Erika Lee

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Erika Lee

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The United States
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January 2009


I’m a writer, teacher, wife, and mom who loves reading and writing.

I’m a historian who still does history the old-fashioned way by doing research in the archives and gets excited finding dusty documents, but I’m also fully immersed in the 21st century as a #twitterstorian who is helping to build a digital archive of immigrant digital stories.

I write about immigrants, Asian Americans, and race as a way to understand America in the past and present. I write history “from the bottom up,” focusing on everyday people and their role in American life, and I believe that history matters. What we understand about our past shapes both our identities and our actions today.

I grew up in the Bay Area, went to college in Boston, moved back to Berkeley
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Erika Lee Although I did not know it at the time, this book first began many years ago when I was in college and started learning about Asian American history…moreAlthough I did not know it at the time, this book first began many years ago when I was in college and started learning about Asian American history for the first time. There had been no mention of Asian Americans in my high school history classes, and like many Chinese American families who had lived under the shadow of the Chinese exclusion laws, my own family did not talk about our past. I’ll never forget my shock when I learned about the history of the violent and hate-filled anti-Chinese movement for the first time. “I never knew that this happened,” I remember thinking.

By the time I finished college, Sucheng Chan and Ron Takaki had published their seminal histories of Asian Americans. I had the privilege of meeting both of them when they visited Tufts University where I was an undergraduate. They helped me imagine the possibility of becoming a historian and contributing to the ongoing work of preserving and writing Asian American history.

A lot has changed since then. There are now award-winning books, documentary films, and historic sites that preserve many aspects of Asian American history. However, more often than not, my students still tell me that they “never knew this happened.” I hear this nearly every semester at the University of Minnesota and whenever I give a public talk around the country and abroad. I could be talking to undergraduates at an elite Ivy League university, New York City museum docents, or high school teachers from the South. “I never knew that this happened” has become a constant refrain and points to the continuing invisibility of Asian Americans in American history and life.

As the fastest growing group in the United States today, Asian Americans should no longer be lost to history. It's my hope that instead of saying "I never knew that this happened," future generations will say, "Oh, yeah, I've learned that before."(less)
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