Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

Asian American Dreams: The Emergence of an American People

Rate this book
The fascinating story of the rise of Asian Americans as a politically and socially influential racial group

This groundbreaking book is about the transformation of Asian Americans from a few small, disconnected, and largely invisible ethnic groups into a self-identified racial group that is influencing every aspect of American society. It explores the junctures that shocked Asian Americans into motion and shaped a new consciousness, including the murder of Vincent Chin, a Chinese American, by two white autoworkers who believed he was Japanese; the apartheid-like working conditions of Filipinos in the Alaska canneries; the boycott of Korean American greengrocers in Brooklyn; the Los Angeles riots; and the casting of non-Asians in the Broadway musical Miss Saigon. The book also examines the rampant stereotypes of Asian Americans.

Helen Zia, the daughter of Chinese immigrants, was born in the 1950s when there were only 150,000 Chinese Americans in the entire country, and she writes as a personal witness to the dramatic changes involving Asian Americans.

Written for both Asian Americans -- the fastest-growing population in the United States -- and non-Asians, Asian American Dreams argues that America can no longer afford to ignore these emergent, vital, and singular American people.

368 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2000

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Helen Zia

10 books82 followers
Helen Zia is the author of Asian American Dreams: The Emergence of an American People, a finalist for the Kiriyama Pacific Rim Book Prize (Bill Clinton referred to the book in two separate Rose Garden speeches). Zia is the co-author, with Wen Ho Lee, of My Country Versus Me: The First-Hand Account by the Los Alamos Scientist Who Was Falsely Accused of Being a Spy. She is also a former executive editor of Ms. magazine. A Fulbright Scholar, Zia first visited China in 1972, just after President Nixon’s historic trip. A graduate of Princeton University, she holds an honorary doctor of laws degree from the City University of New York School of Law and lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
392 (41%)
4 stars
359 (38%)
3 stars
155 (16%)
2 stars
28 (2%)
1 star
10 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 89 reviews
Profile Image for Thomas.
1,424 reviews8,308 followers
June 25, 2022
I loved this book for shedding light on Asian American history in the United States! Helen Zia writes about so many important events, including the murder of Vincent Chin in 1982, tensions and hostility between Korean Americans and Black Americans preceding and during the 1992 Los Angeles uprising, the racist erasure of Asian Americans in media and how white people used yellowface to portray Asian Americans such as in Miss Saigon (a problematic play in and of itself), and much more. I appreciated how she interwove her own life story and her role in these social justice movements throughout the book, especially in the first half and in the touching closing featuring her father. Her writing felt intelligent and thorough, while remaining accessible and conversational enough to make for a fun and not onerous reading experience.

I would definitely recommend this book for my fellow Asian Americans. While those who are familiar with Asian American history (e.g., through coursework or self-education on the topic) may not get too much new information, I still think it’s worthwhile to witness these pivotal events from a queer Asian American woman who lived through them herself. I myself definitely did not learn about any of these historical events pretty much until undergrad and beyond, through taking a couple of Asian American studies courses in undergrad and engaging in my own research about Asian American psychology. I feel like we need books like these to understand our history and to continue fighting for racial justice – for example, reading this book reminded me of the political origins of the term “Asian American” itself. Overall, a wonderful primer for Asian American history and a great launching point for additional investigation for more specific topics within Asian American studies.
Profile Image for Jasmine.
4 reviews2 followers
September 12, 2010
I'm at a point in my life where I'm questioning my cultural identity - should I be Asian-American or an Asian-European-American or just check the Other box? I'm not sure who or what group I want to be tied to, or if I want to be tied to any particular group anyways.

Funnily enough, I didn't read this book to find out if I wanted to identify as Asian-American only. I read this as part of my Independent Study project at school (on Asians & Asian-Americans in the media) but I read this for a bit of context to base my studies in. I got way more context then I could even hope to find in at least 5 books.

Zia writes in a way that is compelling, informative, easy to read, and easy to understand. She takes us through everything, from the Chinese miners in the Gold Rush to the trials of the Vincent Chin murder, from saigu to the emergence of hapas, from the controversial casting of Miss Saigon to the reinvention of the Asian-American identity. An eye-opening read for everyone, not just Asian-Americans or kids who are questioning their cultural identity.

That being said, I'm just as proud of my Asian-American heritage as before, if not more so. An awesome, awesome book!
16 reviews2 followers
November 11, 2010
Zia writes a well-researched and highly reflective account of the history and future of Asian Americans. I was drawn to Zia's book in the first few pages where she writes "In 1965, an immigration policy that had given racial preferences to Europeans for nearly two hundred years officially came to an end. Millions of new immigrants to America were no longer the standard vanilla but Hispanic, African, Caribbean, and - most dramatically for me - Asian...Up until then I was someone living in the shadows of American society - struggling to find some way into the portrait that was firmly etched in white and, occasionally, black" (4). She later explains that she finally realized she "had an identity of [her] own" (4). Even though I did not directly experience what she shares, I can relate and connect to her stories, as I'm sure many of my students can. Many of our students are anywhere between 1st or 5th generation immigrants or have family members or neighbors who are immigrants; everyone has felt the need to conform or to assimilate to the "American" way.

Zia shares how often times during her childhood she felt invisible or even obsolete. Like Lilia from Jhumpa Lahiri's "When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine" recounts how every year her social studies class starts with the Revolutionary War. Zia explains how "each year, [her] history classes followed a predicable rhythm. September began with the Leni-Lenapes, the local Native American Indians who had vanished long ago. By midyear [they] were into Manifest Destiny, the Gold Rush, and the 'settling' of the West. The Civil War came and went, and slavery was finally abolished. In the spring, [they] zipped through Woodrow Wilson, the League of Nations, and World War II. In this whirlwind treatment of history, there wasn't a single Asian American to be found. [She] had no clue that people like [her] ha[d] contributed to the building of American, the land of [her] birth" (22).

Zia's book is that untold story most readers never were exposed to. She shares how each Asian American group came to the US and how each group tried to distinguish itself separate from the other Asian or Pacific Island races. She also discusses the countless stereotypes associated with Asian Americans. She ends her book with a question about sharing "insider" information - something that made me remember the chapter on multicultural literature. Zia is clearly an insider and she questions if she should share this information with her readers. It's funny - I'm actually avoiding the insider information because I know people's reaction to it! Well - she shares a story about how she was on a flight to China and in the in-flight magazine, in English and in Chinese, there was a recipe for "Puppy Stew." Zia explains how she spent most of her life refuting these accusations, but there it was "illustrated in color...that some of us do." It's then that she poses the question "Will Asian Americans be forever censoring ourselves, fearful of how we might be reinterpreted and misconstrued by 'outsiders' - other Americans. When will we feel safe enough to project our whole selves?...To be seen, we must make ourselves visible, showing blemish as well as beauty" (314-315).

This is an important book for everyone.
Profile Image for Manshui.
38 reviews
September 5, 2009
Asian American Dreams is a true emergence of the American people. As an Asian American, I can connect to this story of Helen Zia's survival as Asian in America. The author brings many topics about descrimination and stereotype in her life in the Asian American race. I feel really glad that now more Asian Americans are speaking up on who they are even though they are different. Although we are a minority in the nation, many of us has left a important footprint in the foundation of this growing country. Even though I myself have experienced so many stereotypes when I was in elementary and junior high school, I have come to speak out more about who I am more proudly and effectively. This shows my strength and my ability to win equality. I would recommend this book to Asian Americans and people of other cultures who feel that inequality, descrimination, and stereotype are greatly affecting their lifestyles because of their face and their skin.
Profile Image for Viv.
65 reviews
June 20, 2021
Contains so much Asian & Asian American history that I wish I could have learned in school, but I’m grateful this book and Helen Zia exist to record these for posterity.
A great companion to Erika Lee’s “Making of Asian America”.
Profile Image for Chris Dunn.
61 reviews1 follower
May 3, 2020
When I first decided to read this book, I worried from the subtitle — "The Emergence of an American People" — that it would offer a largely idealistic, optimistic view of Asian Americans' roles in the U.S. I was wrong, and I'm glad. Coupled with Erika Lee's "The Making of Asian America," Helen Zia's "Asian American Dreams" is essential reading to learn and better understand the multilayered, many-faceted history of Asians and Asian Americans in the U.S.

Published in 2015, "The Making of Asian America" was wide in scope, with a larger emphasis on the foundations of Asian American history, from the 1550s through the mid-20th century.

"Asian American Dreams" focuses more on the modern age as Asian Americans of different heritages and socioeconomic backgrounds have endeavored to unite and make their voices heard in their local communities, in labor, in education, in pop culture, and in politics, from the 1976 murder of Vincent Chin to the election of Gary Locke, the first Asian American governor on the mainland. Though it was published in 2000, the book does not come across as dated (whew) and provides deep dives into the many challenges, defeats, and victories experienced by Asian Americans in the second half of the 20th century.

Zia, a well-known activist and journalist, interjects her own experiences to inform the structure of this history, and does not shy away from emphasizing the necessity (and historical challenges) of Asian Americans' recognizing and working alongside Black Americans and people of color.

Read Erika Lee's book first, then this one. Since so much has happened since "Asian American Dreams" was published in 2000, I hope Zia or another colleague has an update in the works.
Profile Image for Ying.
192 reviews53 followers
September 1, 2016
REQUIRED READING + A BOOK TO OWN. so accessible. like a 101 text, but supercharged because of the delicate balance of context and detail, plus Helen Zia's journalist background.
Profile Image for Barb Middleton.
1,639 reviews122 followers
November 8, 2014
I was talking to a colleague who said she loved this book because it captured her conflicted identity growing up in America as an Asian who had no voice in government. She's an activist like Helen Zia. She tells a great story of her high school principal asking her at lunch one day how he could get the Chinese, Koreans, and white students to not eat separately. My colleague suggested to the principal to organize field trips. "Friendships are formed out of the classroom and the principal took me up on my idea." She used it as a small example of one person making a difference in her world of cultural divisions. I would have liked Zia to pepper her story with more hope-filled examples like my colleague's; particularly in the beginning. I felt bad that Zia had so many negative experiences and was a bit exhausted plowing through it all. Unfortunately, that was her reality. Her book is meant to shock people into action by the injustices suffered by minority groups such as Koreans, Japanese, Filipinos, Chinese, and Asian-Indians. It is a history of the politicization of Asians in America.

I just read Native American Tim Tingle's book called, How I became a Ghost, and he explains the first time he told the story of the Trail of Tears to a mostly white audience. He said that the first row stood up and left right away because he told about all the horrors and injustices that happened at the get-go. He changed the story to the viewpoint of a ten-year-old boy and presented a loving Native American family and rich culture, drawing the listener into the story. Later, he punched the audience between the eyes with the injustices and oppression white men inflicted on his Nation. Once he changed the tone and lured the audience into the story, he explained, they stopped walking out on him. Zia's book jumps immediately into the horrors and injustices that made me think of the white people that got up and left Tingle's talk. I wondered if white people abandoned Zia's book after the first few chapters. If you feel that way, I encourage you to not set it down.

Zia uses personal narratives at the beginning of the chapters but she can be heavy-handed at times. But I'm a white person and outsider who did not grow up poor, so my perspective is different. Or maybe her accusations toward white oppressors made me feel defensive and I need to take a harder look at my own biases. That is why I mentioned my Asian colleague at the start. She respectfully disagreed with me when I said the start of the book turned me off. She told me I couldn't understand the Asian plight because I was white. She's right. I don't. But I'm trying. Even living overseas as a minority, I get an idea but it isn't the same experience because I know I am a foreigner who will leave Taiwan and go back to America. As an expat, I don't vote. I don't speak the language. I don't pay taxes. I'm American, not Taiwanese. Asian Americans feel the same way. America is their country. They need a voice. They do vote. They do pay taxes. We had a good dialogue. Perhaps that is the strength of this book. It opens communication between different cultures, which is a cornerstone to building respect and understanding.

Zia came to our school and her speaking was more of what I wanted in her book that was written in 2000. She explained historically how cultures clash and their differences lead to conflict. Her book shows how groups overcome those conflicts. Major events in history show discrimination and hate crimes against different Asian groups. Many of these events correlate with global financial crises such as the recession in 1882 that resulted in high levels of unemployment and layoffs. The Chinese were blamed at the time for the bad economy. Thousands were driven out of America and many murdered. The government passed The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 that was the beginning of a ban on Chinese immigrants that lasted sixty years. The United States enacted a discriminatory law against a particular ethnic group for the first time ever.

One hundred years later a similar incident occurred with the murder of Vincent Chin in Detroit, Michigan. Chin, a Chinese man, was murdered on the night of his bachelor party because some white auto workers blamed the Japanese for the loss of auto jobs. With unemployment at 16%, people were looking for scapegoats. On the night of his death, the auto workers thought Chin was Japanese and got in a fight with him at a bar. Chin left with a friend and the men tracked him down, bludgeoning him to death in a parking lot. The recession of 1982 resulted from a global oil and energy crisis. American cars got about 5-10 miles to the gallon. Oil had gone from 20 cents a gallon to 4 dollars a gallon and American cars were gas guzzlers. The American auto industry collapsed as people bought more fuel efficient Japanese cars. Many people unjustly blamed Japan for the problem and the young engineer, Vincent Chin, became a victim of a hate crime.

The white men arrested for Chin's murder were given such light sentences that it caused the Asian community to band together as an organization, initiating the pan-Asian American movement. The killers served no jail time and the Asians knew that if Chin was white the killers would have gone to jail. Journalist Helen Zia and lawyer Liza Chan knew that they couldn't do anything after the sentence was handed down locally, so they brought federal charges against the white men saying that they violated Chin's civil rights. The man who swung the baseball bat at Chin's head killing him was sentenced to jail by a federal judge.

The book is full of major events that has resulted in the politicization of Asians: The Japanese Internment of 1942, The Immigration Act of 1965, Wards Cove vs. Atonio in 1989, Miss Saigon in 1991, the Los Angeles Riots in 1992, Hawaiian lawsuits for marriage equality in 1993, and Wen Ho Lee's wrongful imprisonment in 1999. Zia's book isn't limited to race, she dips into gender and sexuality as well. I actually liked the book more when the topic was broadened. The American Dream is the ethos for the United States. It is rooted in the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal. The ideal means that the opportunity to work hard and succeed is available to all. It can only happen if inequalities are exposed for what they are and Zia does just that in her book. While this book should make Asians feel proud and visible, it might make Caucasians feel bad or uncomfortable. This is necessary to break down discriminatory barriers and create a culture that truly strives for the American dream.
Profile Image for April.
515 reviews8 followers
November 26, 2016
Another book from my college days, this is a comprehensive social history about various Asian groups in the U.S. and how they have fought and fared as an emerging political, social, cultural, and economic entity after the 1950's. Helen Zia weaves in her own experience of how she emerged as being a strong voice for Asian Americans, so this is part memoir as well. Thankful that we have people like Helen to document and share this important social history with a broad audience. Happy that I have a personally signed copy and got to work with Helen, bringing her to my college as a student to speak to other students during our AA/PI Heritage Month, as well!

"There is a drill that nearly all Asians in America have experienced more times than they can count. Total strangers will interrupt with the absurdly existential question 'What are you?' Or the equally common inquiry 'Where are you from?' The queries are generally well intentioned, made in the same detached manner that you might use to inquire about a pooch's breed. My standard reply to 'What are you?' is 'American,' and to 'Where are you from?' 'New Jersey.' These, in my experience, cause great displeasure. Eyebrows arch as the questioner tries again. 'No, where are you really from?' I patiently explain that, really, I am from New Jersey. Inevitably this will lead to something like 'Well then, what country are your people from?' Sooner or later I relent and tell them that my 'people' are from China. But when I turn the tables and ask, 'And what country are your people from?' the reply is invariably an indignant 'I'm from America, of course.'" pg. 9

"Ironically, near the end of the war in Europe, the Japanese American GIs of the 442nd broke through the German defensive 'Gothic Line' in northern Italy, and were among the first to liberate the Nazi concentration camp in Dachau, Germany. However, the U.S. military commanders decided it would be bad public relations if Jewish prisoners were freed by Japanese American soldiers whose own families were imprisoned in American concentration camps. As with the transcontinental railroad photographs seventy-five years earlier, the Japanese American soldiers who liberated Dachau were MIH--Missing in History." pg. 43

"The radical attitude shift was a too familiar experience for Asian Americans who had seen many iterations of the 'friend today, foe tomorrow' treatment. Nor was the link to urban uprisings an accident. Where Asians had previously been the economic wedge to distract labor unrest, in the 1960s they were refashioned as a political and social hammer against other disadvantaged groups. The 'model minority' was born." pg. 46

"Occasionally I went along with Dad on his deliveries. I loved to breathe the heavy, green smell of the flower shops, to admire the colorful flowers organized in their refrigerated showcases. If I was lucky, I might see one of our merry-go-rounds or bassinets filled with flowers, waiting to be delivered to a new mother. But it was painful to watch my proud father kowtow and scrape to his customers, making small talk and chichat in strange fawning tones that he didn't use at home." pg. 168

"To be commercially successful, the argument went, writers and artists must have pandered to Western fantasies of Asian culture. In other words, artists who achieved acclaim from the mainstream were, by definition, sellouts, exploiting Asian American images as stereotypic commodities. Mainstream media have contributed to the friction when individual artists are portrayed as representing the views of all Asian Americans." pg. 271-272

"I said that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders will never achieve equal partnership and equal power with other Americans as long as we are seen as the quiet voice of reason, the ones who always behave, the people willing to discuss and negotiate no matter how outrageously we are mistreated. I said that we needed to broaden our repertoire of what we displayed as leadership, to be less predictable and more creative in our tactics. That we ought to shake up friend and foe alike, to tolerate dramatic actions, and to welcome the emergence of Asian American leaders who could stir passions in the manner of the Reverend Al Sharpton and such leaders of other communities. I asked them to imagine the scenario of an Asian American group dumping a truckload of rotten fish on the steps of Congress when it failed us for the fourth time on Wards Cove." pg. 283

"All Americans have an interest in a fair society that upholds its promise of equality and justice. At the same time, it is the special task of the Asian American population to put American on notice that we will not accept racial prejudice and discrimination against any people, including our own." pg. 317

"But we've pushed open the door and moved inside. We're out of the shadows and into the light. With 10 million of us at the dawn of the millennium, there's no 'back' to send us to. History, demographics, and our determination are on our side. What we have learned can't be taken away, We will be full partners in the future of America." pg. 318

"Inside, I smile. I believe my mother when she says that Dad was proud of what his children had accomplished--though he would never tell us so himself. That he had high hopes for his many grandchildren. His dreams and those of the Asian Americans who came before him stay within each of us. They are the memories of where we've come from, the lessons of what we've been through, and the visions of roads we have yet to walk in this land called America. They are our dreams, Asian American dreams." pg. 319
Profile Image for Kaitlyn.
74 reviews
May 4, 2021
WOW!! So often when we think about history, we think of events that happened centuries ago. We need to rethink this framework to include events that also happened ten, twenty, thirty years ago. History is ongoing, and we need to consider how our actions and policies affect future groups and generations: Which groups will be minimalized by putting these policies in place? Do these groups have representation and a say as these policies are enacted?

This novel is a heavy read, but I don't think I could have picked a better informed one. I'm glad I read Minor Feelings first as an intro (see review in previous post), because this book went so much more in depth. Most of this history is from the 1900s, discussing prejudice and policies made specifically to limit Asian immigration, citizenship, and representation in government. It also discusses conflicts in identity, as Asian Americans often developed a learned status of silence and invisibility - it was sometimes easier to try to remain invisible when regularly switched between being perceived as either "the enemy" or the "model minority."

Topics addressed:

• Asian Americans internalizing the stereotypes and developing a learned status of silence and invisibility - becoming the "model minority"

• The Yellow Power Movement coining the term "Asian American" and fighting against discriminatory practices and views

• Racial tensions between Asian Americans and other groups (ex: African Americans saw Korean stores as a reminder of economic inequality)

• Representation in entertainment and these stereotypes leaking into Asian Americans' lives (victims of violence)

• Policies targeting specific Asian groups out of fear (Japanese, Chinese) or in conflict with traditional ways of life (ex: Native Hawaiians, Hmong)
Profile Image for Irene.
453 reviews
November 3, 2020
I can't believe this book was published in 2000, and I've only just now read it. As an Asian American, I wish I had read it when it first came out, so I could have benefited from its clarity 20 years earlier.

This book chronicles when, where, and how Asian Americans have fit in within the tapestry of American history, politics, and culture. This book is a must-read for all Americans, not just Asian Americans. Everyone should know how much Asian Americans have helped shape this country, and Asian Americans especially can benefit from Helen Zia's reassurance of our belonging here in America. This book made me feel seen.

Asian American Dreams is part memoir, part survey of Asian American history, and part commentary on current events. Though events from the 1990s are no longer "current", the same types of events - for better or for worse - are still happening. The first-person narrative is very readable.

Helen Zia's personal stories were particularly relatable for me as a Chinese American growing up in a predominantly white suburb with immigrant parents. Though we are not the same age, I think I could have taken some of her stories and repeated them verbatim about myself, that's how similar our experiences were. Describing her childhood, she wrote, "[W]e stuck out like yellow streaks on a white-and-black canvas... The pressure on us was to fit in with the 'American' kids we looked so unlike, to conform and assimilate... But the joke was on us, because no matter how hard we might try to blend in with the scenery, our faces gave us away." (p. 7)

This book examines a number of events in modern America that have helped shape the Asian American consciousness: Vincent Chin's murder in Detroit; tensions between Korean shopkeepers and Black customers in NYC and LA; protests against Asian misrepresentation in entertainment; worker's rights for Filipino migrant workers in CA and Alaska and South Asian cab drivers in NYC; LGBTQ rights as civil rights worthy of support from all people, regardless of race. As a journalist, Helen Zia was personally involved in the activism surrounding a number of these movements; her deep dive into these issues included first-hand experience that provided invaluable details and insight.

It is meaningful and noteworthy that this book explored subjects that are commonly omitted in the Asian American narrative, like the inclusion of South Asians as part of the community. She quotes an activist whose words, unfortunately, still ring true today: "Asian Americans as a whole must re-evaluate what it means to be Asian American in order to finally stop the cycle of concentric exclusions... The alternative is that Tamils will continue to feel ignored by Sri Lankans, who are in turn tokenized by South Asian Americans, who feel marginalized by Asian Americans, who are invisible to Americans because they aren't black or white." (p. 222)

I appreciate that Helen Zia did not shy away from examining the context of Asian Americans in a racial landscape that is predominantly Black versus white. Excerpts such as the following are still relevant today: "We tried to explain that we recognized and respected African Americans' central and dominant position in the civil rights struggle; we wanted to show that we weren't trying to benefit from their sacrifices without offering anything in return. On the other hand, many European Americans were hostile or resistant to 'yet another minority group' stepping forward to make claims. Underlying both concerns was the suggestion, a nagging doubt, that Asian Americans had no legitimate place in discussions of racism because we hadn't really suffered any." (p. 68) I am greatly encouraged by how much progress has been made, though in some circles, whether or not the word "racist" can apply to African Americans being racially prejudiced against Asians is still up for debate. (p. 104)

Growing up, I identified as Chinese American because my parents were born in China. However, my parents were raised in Taiwan, are Taiwanese citizens, and consider Taiwan their homeland. Yet, we did not call ourselves Taiwanese, a label which, at the time, was reserved for native Taiwanese families. These days, as the separation between Chinese and Taiwanese is made more and more clear as tensions rise across the Taiwan Strait, I still identify as Chinese American, I also identify as Taiwanese American, and more and more often I find myself identifying as Asian American. This book opened my eyes to how this evolution in my own identity reflected the growth of the pan-Asian community in the United States. "Out of numerous disparate, even hostile, Asian ethnicities, we have forged a sense of shared experience and common future as Americans - Asian and Pacific Islander Americans." (p. 310)

This book describes how the term "Asian American" continues to be defined and re-defined by the people who claim the identity, from the first Chinese immigrants to modern day Hmong refugees and Korean adoptees in Minnesota to a new generation of hapa (a Hawaiian word for mixed-race people) across the country. Helen Zia assures us that as the Asian American community grows, Asian American groups and individuals will continue to find their place in America and their voice on issues in every facet of American life.
Profile Image for Sallie Lu.
236 reviews1 follower
August 26, 2021
3.5/4: I really had no sense of my Asian American history, and wish this was included in my K-12 education. This book provided a great overview, and is truly the only American history that feels intimately applicable to me. It also somehow feels so relevant despite being published two decades ago. That being said, this reads more like an exhaustive textbook to me which makes it less approachable. The first half I found to be quite interesting, but the second half I struggled through as I kept falling asleep.
Profile Image for Oyceter.
705 reviews37 followers
August 15, 2007
This was an excellent read. Zia was actually instrumental in some of the events of the book, and may have covered others as a journalist. Her writing is immediate and gripping, and I never had a problem keeping my attention on the book. On the other hand, sometimes Zia can editorialize a little too much for me, particularly when she's noting how wrong or ironic something is.

Full review: http://oyceter.livejournal.com/632444...
Profile Image for jacki.
5 reviews
June 11, 2019
“The path ahead, blazed by so many bold and daring Asian Americans whose words and deeds have carved a place in America for us, is clear. To be seen, we must make ourselves visible, showing blemish as well as beauty.”
Profile Image for Kara Nevle.
93 reviews18 followers
August 10, 2022
An excellent look at pre-21st century Asian American history and identity. The broadness and diversity in culture, sexuality, and class is spectacularly covered. It mostly focuses on 1960-2000, but Zia does cover pre-1960 as well. Would absolutely recommend.
Profile Image for Lynn.
133 reviews
December 31, 2021
this book is comprehensive, and i definitely learned a lot about the history of asians in america, as well as the role of asians in labor organizing and the civil rights movement - the chapter on the iron chink is wild. it's also striking how the issues asians face are still present - suspicions of loyalty, model minority pressure, anti-blackness, etc. depressing to think about how little we have come.

sometimes the book is plodding and boring to read, and is too focused on ending on a hopeful note in each chapter, which seems especially incongruous and out-of-touch given the right-ward lean of asian immigrants in america.
Profile Image for Sarah.
111 reviews
September 16, 2019
had a hard time making it through this book -- but because it was so real and hard to read about all that asian americans have faced. found myself near tears a little too many times on the bus or metro because how can i read about people being killed and being hated solely because they look a certain way, and that certain way is the same way that i look? i learned SO incredibly much in this book, and love how the history of asian america was woven with the story and life of the author. a message of zia's that is present throughout this book is the value that knowing about the history of asians in america and the history of the development of the asian american identity can bring... it made me feel that i can stake a valid claim to america as an asian american, that the people who came (literally, on boats and planes, escaping persecution and war or chasing hopes) before me left countless indelible marks on the fabric of america. all i knew going in were the absolute basics: chinese exclusion, racists cutting off chinese men's queues, japanese internment... and that's basically it. i knew nothing of the role of korean american grocers surrounding the rodney king riots, the role of the largely filipino alaskan cannery workers association in securing civil rights protections against discrimination for workers after the 1989 wards cove packing company v. antonio ruling, the fact that the straight up NECTARINE was invented by two korean farmers (harry kim and charles kim) as well as the bing cherry, the japanese american citizen's league endorsement of gay rights (specifically the right to marry) in hawaii, the distrust and strained relationship with blacks in new york and around the country, the deep racism against asian americans that is so cemented in this country's history, in its laws and cultural icons and movies and tv and newspapers and political rhetoric. the fight to be seen, recognized, respected, and valued in the media, in politics, in business... the struggle to understand who was asian american and what it meant to be asian american... phew, i will definitely need to reread this book.

this book being published in 2001, brings me hope and excitement -- in the 18 years(!) since then, what has happened that would make it into this book? the racism and xenophobia experienced by many sikhs living in america after 9/11, more affirmative action bullshit (with the recent harvard case... and sally's role??), fresh off the boat and crazy rich asians, ... ?? so much more i'm sure, but of which i am just wholly unaware because the media and america does not always share our story/stories. learning about how asian americans got this stereotype (with some truth) of being generally aloof from politics (explicit discriminatory laws barring asian americans from becoming citizens and voting for many many years and many many years of distrust) but learning about the ways in which asian americans have slowly broken into politics to help build the foundation for more and more, and i don't even know the statistics but i hope the voter turnout and rates of political participation of asian americans is better than 18 years ago.

"Will Asian Americans be forever censoring ourselves, fearful of how we might be reinterpreted and misconstrued by 'outsiders'--other Americans? When will we feel safe enough to project our whole selves? ... The path ahead, blazed by so many bold and daring Asian Americans whose words and deeds have carved a place in America for us, is clear. To be seen, we must make ourselves visible, showing blemish as well as beauty." (307)

"His dreams and those of the Asian Americans who came before him stay within each of us. They are the memories of where we've come from, the lessons of what we've been through, and the visions of roads we have yet to walk in this land called America. They are our dreams, Asian American dreams." (31something)
Profile Image for Julia Liu.
49 reviews
December 23, 2016
As an Asian-American, I really don't know much about Asian-American history. We're a group that are mostly excluded from textbooks and there are few classes we can take (even at college) to learn about our past. Yet we are just as important a building block of America as other ethnic groups are, and Helen Zia narrates the Asian-American story--from the first immigrants to the present day--in a very well-written and research-heavy book.

The two messages I got out of this book was:
1) The importance of solidarity with each other and other ethnic groups : Even within the pan-Asian diaspora, there are fractures. In history, when one group of Asians suffered, the other groups would often distance themselves for fear of personal harm. For example, during tensions between Korean grocers and African-Americans, there was a march in Koreatown that was the largest protest ever held by Asians in the US, but very few other Asian groups showed up to support them. The other groups were afraid of being mistaken for Koreans, and as a result, Koreans felt very isolated from and even betrayed by other Asians. Asian-Americans must also stand together with non-Asians. It's very hard to garner support for APIA causes with just the APIA community - we must rely on support from other communities as well. But this is a two-way street. As a minority, we must also lend our support to other groups because only then can we achieve all our goals. Oftentimes, Asians are used as a "racial wedge" between other racial groups, and we can overcome this by standing up and standing together with all groups of people.

2) The importance of using our voices : Asian-Americans are often viewed as "docile" and the "model minority", but if we don't do anything about it, we'll continue to live this narrative. As Helen Zia wrote, "Unless Asian Americans define ourselves, others will do so to advance their own agendas, using Asian Americans as a shield or wedge on volatile race matters". We can do this by crafting our own stories, like writing our own plays, and showing the world what we really are like. By seeing Asian Americans on the screen or in the political arena, this creates opportunities for later generations and the mainstream will also accept the new status quo.

Through Helen Zia's book, I continued building my Asian-American identity and also gained a much greater appreciation for the Asian-Americans before me. I'm lucky that there are trailblazers like Helen Zia who helped make America more accepting of our group and fought for our civil rights.
54 reviews2 followers
August 2, 2017
An exhaustingly meticulous record of the major struggles for equality of various Asian ethnicities in America, historically and currently. It was a slow but important read. Accounts of news media and Hollywood perpetuation of stereotypes, political willful ignorance, and struggles for unity between and within Asian ethnicities intensified hundreds of examples of racial injustices.

As a white reader with skeletal knowledge of Asian-American history, some historical accounts shocked me:

Japanese-American troops in WW2 suffered the highest casualty rates of any other fighting units.

Filipino veterans of WW2 were promised equal benefits, and then were denied in 1946. They didn't get citizenship until the '90s, VA medical benefits in 2003, and financial compensation in 2009.

The brutal hate crime murder of Vincent Chin in Detroit in 1983 resulted in a mere no contest probation and fine. The judge said "These aren't the kind of men you send to jail...You fit the punishment to the criminal, not the crime." Two civil trials returned not guilty verdicts. Only 19 of 180 jury pool citizens had even "casual contact" with an Asian, and some of those who did were rejected on that basis.

Lost in the narrative of the 1992 Rodney King riots is the intense anti-Korean racism. More than half the city's damaged properties and financial losses were borne by Koreans.

Deeply segregated and harshly unfair working conditions for Filipino migrant cannery workers in Alaska persisted into the '70s, culminating in mob assassinations of activist labor leaders. Decades of political apathy and corporate lobbying culminated in 1991 federal legislation that established workplace protections, but specifically barred those cannery workers from class action lawsuits. The last time the Senate cared enough to unsuccessfully fight back was 1995.

There were many more examples in these dense 319 pages, but the above were the most egregiously passed over incidences in my inadequate rubric of k-12 American history.
Profile Image for Brian Stein.
51 reviews4 followers
April 26, 2013
I read this book on the recommendation of my wife, who used it for an Asian American Studies class she developed for the University of Virginia. I am so glad she did. Though I was a aware of one of the greatest American injustices of the 20th century, the forced internment of the Japanese population of the United States, I was surprised at my ignorance regarding a number of other high-profile injustices Asian-Americans have endured over the past century alone. From the savage, racially-motivated murder of Vincent Chin to the targeting of Korean merchants in low-income urban communities, Helen Zia documents instance after instance where Asian Americans are used as convenient political bludgeons and the resulting toll of hatred and violence that resulted from these cultural prejudices. She does a good job diagnosing the problems facing the Asian American community, both internal and external, charts the steps the community has made towards political and social recognition and offers ideas of where to go from here. My only criticism of the book is that, as a casual reader, Zia focus overmuch on the nuts-and-bolts of political activism and community organization, with entire paragraphs dedicated to listing names of activists, politicians and political organizations. In the right context, say an Asian American Studies class, this would be a great resource of information and a great primer on organization building; however, to someone who is looking more for understanding and less for detailed breakdown of the politics of community organization, it was a bit much.
Profile Image for Tinea.
561 reviews252 followers
May 6, 2008
Solid general history of Asian Americans in the US over the past half century or so. As accessible as an intro, but with considerable depth into a wide variety of issues and events: hate crimes and legal civil rights battles, the LA Riots, immigrant struggles, race and racism (beyond the white/black dichotomy), Japanese internment, and lots of critical examination of the media. Zia presents a strong case for greater focus on Asian American history and rights in academia, politics, and activism.

There are definitely times in the book where Zia's bias shows through and negatively effects the presentation of a topic (particularly the chapter on the LA Riots). Overall, though, she is honest about her own involvement as a journalist in the subjects she writes about. These personal stories and emotions enrich the history and make it more readable.

This was an important read for me.
68 reviews2 followers
January 12, 2009
Being yellow, I've never felt like I've had much of a place in America. I've never felt like i had much history or connection. A dear friend lent me her copy of this book, and though I had a hard time following the flow (it's a bit dry) this book reassured me that there is a history through Colonial times of Asians immigrating to the U.S., and being forced to emigrate as racism grew or declined over time. I wanted to finish it, but just couldn't get there. I'm not sure whether it's that I couldn't find anymore to relate with once the author turned it into a more personal story towards the end of the book, or whether I just ran out of steam as my defense and move in the last month just left no time for anything else.
Profile Image for Helen Sun.
11 reviews
May 8, 2014
This is a significant book for Asian Americans; it highlights some of the lessons learned from our past experiences with racism, stereotypes, and identity-formation. Helen also details complex race, class and cultural dynamics that sometimes help to perpetuate stereotypes. For ex, when the Japanese are forced into internment camps or Korean store owners are victims of vandalism, other Asian groups remain silent. This reinforces the idea that Asians do not stand up and fight back. I like how Helen reflects on these events and encourages the Asian population to overlook differences and learn to stand/speak up for their rights as Americans. Great book.
Profile Image for Matt Diephouse.
92 reviews36 followers
May 7, 2017
My wife and I are in the process of adopting from China, and the adoption agency had this book on a list of recommended resources.

I found the first half of this book really interested. I had no idea that early Asian Americas encountered so much discrimination. E.g., for a long time Asians were denied citizenship and land ownership. This book really filled in some gaps in my knowledge.

I thought the latter half of the book was less interesting—particularly the sections on the 1990s. I think maybe the events were too recent, that there wasn't enough historical perspective to know which things were worth describing.
Profile Image for Ji In.
7 reviews
June 15, 2007
Politics and civil rights *are* personal, and that's why this book works. I appreciated the natural flow between the more journalistic accounts of these important milestones in Asian and Pacific American history, shuffled in with Zia's personal anecdotes, often told from the frontlines. This book is empowering and well-composed, and a must-read for all Asian Americans -- correction: all Americans -- who are committed to advancing the civil rights movement into the 21st century.
Profile Image for Whit.
7 reviews
January 4, 2009
A book centering on the Asian-American experience and the contemporary Asian-American civil rights movements that came with the arrival of Asians in the United States. It's written in both memoir form using personal anecdotes and in an investigative journalism format. Powerful and intriguing--a lot of Zia's essays contain shocking details of 20th-century acts of racism against Asians that I hadn't been aware of, even as an Asian-American myself.
Profile Image for Cindy.
2 reviews2 followers
January 16, 2013
Well-researched book about Asian and Asian-American experiences in the U.S. from early days of the country until recently. Zia shows the rise of activism and political work in the community in relation to events that have occurred over the years. The book is written in a way that makes it easy and quick to read, rather than say some books in college classes. Those who don't know much about Asian history and experience in the U.S. will find this book to be very eye-opening.
Profile Image for Valerie.
49 reviews23 followers
June 1, 2018
Very important text for teaching Asian American Studies from a queer woman's perspective. This book works as on of the primary textbooks in a course on Asian American Women, Asian American Social History, Asian American Community Leadership, or an Asian American survey course. Some of the sections are dated, but the first three chapters still remain essential for teaching Asian American history and the unifying of a community.
Profile Image for Amy.
13 reviews1 follower
September 21, 2017
This is a comprehensive book on the history of Asian Americans in America. I was impressed by the depth it covered and was thankful that Ms. Zia shared her knowledge and research with her book.

I wish that American high schools, universities and colleges would teach our citizens the important role Asian Americans played in building this country. But you can always learn it on your own! Read this book.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 89 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.