The Best Books About Asian American Identity, According to Experts
The Best Books About Asian American Identity, According to Experts
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While the first major wave of Chinese immigrants arrived in the U.S. in the 1850s, Andrew Hsiao, publisher of Verso Books, says that “Asian American was an invention of the 1970s.” He goes on to explain that “the generation of young activists in the late ’60s and ’70s who came up with the pan-Asian political identity ‘Asian American’ are the folks we now call the Asian American movement.” Christine Bacareza Balance, an associate professor of Asian American studies and performing and media arts at Cornell University, puts it another way: “Before it was a census category or a niche marketing term, they were actual people who were fighting to understand themselves as a kind of pan-ethnic coalition.”

Lisa Lowe, a professor of American studies and ethnicity, race, and migration at Yale University, adds that anyone looking to better understand the meaning of the term “Asian American” should also look to the “historical and ongoing relationship of U.S. wars and military occupation in the countries from which many Asian migrants, immigrants, and refugees come.” As she explains, “the recent murders of Asian women in Atlanta brings anti-Asian violence to public attention, but it also exposes many other everyday forms of violence that go unnoticed.” According to her, these include “the concentration of Asian immigrant women in service work, who are often disproportionately exposed to danger, harassment, COVID, or other kinds of harm,” all things that Lowe says tie back to the “histories of war that prompted their immigration.” Summing up what we learned from talking to 13 writers, scholars, historians, and editors about the best books on Asian American identity, Lowe notes that “there are many ways to approach the understanding of Asian Americans today.”