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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.

March 22, 2012

Written by C.N.

New Books: Asian American Identity, Power, and Community

The following new books examine the intersections of Asian American racial/ethnic identity, power and institutional relationships with mainstream U.S. society, and how community dynamics affect their sense of belonging within this context. As always, a book’s inclusion is for informational purposes only and does not necessarily mean a full endorsement of its contents.

Chinese Chicago: Race, Transnational Migration, and Community Since 1870, by Huping Ling (Stanford University Press)

'Chinese Chicago' by Huping Ling

Numerous studies have documented the transnational experiences and local activities of Chinese immigrants in California and New York in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Less is known about the vibrant Chinese American community that developed at the same time in Chicago. In this sweeping account, Huping Ling offers the first comprehensive history of Chinese in Chicago, beginning with the arrival of the pioneering Moy brothers in the 1870s and continuing to the present.

Ling focuses on how race, transnational migration, and community have defined Chinese in Chicago. Drawing upon archival documents in English and Chinese, she charts how Chinese made a place for themselves among the multiethnic neighborhoods of Chicago, cultivating friendships with local authorities and consciously avoiding racial conflicts.

Ling takes readers through the decades, exploring evolving family structures and relationships, the development of community organizations, and the operation of transnational businesses. She pays particular attention to the influential role of Chinese in Chicago’s academic and intellectual communities and to the complex and conflicting relationships among today’s more dispersed Chinese Americans in Chicago.

Uncle Swami: South Asians in America Today, by Vijay Prashad (The New Press)

'Uncle Swami' by Vijay Prashad

Within hours of the attacks on the World Trade Center, misdirected assaults on Sikhs and other South Asians flared on streets across the nation, serving as harbingers of a more suspicious, less discerning, and increasingly fearful world view that would drastically change ideas of belonging and acceptance in America.

Weaving together distinct strands of recent South Asian immigration to the United States, Uncle Swami creates a richly textured analysis of the systems and sentiments behind shifting notions of cultural identity in a post 9/11 world. Vijay Prashad continues the conversation sparked by his celebrated work The Karma of Brown Folk and confronts the experience of migration across an expanse of generations and class divisions, from the birth of political activism among second generation immigrants to the meteoric rise of South Asian American politicians in Republican circles to the migrant workers who suffer in the name of American capitalism.

A powerful new indictment of American imperialism at the dawn of the twenty-first century, Uncle Swami restores a diasporic community to its full-fledged complexity, beyond model minorities and the specters of terrorism.

Samurai among Panthers: Richard Aoki on Race, Resistance, and a Paradoxical Life, by Diane C. Fujino (University of Minnesota Press)

'Samurai Among Panthers' by Diane C. Fujino

An iconic figure of the Asian American movement, Richard Aoki (1938–2009) was also, as the most prominent non-Black member of the Black Panther Party, a key architect of Afro-Asian solidarity in the 1960s and ’70s. His life story exposes the personal side of political activism as it illuminates the history of ethnic nationalism and radical internationalism in America.

A reflection of this interconnection, Samurai among Panthers weaves together two narratives: Aoki’s dramatic first-person chronicle and an interpretive history by a leading scholar of the Asian American movement, Diane C. Fujino. Aoki’s candid account of himself takes us from his early years in Japanese American internment camps to his political education on the streets of Oakland, to his emergence in the Black Panther Party.

As his story unfolds, we see how his parents’ separation inside the camps and his father’s illegal activities shaped the development of Aoki’s politics. Fujino situates his life within the context of twentieth-century history—World War II, the Cold War, and the protests of the 1960s. She demonstrates how activism is both an accidental and an intentional endeavor and how a militant activist practice can also promote participatory democracy and social service.

The result of these parallel voices and analysis in Samurai among Panthers is a complex—and sometimes contradictory—portrait of a singularly extraordinary activist and an expansion and deepening of our understanding of the history he lived.

Chinese Mexicans: Transpacific Migration and the Search for a Homeland, 1910-1960, by Julia Maria Schiavone Camacho (University of North Carolina Press)

'Chinese Mexicans' by Julia Maria Schiavone Camacho

At the turn of the twentieth century, a wave of Chinese men made their way to the northern Mexican border state of Sonora to work and live. The ties–and families–these Mexicans and Chinese created led to the formation of a new cultural identity: Chinese Mexican. During the tumult of the Mexican Revolution of 1910, however, anti-Chinese sentiment ultimately led to mass expulsion of these people.

Julia Maria Schiavone Camacho follows the community through the mid-twentieth century, across borders and oceans, to show how they fought for their place as Mexicans, both in Mexico and abroad. Tracing transnational geography, Schiavone Camacho explores how these men and women developed a strong sense of Mexican national identity while living abroad—in the United States, briefly, and then in southeast Asia where they created a hybrid community and taught their children about the Mexican homeland.

Schiavone Camacho also addresses how Mexican women challenged their legal status after being stripped of Mexican citizenship because they married Chinese men. After repatriation in the 1930s-1960s, Chinese Mexican men and women, who had left Mexico with strong regional identities, now claimed national cultural belonging and Mexican identity in ways they had not before.

Plague, Fear, and Politics in San Francisco’s Chinatown, by Guenter B. Risse (Johns Hopkins University Press)

'Plague, Fear, and Politics' by Guenter B. Risse

When health officials in San Francisco discovered bubonic plague in their city’s Chinatown in 1900, they responded with intrusive, controlling, and arbitrary measures that touched off a sociocultural conflict still relevant today. Guenter B. Risse’s history of an epidemic is the first to incorporate the voices of those living in Chinatown at the time, including the desperately ill Wong Chut King, believed to be the first person infected.

Lasting until 1904, the plague in San Francisco’s Chinatown reignited racial prejudices, renewed efforts to remove the Chinese from their district, and created new tensions among local, state, and federal public health officials quarreling over the presence of the deadly disease. Risse’s rich, nuanced narrative of the event draws from a variety of sources, including Chinese-language reports and accounts. He addresses the ecology of Chinatown, the approaches taken by Chinese and Western medical practitioners, and the effects of quarantine plans on Chinatown and its residents.

Risse explains how plague threatened California’s agricultural economy and San Francisco’s leading commercial role with Asia, discusses why it brought on a wave of fear mongering that drove perceptions and intervention efforts, and describes how Chinese residents organized and successfully opposed government quarantines and evacuation plans in federal court. By probing public health interventions in the setting of one of the most visible ethnic communities in United States history, Plague, Fear, and Politics in San Francisco’s Chinatown offers insight into the clash of Eastern and Western cultures in a time of medical emergency.

The House on Lemon Street: Japanese Pioneers and the American Dream, by Mark Rawitsch (University Press of Colorado)

'The House on Lemon Street' Mark Rawitch

In 1915, Jukichi and Ken Harada purchased a house on Lemon Street in Riverside, California. Close to their restaurant, church, and children’s school, the house should have been a safe and healthy family home. Before the purchase, white neighbors objected because of the Haradas’ Japanese ancestry, and the California Alien Land Law denied them real-estate ownership because they were not citizens. To bypass the law Mr. Harada bought the house in the names of his three youngest children, who were American-born citizens. Neighbors protested again, and the first Japanese American court test of the California Alien Land Law of 1913—The People of the State of California v. Jukichi Harada—was the result.

Bringing this little-known story to light, The House on Lemon Street details the Haradas’ decision to fight for the American dream. Chronicling their experiences from their immigration to the United States through their legal battle over their home, their incarceration during World War II, and their lives after the war, this book tells the story of the family’s participation in the struggle for human and civil rights, social justice, property and legal rights, and fair treatment of immigrants in the United States.

The Harada family’s quest for acceptance illuminates the deep underpinnings of anti-Asian animus, which set the stage for Executive Order 9066, and recognizes fundamental elements of our nation’s anti-immigrant history that continue to shape the American story. It will be worthwhile for anyone interested in the Japanese American experience in the twentieth century, immigration history, public history, and law.

Vanishing Filipino Americans: The Bridge Generation, by Peter Jamero (University Press of America)

'Vanishing Filipino Americans' by Peter Jamero

Documentation of Filipino American history is largely limited to the Manong Generation that immigrated to the United States during the early 1900s. Their second-generation children — the Bridge Generation — are now in their sixties, seventies, and eighties; however, the literature is silent regarding their life in America.

Vanishing Filipino Americans explores the Bridge Generation’s growing up years; their maturation as participants in Filipino youth clubs; their development of a unique subculture; their civic participation; and their triumphs and struggles in America’s workforce. Jamero begins the process of documenting the experiences and contributions of these second-generation Filipino Americans, addressing a significant void in the history of Filipinos in America.

Asian American Racial Realities in Black and White, by Bruce Calvin Hoskins (Lynne Rienner Publishers)

'Asian American Racial Realities' by Bruce Calvin Hoskins

What does it mean for an Asian American to be part white or part black? Bruce Hoskins probes the experience of biracial Asian Americans, revealing the ways that our discourse about multiracial identities too often reinforces racial hierarchies.

Hoskins explores the everyday lives of people of Asian/white and Asian/black heritage to uncover the role of our society s white-black continuum in shaping racial identity. Mixing intimate personal stories with cutting-edge theoretical analysis, he directly confronts the notion that multiracial identity provides an easy solution for our society s racial stratification.


June 1, 2009

Written by C.N.

20th Anniversary and Legacy of Tiananmen Square Events

Following up on my earlier post about the recent publication of former Chinese Premier Zhao Ziyang’s memoirs, this week marks the 20th anniversary of the end of student protests in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China.

As history records it, for two months leading up to this week, thousands of young Chinese college students and their supporters camped out in Tiananmen Square publicly advocating for greater political freedom and rights before the Chinese authorities, led by Deng Ziaping and Li Peng, ordered the army to crush the “rebellion” in the early hours of June 4, 1989. An estimated 2,000 Chinese died in the crackdown.

CBS New’s news-magazine show Sunday Morning recently did a segment on the 20th anniversary of Tiananmen Square and examined what led to the protests, how it ended, and the modern legacy of the events of 20 years ago (about 6 minutes long):

The take-home message is that 20 years after turning on their own citizens, China’s leaders have implemented many of the students’ original demands and have eased up on their control over the lives of ordinary citizens. Unfortunately, the changes that have taken place do not include greater political democracy nor many of the freedoms that we in the U.S. take for granted, such as freedom of the press.

Instead, the changes since the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests have steered Chinese toward a greater sense of nationalism (reaching a fever pitch at times) poised to rail against anything perceived to be anti-Chinese, an almost obsessive drive to make money and become rich (frequently at the expense of consumer safety), and perhaps most important, unquestioned acceptance of the communist regime’s authority and power.

In other words, the goals of the Tiananmen Square student protesters 20 years ago still remain largely unfulfilled and their efforts towards modernizing China toward a more democratic and humane society are still ongoing.


May 18, 2009

Written by C.N.

New Book: Zhao Ziyang & Tiananmen Square Protests

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 Asians/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.

Prisoner of the State: The Secret Journal of Premier Zhao Ziyang (Simon & Schuster)

China has been in the news for several issues recently including the Summer Olympics, human rights abuses, faulty and dangerous consumer goods, etc. But for those who remember, 1989 was a monumental year for China. In the spring of that year, thousands of college students and their supporters camped out in Tiananmen Square, demonstrating for political reform and increased individual freedoms. After a tense two weeks, on June 4, 1989, the communist government finally sent in troops to crush what it perceived to be a “rebellion.”

Most estimates are that in the crackdown, over a thousand Chinese protesters were killed by government troops. Several of the student leaders were ultimately imprisoned, executed, or just disappeared while a few were able to flee China and gain asylum in other countries. One of the most indelible images from the Tienanmen Square events was the picture of the “tank man” — a lone Chinese man who stood down a line of tanks and who came to symbolize the courage of individuals standing up to government corruption and tyranny.

The 'tank man' of Tienanmen Square

One other prominent part of the Tienanmen Square events was Zhao Ziyang, China’s Communist Party General Secretary at the time. Initially seen as a reformer and rising star within the China’s government, he attempted to mediate the protesters’ demands with communist officials, notably Deng Xiaoping, China’s ultimate leader at the time. Ultimately, he was basically fired just before the crackdown and put under house arrest until his death in 2005.

As the New York Times reports, during his house arrest, Zhao secretly recorded his memoirs which is now being published as a book entitled, Prisoner of the State: The Secret Journal of Premier Zhao Ziyang:

One striking claim in the memoir, scholars who have seen it said, is that Mr. Zhao presses the case that he pioneered the opening of China’s economy to the world and the initial introduction of market forces in agriculture and industry — steps he says were fiercely opposed by hard-liners and not always fully supported by Mr. Deng, the paramount leader, who is often credited with championing market-oriented policies. . . .

Roderick MacFarquhar, a China expert at Harvard who wrote an introduction to the new book, said it had given him a new appreciation of Mr. Zhao’s central role in devising economic strategies, including some, like promoting foreign trade in coastal provinces, that he had urged on Mr. Deng, rather than the other way around. “Deng Xiaoping was the godfather, but on a day-to-day basis Zhao was the actual architect of the reforms,” Mr. MacFarquhar said. . . .

Although the tumult of 1989 is distant for many Chinese, it remains a forbidden subject, heavily censored on the Internet and rarely if ever mentioned in the state-run media. Beijing authorities are likely to be unhappy with Mr. Zhao’s airing of inside conflicts. . . In a sharp break with Chinese Communist tradition, even for dismissed officials, Mr. Zhao provides personal details of tense party sessions. . . .

Mr. Zhao said that in 1989 he argued that most of the demonstrating students “were only asking us to correct our flaws, not attempting to overthrow our political system.” . . . Perry Link, professor emeritus of Chinese Studies at Princeton said, “Laying bare the personal animosities from such a high position is something new here. It’s certainly the element that will send officials in Beijing through the roof.”

Undoubtedly Zhao Ziyang remains a controversial figure for Chinese Americans and Chinese all around the world. Nonetheless, for those interested in China and the events of the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, this book promises to give an unprecedented inside look into the political and personal issues within China’s communist regime.


April 14, 2009

Written by C.N.

Background and Summary of Thailand Protests

When it comes to political news back in Asia, most of the mainstream media’s attention is directed at the “usual suspects” — China, India, Japan, and North Korea. However, Thailand is in the midst of plenty of political turmoil recently. For those who want some background information on the current protests taking place in Thailand, Andrew Lam at New America Media offers a very nice and succinct summary:

According to Thai police, up to 40,000 anti-government “red-shirt” protesters have scattered around the Thai capital, blocking roadways and entrances to upscale shopping malls. A few days earlier, in the nearby beach town of Pattaya, they managed to scare away leaders attending the Asian economic summit and attack Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s own convoy, causing injuries to several members. The prime minister barely got away. His declaration of a state of emergency was only met with more riots by the red shirts. They only began to break up when thousands of soldiers moved in.

Many of these red shirt protesters were trucked in from rural areas. Fierce supporters of exiled Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawsastra, who was ousted in 2006 when he was traveling abroad, and charged with corruption in absentia, the protesters are now threatening to bring down the economy as well. Foreign investors are driven away by the unrest and tourism, already suffering from Thailand’s instability, is predicted to sink even further.

Yet, less than six months ago, it was the “yellow shirts” who owned the streets. Members of the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), they wore yellow to honor Thailand’s revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Representing a more urban population – in many ways the educated and bourgeois class — the yellow shirts blocked the airport for days and stranded nearly 250,000 tourists.

The yellow shirts were incensed when a pro-Thaksin prime minister was popularly elected into office when the general election was held in December 2007. In effect, the yellow shirts disagreed with the election, claiming fraud. The constitutional court, under pressure to get the country moving again, agreed with them and disqualified the pro-Thaksin prime minister.

The trouble was that there was no clear evidence of fraud. In fact, Thaksin himself won the election fair and square before he was ousted by the military three years ago, with tacit support from the king. Many observers predict that he would win again were he to return and run in a fair election. A populist, the former prime minister made great strides among the rural population, provided education and jobs, and brought many out of dire poverty. Charges of corruption aside, his growing base in the countryside rivals that of the affection the people have for their king.

This leads to the issue of civil war, or something close to it.


November 13, 2008

Written by C.N.

40th Anniversary of SF State Strike for Ethnic Studies

Among academics like me, this month is very significant not just because of the presidential election, but also because it marks the 40th anniversary of the multiracial mass student strikes at San Francisco State University (SFSU) which lasted for several months and eventually resulted in the creation of the country’s first Ethnic Studies (including Asian American Studies) program in the U.S. To commemorate this anniversary and to provide a detailed chronology of the strike’s significant moments, the San Francisco Chronicle has a story that reflects on the strike’s legacy 40 years later:

Critics of the strike said some of its goals did not justify the violence. But ethnic studies experts and historians say it brought positive change to the university, particularly the creation of its College of Ethnic Studies, which includes Asian American Studies, Black Studies, La Raza Studies and Native American Studies. . . .

“Did their 15 demands justify the bombings? Hell no,” he said. “They placed a bomb in the administrative offices while school was in session. They were setting fires in the library. They were putting people’s lives in serious danger.”

But Laureen Chew, now associate dean of the College of Ethnic Studies and one of nearly 700 students jailed during the strike, said the battle was necessary. As an Asian American, she had faced racism in high school and from customers of her parents’ laundry shop who called her father a “stupid Chinaman.”

As a scholar whose work and life centers largely on Ethnic Studies and Asian American Studies, I feel a lot of complicated and perhaps even contradictory feelings over these events that took place 40 years ago, long before I was even born.

On the one hand, I generally do not subscribe to a “the ends justify the means” approach when it comes to protests or demonstrations. While I was not there 40 years ago and can’t confirm the tactics that the student protesters may have used that put people’s lives in danger, I will say that committing violence to make a point and purposely putting innocent people’s lives in harm’s way is not the answer.

At the same time, I am pretty sure that the violence that the student protesters endured at the hands of the police was far worse than the violence that the students perpetrated against innocent bystanders. With that in mind and paraphrasing Malcolm X, protecting yourself against brutality is not being extremist — it’s basic common sense.

And ultimately, I do agree with Professor Chew’s sentiments that there comes a time when enough is enough — when you or your community endure so much systematic discrimination, inequality, and injustice that everything reaches a boiling point, at which time you must stand up and assert your basic human rights as an American.

Suffice it to say that I probably would not have the job I have now if it weren’t for this strike at SFSU 40 years ago and other student-led movements that paved the way for the creation of Ethnic Studies and Asian American Studies programs around the country.

But even beyond that, the SFSU strike stands as an inspiring example and reminder to all who are marginalized that learning about justice and equality is just the first step — the point is to turn that knowledge into action.