The Making of Asian America

The Making of Asian America

A History

Book - 2015
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A "comprehensive...fascinating" ( The New York Times Book Review) history of Asian Americans and their role in American life, by one of the nation's preeminent scholars on the subject.

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 much of their long history has been forgotten. "In her sweeping, powerful new book, Erika Lee considers the rich, complicated, and sometimes invisible histories of Asians in the United States" ( Huffington Post ).

The Making of Asian America shows how generations of Asian immigrants and their American-born descendants have made and remade Asian American life, from sailors who came on the first trans-Pacific ships in the 1500 to the Japanese Americans incarcerated 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 fifty years after the passage of the United States' Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, these "powerful Asian American stories...are inspiring, and Lee herself does them justice in a book that is long overdue" ( Los Angeles Times ). But more than that, The Making of Asian America is an "epic and eye-opening" ( Minneapolis Star-Tribune ) new way of understanding America itself, its complicated histories of race and immigration, and its place in the world today.
Publisher: New York, NY : Simon & Schuster, 2015.
Edition: First Simon & Schuster hardcover edition.
ISBN: 9781476739410
Branch Call Number: 973.0495
Characteristics: viii, 519 pages : illustrations, map ; 24 cm


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Feb 02, 2018

When I read 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created several years ago, I became aware for the first time of the extensive history East Asians have in this hemisphere. Since then, I have been hunting for a resource that tells the full story of Asian Americans. Erika Lee's The Making of Asian America does that and more.

Lee's narrative is essentially linear, beginning with the Chinese (probably Fujian) seamen that accompanied the Spaniards on their initial trips to the Western hemisphere. But as Lee makes clear in the introduction, "Asian American" covers multiple, diverse groups, and as such she does dip back to the same period a few times to tell the different but linked stories of the different groups of immigrants that came to the Americas, particularly the Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, South Asians (predominantly from the Punjab region) and Filipinos.

I consider myself well-versed in American history. However, there were many facets of the story of Asian Americans that shocked me. Chinese and South Asian coolies who were brought to the Americas were treated almost as badly as African slaves; Filipino immigrants were essentially deported back to the Philippines in the 1930s during one of the many spasm of anti-immigrant hatred; Chinese and Japanese immigrants were among the first "undocumented immigrants" after the initial exclusionary immigration laws; Korean Americans were among those accusing Japanese Americans of being Fifth Columnists after Pearl Harbor (something I read with great shame as a Korean American); and Japanese Peruvians were forcibly brought to the United States in the paranoia after Pearl Harbor and then some of them (along with Japanese Americans) were deported to Japan. There's more, but that list should give a flavor of what you might encounter.

Given the incredibly hostile environment- Chinese Americans were the victims of the largest mass lynching in US History in Los Angeles, 1871- it's remarkable that so many Asian Americans thrived in the United States. Politicians (perhaps most famously Senator and World War II veteran Daniel Inouye), activists (including Grace Lee Boggs) and business people (too numerous to name) have all succeeded in this country, to the point that the "Model Minority" myth took hold of the media narrative around Asian Americans in the 1960s. Lee spends many pages detailing the plight of Asian American communities that are glossed over in the name of perpetuating this myth. While some may know that the educational and financial achievements of the Hmong and Cambodians in this country aren't "models", few may realize that Korean Americans are also over-represented among the poor in this country. And while it has been possible for Asian Americans to overcome many barriers, they have also been the victims of hate crimes (perhaps most famously, Vincent Chin) and feel the sting of the response to the 9/11 attacks doubly, both as reminders of what Japanese Americans endured in the 1940s and what South Asians are endangered by in the present day.

The story of Asian America is as complicated as one would guess it would be given the many groups who comprise it. Lee not only tells the story, she helps the reader make sense of it. Highly recommended for anyone with an interest in American history.


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