vasquez focuses on the family as a key site for racial and gender identity formation, knowledge transmission, and incorporation processes, exploring how the racial identities of Mexican Americans both change and persist generationally in families. She illustrates how gender, physical appearance, parental teaching, historical era and discrimination influence Mexican Americans’ racial identity and incorporation patterns, ultimately arguing that neither racial identity nor assimilation are straightforward progressions but, instead, develop unevenly and are influenced by family, society, and historical social movements.
From the earliest colonial newspapers to the Internet age, America’s racial divisions have played a central role in the creation of the country’s media system, just as the media has contributed to—and every so often, combated—racial oppression. News for All the People reveals how racial segregation distorted the information Americans received from the mainstream media. It unearths numerous examples of how publishers and broadcasters actually fomented racial violence and discrimination through their coverage. And it chronicles the influence federal media policies exerted in such conflicts. It depicts the struggle of Black, Latino, Asian, and Native American journalists who fought to create a vibrant yet little-known alternative, democratic press, and then, beginning in the 1970s, forced open the doors of the major media companies.
The writing is fast-paced, story-driven, and replete with memorable portraits of individual journalists and media executives, both famous and obscure, heroes and villains. It weaves back and forth between the corporate and government leaders who built our segregated media system—such as Herbert Hoover, whose Federal Radio Commission eagerly awarded a license to a notorious Ku Klux Klan organization in the nation’s capital—and those who rebelled against that system, like Pittsburgh Courier publisher Robert L. Vann, who led a remarkable national campaign to get the black-face comedy Amos ‘n’ Andy off the air.
Based on years of original archival research and up-to-the-minute reporting and written by two veteran journalists and leading advocates for a more inclusive and democratic media system, News for All the People should become the standard history of American media.
In the final years of the nineteenth century, small groups of Muslim peddlers arrived at Ellis Island every summer, bags heavy with embroidered silks from their home villages in Bengal. The American demand for “Oriental goods” took these migrants on a curious path, from New Jersey’s beach boardwalks into the heart of the segregated South. Two decades later, hundreds of Indian Muslim seamen began jumping ship in New York and Baltimore, escaping the engine rooms of British steamers to find less brutal work onshore. As factory owners sought their labor and anti-Asian immigration laws closed in around them, these men built clandestine networks that stretched from the northeastern waterfront across the industrial Midwest.
The stories of these early working-class migrants vividly contrast with our typical understanding of immigration. Vivek Bald’s meticulous reconstruction reveals a lost history of South Asian sojourning and life-making in the United States. At a time when Asian immigrants were vilified and criminalized, Bengali Muslims quietly became part of some of America’s most iconic neighborhoods of color, from Tremé in New Orleans to Detroit’s Black Bottom, from West Baltimore to Harlem. Many started families with Creole, Puerto Rican, and African American women.
As steel and auto workers in the Midwest, as traders in the South, and as halal hot dog vendors on 125th Street, these immigrants created lives as remarkable as they are unknown. Their stories of ingenuity and intermixture challenge assumptions about assimilation and reveal cross-racial affinities beneath the surface of early twentieth-century America.
Whiteness and Racialized Ethnic Groups in the United States, in order to account for the never ending discrimination toward racialized ethnic groups including First Nations, blacks, Chinese, and Mexicans, revisits the history of whiteness in the United States. It shows the difference between remembering a history of human indignities and recreating one that composes its own textual memory. More specifically, it reformulates how the historically reliant positionality of whiteness, as a part of the everyday practice and discourse of white supremacy, would later become institutionalized.
Even though “whiteness studies,” with the intention of exposing white privilege, has entered the realm of academic research and is moving toward antiracist forms of whiteness or, at least, toward antiracist approaches for a different form of whiteness, it is not equipped to relinquish the privilege that comes with normalized whiteness. Hence, in order to construct a post white identity, whiteness would have to be denormalized and freed of it of its presumptive hegemony.
Farmers in Laos, U.S. allies during the Vietnam War, refugees in Thailand, citizens of the Western world—the stories of the Hmong who now live in America have been told in detail through books and articles and oral histories over the past several decades. Like any immigrant group, members of the first generation may yearn for the past as they watch their children and grandchildren find their way in the dominant culture of their new home.
For Hmong people born and educated in the United States, a definition of self often includes traditional practices and tight-knit family groups but also a distinctly Americanized point of view. How do Hmong Americans negotiate the expectations of these two very different cultures?
In an engaging series of essays featuring a range of writing styles, leading scholars, educators, artists, and community activists explore themes of history, culture, gender, class, family, and sexual orientation, weaving their own stories into depictions of a Hmong American community where people continue to develop complex identities that are collectively shared but deeply personal as they help to redefine the multicultural America of today.
Before the Khmer Rouge takeover of Cambodia in April 1975, Sao Bounchoeurn and San Bounriem grew up in idyllic, though vastly different, circumstances. After a secondary education, Bounchoeurn entered the army, joined the Special Forces, and worked for the Americans. He became a slave laborer after the fall of Phnom Penh and eventually escaped to Thailand. In another part of Cambodia, Bounriem lived happily spoiled and uneducated.
Fleeing from the advancing Khmer Rouge, she arrived at the same refugee camp as Bounchoeurn, where they met, married, and immigrated to America. This riveting memoir chronicles the couple’s childhoods, their lives under the Khmer Rouge, their journeys to Thailand and later the United States, and their efforts to forge a new life. This remarkable tale offers an intimate look inside the terrors of the Khmer Rouge and an inspiring portrait of the immigrant experience in America.
Last week, the U.S. commemorated the 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese military that led to the U.S.’s entry into World War II. Of course, the attack was a watershed moment in U.S. history — Japan’s unjustified and heinous act led to the deaths of 3,000 human beings, united the U.S. like never before, and in the end, was the start of Japan’s downfall as a imperial military power.
Unfortunately, the Pearl Harbor attacks also prompted the U.S. government to strip 120,000 Japanese Americans of their legal rights and imprison them without any due process, based largely on the “fear” that Japanese Americans would be loyal to Japan and engage in espionage or treason against their adopted U.S. homeland.
This entire “internment” episode has been recounted and analyzed over the years, most notably by the bipartisan Congressional “Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians,” which ultimately conducted a thorough investigation and in their final report titled “Personal Justice Denied: Report of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians,” finally concluded that the imprisonment of Japanese Americans during World War II was a “grave injustice” and resulted from “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.” Congress then approved and distributed a reparation payment of $20,000 to all surviving Japanese Americans who were imprisoned. To my knowledge, this is the only instance in which the U.S. government has officially apologized and provided monetary reparations to any of the injustices that they’ve committed in its history.
As it turns out, this week’s anniversary commemoration unfortunately prompted some to once again bring up the old argument that there was a logical rationale to the U.S.’s imprisonment of Japanese Americans, or that it was even completely justified. For example, in a museum review of Heart Mountain Interpretive Center (in Wyoming, site of one of the prison camps) in the Dec. 9, 2011 edition of the New York Times, ‘art critic’ Edward Rothstein engages in such musings.
Specifically, Rothstein uses a few historical examples of misdeeds by Japanese and Japanese Americans to argue that “the threat was palpable” and that therefore, there was a “rationale” for the U.S.’s subsequent imprisonment of 120,000 Japanese Americans. While Rothstein does state, “I am not suggesting that such factors justified the relocations,” the tone of his piece displays an ignorant accounting of the entire collection of historical facts surrounding how isolated incidents of Japanese and Japanese Americans misdeeds were exaggerated and generalized to an entire population, how many allegations of espionage and sabotage by Japanese Americans were never substantiated and even completely fabricated, and how similar and even more pernicious acts by Germans and German Americans were largely ignored.
Unfortunately, Rothstein’s piece is a sad example of selective memory, if not outright revisionist history. The examples he cited as providing “rationale” for the mass imprisonment are of dubious historical accuracy and value and even if valid, only reinforce and perpetuate the tired notion that the acts of a few can be taken out of context and generalized to an entire population. In response to Rothstein, I would like to share the responses of some of my colleagues who provide a more clear and comprehensive picture of the supposed “palpable” threat of Japanese Americans after the Pearl Harbor attacks:
In his attempt to understand the wartime removal of Japanese Americans, Edward Rothstein (“the How of Internment, but not all the Whys”, NYT, December 9) repeats a set of falsehoods and distortions about its causes. He insists that because Japan engaged in widespread espionage, and decoded Japanese messages (in reality a mere handful) spoke of contacts, surely Japanese Americans were implicated in espionage. In fact, Tokyo’s spymasters shied away from using Americans of Japanese ancestry, whose loyalty to Japan they rightly suspected, and made use of non-Japanese. Col. Kenneth Ringle, the prewar agent of the Office of Naval Information who broke the most important Japanese spy ring in Los Angeles and was in a position to know the facts, was an outspoken defender of the loyalty of Japanese Americans.
Similarly, Rothstein declares that the Japanese “threat was palpable” since a Japanese submarine had sunk American shops and shelled a California oil field. In fact, only a single American ship was sunk, compared to the hundreds sunk by German submarines off the East Coast, and the single shelling incident took place after the order to remove Japanese Americans had already been issued. Worse, Rothstein argues that the “treasonous” conduct of a Nisei couple in Hawaii validated the fears of government authorities about West Coast Japanese Americans. The absurdity of this statement is easily demonstrated by the fact that there was no mass roundup of the large Japanese community in Hawaii itself.
Although he insists that he is not justifying removal, cultural critic Rothstein sadly displays not only a carelessness toward history, but reveals how much the baseless ideas about “Japanese” disloyalty that led to mass removal still remain in the culture.
Associate Professor of History
Université du Québec a Montréal
I write this disappointed letter in response to Edward Rothstein’s December 9, 2011 piece, “The How of an Internment, but Not All the Whys.” Notwithstanding the express reason for this piece (as a review), I was particularly struck by Mr. Rothstein’s incomplete and incendiary reading of not only U.S. history but Japanese American history. Dismissing the “now standard” evaluation of the internment as the “result of wartime hysteria and racism,” Mr. Rothstein offers an allegedly “clearer understanding of the prewar Japanese-American population” rooted in familiar characterizations of yellow peril takeovers, perpetual foreign frames, and traitorous subjects. What is especially remarkable and distressing is that Mr. Rothstein manages – quite irresponsibly — to take NYT readers “back in time” to aforementioned “wartime hysteria and racism.”
Cathy J. Schlund-Vials
Assistant Professor, English and Asian American Studies
University of Connecticut
I teach Asian American Studies to graduates of this city’s k-12 system, and I am continuously disheartened by the many young people who have never heard of Japanese American internment, or, if they have, possess no meaningful understanding of the nature of the event. With that lack of information in mind, I was appalled to see your paper repeat long since discredited misinformation in apparent disregard for rigorous scholarly work, and the trauma inflicted upon thousands upon thousands of individuals and families who did nothing but look like “the enemy.” Despite his assurance to the contrary, Edward Rothstein’s review of the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center implies that we should explore long since debunked (dare I say “fringe”) theories that justify the racial stereotype of Japanese Americans as inherently treasonous, and thereby make excuses for what scholars agree is a racially motivated and shameful event in U.S. civil rights history.
Director, Asian American Studies Program
Hunter College, City University of New York
In Edward Rothstein’s review of the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center (“the How of Internment, but not all the Whys”, NYT, December 9) he declares that the unconstitutional incarceration of over 110,000 people of Japanese ancestry was “a geographic rationale, not simply a racial one.” Yet Mr. Rothstein fails to account for the fact that mass removal and incarceration of Japanese Americans did not occur at the site that propelled the U.S. into WWII—Hawaii. Indeed, all reputable scholars of the Japanese American Internment note that it was war time xenophobia and racism that spurred Executive Order 9066—an order that never specified ethnic ancestry and that effectively nullified the constitutional rights of every person living on the West Coast during WWII. FDR ordered the military to target Japanese Americans using EO9066. If that’s not a racial rationale, I’m not sure what is.
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Unfortunately, as a country, we are now poised to repeat the same mistake that was committed 70 years against Japanese Americans. Specifically, Congress is currently debating the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2013. One of the proposed provisions is to give U.S. government authorities the ability to arrest and indefinitely detain anybody who they deem to be a threat to national security — including U.S. citizens — without charging them with a crime or giving them a trial. In other words, it would basically legalize what happened to Japanese Americans after the Pearl Harbor attacks.
Fortunately, there is opposition to these provisions from both sides of the political spectrum. If you also oppose these provisions, I urge you to contact your Representative and Senator and tell them to vote against these provisions. As George Santayana’s quote goes, “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
Below are some recently-released books that highlight the connections between past and present in the lives of Asian Americans. As scholars and philosophers will tell you, knowing where a particular group or nation has been is the first step towards knowing where they are going. As always, a book’s inclusion is for informational purposes only and does not necessarily mean a full endorsement of its contents.
The first half of the twentieth century witnessed a wave of Filipino immigration to the United States, following in the footsteps of earlier Chinese and Japanese immigrants, the first and second “Asiatic invasions.” Perceived as alien because of their Asian ethnicity yet legally defined as American nationals granted more rights than other immigrants, Filipino American national identity was built upon the shifting sands of contradiction, ambiguity, and hostility.
Rick Baldoz explores the complex relationship between Filipinos and the U.S. by looking at the politics of immigration, race, and citizenship on both sides of the Philippine-American divide: internationally through an examination of American imperial ascendancy and domestically through an exploration of the social formation of Filipino communities in the United States. He reveals how American practices of racial exclusion repeatedly collided with the imperatives of U.S. overseas expansion. A unique portrait of the Filipino American experience, The Third Asiatic Invasion links the Filipino experience to that of Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, Chinese and Native Americans, among others, revealing how the politics of exclusion played out over time against different population groups.
Weaving together an impressive range of materials–including newspapers, government reports, legal documents and archival sources—into a seamless narrative, Baldoz illustrates how the quixotic status of Filipinos played a significant role in transforming the politics of race, immigration and nationality in the United States.
Both a history of an overlooked community and a well-rounded reassessment of prevailing assumptions about Chinese miners in the American West, In Pursuit of Gold brings to life in rich detail the world of turn-of-the-century mining towns in the Northwest. Sue Fawn Chung meticulously recreates the lives of Chinese immigrants, miners, merchants, and others who populated these towns and interacted amicably with their white and Native American neighbors, defying the common perception of nineteenth-century Chinese communities as insular enclaves subject to increasing prejudice and violence.
While most research has focused on Chinese miners in California, this book is the first extensive study of Chinese experiences in the towns of John Day in Oregon and Tuscarora, Island Mountain, and Gold Creek in Nevada. Chung illustrates the relationships between miners and merchants within the communities and in the larger context of immigration, arguing that the leaders of the Chinese and non-Chinese communities worked together to create economic interdependence and to short-circuit many of the hostilities and tensions that plagued other mining towns.
Peppered with fascinating details about these communities from the intricacies of Chinese gambling games to the techniques of hydraulic mining, In Pursuit of Gold draws on a wealth of historical materials, including immigration records, census manuscripts, legal documents, newspapers, memoirs, and manuscript collections. Chung supplements this historical research with invaluable first-hand observations of artifacts that she experienced in archaeological digs and restoration efforts at several of the sites of the former booming mining towns.
In clear, analytical prose, Chung expertly characterizes the movement of Chinese miners into Oregon and Nevada, the heyday of their mining efforts in the region, and the decline of the communities due to changes in the mining industry. Highlighting the positive experiences and friendships many of the immigrants had in these relatively isolated mining communities, In Pursuit of Gold also suggests comparisons with the Chinese diaspora in other locations such as British Columbia and South Africa.
Prisons and Patriots provides a detailed account of forty-one Nisei (second-generation Japanese Americans), known as the Tucsonians, who were imprisoned for resisting the draft during WWII. Cherstin Lyon parallels their courage as resisters with that of civil rights hero Gordon Hirabayashi, well known for his legal battle against curfew and internment, who also resisted the draft.
These dual stories highlight the intrinsic relationship between the rights and the obligations of citizenship, particularly salient in times of war. Lyon considers how wartime civil disobedience has been remembered through historyohow soldiers have been celebrated for their valour while resisters have been demonized as unpatriotic. Using archival research and interviews, she presents a complex picture of loyalty and conflict among first-generation Issei and Nisei.
Lyon contends that the success of the redress movement has made room for a narrative that neither reduces the wartime confinement to a source of shame nor proffers an uncritical account of heroic individuals.
Relative Histories focuses on the Asian American memoir that specifically recounts the story of at least three generations of the same family. This form of auto/biography concentrates as much on other members of one’s family as on oneself, generally collapses the boundaries conventionally established between biography and autobiography, and in many cases—as Rocío G. Davis proposes for the auto/biographies of ethnic writers—crosses the frontier into history, promoting collective memory.
Davis centers on how Asian American family memoirs expand the limits and function of life writing by reclaiming history and promoting community cohesion. She argues that identity is shaped by not only the stories we have been told, but also the stories we tell, making these narratives important examples of the ways we remember our family’s past and tell our community’s story.
In the context of auto/biographical writing or filmmaking that explores specific ethnic experiences of diaspora, assimilation, and integration, this work considers two important aspects: These texts re-imagine the past by creating a work that exists both in history and as a historical document, making the creative process a form of re-enactment of the past itself. Each chapter centers on a thematic concern germane to the Asian American experience: the narrative of twentieth-century Asian wars and revolutions, which has become the subtext of a significant number of Asian American family memoirs.
When Eleanor Swent began teaching English as a Second Language in 1967 at a school for adults in Oakland, California, she soon learned that many of the Asian immigrants in her classes had remarkable tales to tell of struggles in their homelands and their efforts to make new lives in America. This oral history, based on interviews Swent conducted with her students over thirty years, documents the Asian immigrant experience as never before.
Here are the stories of desperate individuals who swam to escape from China to Macao and Hong Kong; of Chinese daughters considered worthless by their families; of political refugees from Vietnam; of ethnic Chinese who fled by boat from Vietnam; of refugees from the genocide in Cambodia. As these remarkable new Americans learn different words and customs, they also enlarge our national vision, enriching our culture while assuring us that human dignity can rise above terrible circumstances.
Hailed as “irrepressibly spirited and entertaining” (Pico Iyer, Time) and “a fascinating cultural survey” (Paul Devlin, Daily Beast), this provocative first biography of Charlie Chan presents American history in a way that it has never been told before. Yunte Huang ingeniously traces Charlie Chan from his real beginnings as a bullwhip-wielding detective in territorial Hawaii to his reinvention as a literary sleuth and Hollywood film icon.
Huang finally resurrects the “honorable detective” from the graveyard of detested postmodern symbols and reclaims him as the embodiment of America’s rich cultural diversity. The result is one of the most critically acclaimed books of the year and a “deeply personal . . . voyage into racial stereotyping and the humanizing force of story telling.”
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 contents.
Across our different ethnicities, occupations, generations, and experiences, one topic that continues to be a popular subject of discussion among Asian Americans is the process of assimilation. As these recently-released books help to illustrate how, to fully understand this concepts, we have to connect the past with the present, historical with contemporary examples.
Following the end of World War II, Congress passed the War Brides Act of 1945, which allowed foreign wives of U.S. military personnel to immigrate to the United States. However, with the ban of Asian immigration after World War II, the sudden influx of thousands of women created social tension while opening up one of the country’s largest cross-cultural integrations.
This book reveals the stories of nineteen Japanese war brides whose assimilation into American culture forever influenced future generations, depicting love, strength, and perseverance in the face of incredible odds. With an estimated 50,000 women who migrated from Japan to the U.S. during 1946-1965, they all hold a unique place in American history and have been called ambassadors to the U.S. For the first time in English these women share their triumphs, sorrows, successes, and identity in a time when their own future was tainted by social segregation.
This oral history focuses mainly on women’s lives during World War II and the occupation of Japan. It illuminates the cultural expectations, the situations brought about by the war, and effects of the occupation, and also includes quotes from various war brides regarding this time. Chapter interviews are set up in chronological fashion and laid out in the following format: introduction of the war bride, how she met her husband, her initial travels to America, and life thereafter. Where needed, explanations, translations, and background history with references are provided.
From 1910 to 1940, the Angel Island immigration station in San Francisco served as the processing and detention center for over one million people from around the world. The majority of newcomers came from China and Japan, but there were also immigrants from India, the Philippines, Korea, Russia, Mexico, and over seventy other countries. The full history of these immigrants and their experiences on Angel Island is told for the first time in this landmark book, published to commemorate the immigration station’s 100th anniversary.
Based on extensive new research and oral histories, Angel Island: Immigrant Gateway to America examines the great diversity of immigration through Angel Island: Chinese “paper sons,” Japanese picture brides, Korean refugee students, South Asian political activists, Russian and Jewish refugees, Mexican families, Filipino workers, and many others. Together, their stories offer a more complete and complicated history of immigration to America than we have ever known.
Like its counterpart on Ellis Island, the immigration station on Angel Island was one of the country’s main ports of entry for immigrants in the early twentieth century. But while Ellis Island was mainly a processing center for European immigrants, Angel Island was designed to detain and exclude immigrants from Asia. The immigrant experience on Angel Island-more than any other site-reveals how U.S. immigration policies and their hierarchical treatment of immigrants according to race, ethnicity, class, nationality, and gender played out in daily practices and decisions at the nation’s borders with real consequences on immigrant lives and on the country itself.
Building on works in Chinese transnationalism and cultural anthropology, this book examines the everyday practices of Chinese merchant families in Manila from the 1860s to the 1930s. The result is a fascinating study of how families and individuals creatively negotiated their identities in ways that challenge our understanding of the genesis of ethnic identities in the Philippines.
The first scholarly work to come from inside the Hmong community, Hmong America documents Chia Youyee Vang’s own migration from Laos to Minnesota at age nine and the transformations she has witnessed in Hmong communities throughout the migration and settlement processes. Vang depicts Hmong experiences in Asia and examines aspects of community building in America to reveal how new Hmong identities have been formed and how they have challenged popular assumptions about race and ethnicity in multicultural America.
With an approach that intermingles the archival research of a historian, the personal experiences of a refugee, and the participant-observer perspectives of a community insider, Vang constructs a nuanced and complex portrait of the more than 130,000 Hmong people who came to the United States as political refugees beginning in the mid-1970s. She offers critiques of previous representations of the Hmong community and provides the sociological underpinnings for a bold reassessment of Hmong history in the greater context of globalization.
This new understanding redefines concepts of Hmong homogeneity and characterizes ordinary Hmong migrants not as passive victims but as dynamic actors who have exercised much power over their political and social destinies. While Vang focuses on the Hmong community in the Twin Cities, she also has conducted research in numerous Hmong enclaves in the United States and abroad.
The majority of the nearly 28,000 undergraduates at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign–including a large population of Korean American students–come from nearby metropolitan Chicago. Among the campus’s largest non-white ethnicities, Korean American students come to college hoping to realize the liberal ideals of the modern American university, in which individuals can exit their comfort zones to realize their full potential regardless of race, nation, or religion. However, these ideals are compromised by their experiences of racial segregation and stereotypes, including images of instrumental striving that set Asian Americans apart.
In The Intimate University, Nancy Abelmann explores the tensions between liberal ideals and the particularities of race, family, and community in the contemporary university. Drawing on ten years of ethnographic research with Korean American students at the University of Illinois and closely following multiple generations of a single extended Korean American family in the Chicago metropolitan area, Abelmann investigates the complexity of racial politics at the American university today.
Racially hyper-visible and invisible, Korean American students face particular challenges as they try to realize their college dreams against the subtle, day-to-day workings of race. They frequently encounter the accusation of racial self-segregation–a charge accentuated by the fact that many attend the same Evangelical Protestant church–even as they express the desire to distinguish themselves from their families and other Korean Americans. Abelmann concludes by examining the current state of the university, reflecting on how better to achieve the university’s liberal ideals despite its paradoxical celebration of diversity and relative silence on race.
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.
Here are some more announcements and links out that have come my way relating to Asians or Asian Americans. As always, links to other sites are provided for informational purposes and do not necessarily imply an endorsement of their contents.
The Social Justice Fund currently makes 8 to 10 grants annually of up to $2,000 for grassroots activist projects in the US and around the world, giving priority to those with small budgets and little access to more mainstream funding sources. Please read these guidelines carefully and review our rosters of past grants on our website before applying to the Muste Institute for funding.
Next deadline: April 19, 2010 (for grants decided in mid-June). Subsequent deadlines to be posted after May 1, 2010. The Muste Institute’s Social Justice Fund considers proposals:
For new projects or campaigns, or efforts to expand existing work
For projects with expense budgets under $50,000
For projects which are local, regional, national or global in scope
From groups located anywhere in the world
From grassroots organizations with annual expenses of less than $500,000
From groups with limited or no access to more mainstream funding sources
From groups that may be unincorporated or incorporated*
From groups with or without 501(c)3 status or a fiscal sponsor*
From groups which have not received Social Justice Grants from us in at least two years
The Social Justice Fund’s priority is to support:
Direct grassroots activism and organizing
Groups with diverse, representative and democratic internal leadership structures
Groups which have or can obtain sufficient economic and in-kind support from a diversity of sources to carry out their regular work, but need additional support for a particular project
You can visit the A.J. Muste Institute website for more information on eligibility and how to apply.
Vietnamese Oral History Project
I’m emailing today because we all have one common interest — preserving Vietnamese history and culture. My friend Linh Tran and I are starting a new project and hope that with your help, we can turn our ambitions into a reality.
Our mission is to record, document and preserve the stories of every single Vietnamese refugee who fled the country after the Fall of Saigon. We as Vietnamese people have a very unique, important story and unless we make efforts to preserve those histories in some way, it’ll be lost in text books, in our children and our children’s children. Although there have been some attempts to document our story, not one project has done it on the global scale that we want to reach.
This is why Linh and I want to start to collect individual stories of this journey — modeled after the nationally recognized StoryCorps and Steven Spielberg’s Jewish Film Archive. We are compiling a video documentary, archive and multimedia-driven project that will serve the Vietnamese people, let them tell their stories and also be a platform to educate others from different origins and backgrounds about our story. It’ll temporarily be called “From Vietnam to Freedom” and will be housed online.
We’re emailing you because we’d like for you to either contribute your story, someone else’s story or help us connect more with the Vietnamese community to spread the word. We know with your help, we can truly make a difference in our global community. We hope that you’ll contribute in some way.
Thanks very much.
Kim Thai, firstname.lastname@example.org
Linh Tran, email@example.com
Mavericks of Asian Pacific Islander Descent announces the 1st Asian Pacific Islander TV Pilot Shootout sponsored by Fox Diversity. The winner will receive the opportunity to pitch a TV executive at Fox.
Writers will submit a synopsis, logline, and sample pages from a completed original television pilot script as well as submit a video of a two minute television pilot pitch. The top five pitch ideas chosen by judges will be matched with directors who will also be selected by submission process. The directors will be given seed money partially derived from the entry fees and work with the writer to develop a 1 minute teaser of the pilot. Actors and production crew are also encouraged to apply to be considered for the chosen projects. Submission deadline for writers is June 9.
The five completed teasers will premiere at the Japanese American National Museum’s ID Film Fest October 10, 2010. The ID Film Fest will include screenings and workshops. The co-presenters of the ID Film Fest will include JANM, director Justin Lin and You Offend Me, You Offend My Family, director Quentin Lee, producer and writer Koji Steven Sakai, director Jessica Sanders, and Phil Yu of AngryAsianMan.com.
MAPID’s focus is to assist, develop, and promote Asian Pacific Islanders in entertainment. Producer of Breaking the Bow which involved over 70 API artists, MAPID conducts an API writing group, presents Battle of the Pitches, and co-presents the successful short screenplay competition with the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival. Complete instructions can be found at mapid.us/tvpilotshootout. For more information, contact Ken Choy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The 2010 Census deadline is approaching, and as you know, it is critical to have the entire Asian American community participate. An accurate count can help us receive our share of over $400 billion in annual federal funds for services our community needs. Unfortunately, past decades have shown that Asian Americans are among the groups most likely to discard their Census forms.
Fill In Our Future is a campaign created by AAPI Action to promote and encourage the participation of the Asian American community in the 2010 Census. Our website, fillinourfuture.org, features frequently asked Census questions, in-language resources (in over 24 Asian languages), informational brochures, sample Census forms, in-language assistance guides, celebrity and community leader PSA’s (Public Service Announcements) and monthly contests and giveaways. The larger campaign also includes media and community outreach, workshops, a speaker’s bureau and training seminars.
As the Asian American and Pacific Islander population continues to grow and change, the data from the Census will help leaders obtain the best services, resources, and programs to meet our community needs. Please utilize and share the following resource links with your readers: Website, Facebook Fan Page, and Twitter.