A sweeping study of the fastest growing group in the United States that underscores the shameful racist regard white Americans have long held for Asian immigrants.
A historian of immigration whose ancestors hailed from China, Lee (History/Univ. of Minnesota) delineates the specific history of Asians in America—Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Hmong, and others—while also lending a general sense of what immigrants have endured: discrimination in work, wages, education, and housing, and even incarceration during World War II. The author tells a thorough tale, beginning with the first “chinos” (Filipinos, Chinese, Japanese) who migrated from 16th-century Manila (trade between Spain and Asia first ran through the Philippines) to Acapulco and even proto-California. Colonial trade routes brought goods like tea, porcelain, and fabrics from Asia, and immigrants followed to Mexico and Peru and North America, especially as the need for labor grew. Readers might be surprised to learn of the huge influx of South Asian “coolies,” or indentured laborers bound under contract, to the Americas and the West Indies during the 19th century, feeding another form of slavery and fueling discrimination. Due to adverse economic conditions in many Chinese provinces in the mid-1800s, the Chinese migrated in huge numbers; one great attraction was “Gold Mountain” (California), which drew Lee’s great-great-great-grandfather. Official U.S. immigration discrimination kicked in by 1875, codified in certain exclusion and immigration acts (1882, 1924) and restricting citizenship. Of course, the irony was that despite the enormous contributions of Asians in building American industry and wealth, they were never considered fully American. But Asians in exile were able to work for revolution and change in their own countries (China, India) while pushing all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to challenge discrimination in housing, work, and other venues. For readers interested in even further study, the author provides a highly useful bibliographic essay.
A powerful, timely story told with method and dignity.