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The Making of Asian America: A History

4.27  ·  Rating details ·  1,196 ratings  ·  188 reviews
The definitive history of Asian Americans 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 as award-winning historian Erika Lee reminds us, Asian Americans also have deep roots in the country. The Making of Asian America t
Hardcover, 528 pages
Published September 1st 2015 by Simon Schuster
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Aug 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: recs, 2020
a deeply researched overview of Asian migration to the Americas from the 16th century into the present, homing in on the slow making of Asian-American identity in the United States. in lucid prose Lee sketches immigration patterns, policy, and politics, and seamlessly interweaves the life stories of individual immigrants into her history, humanizing what might have otherwise been a dry account of the subject.
Sep 06, 2015 rated it really liked it
File under "More stuff I didn't learn in school." With the recent news about Asians being in the news (on immigration, in literature, in any number of subject areas), this seemed like an intriguing pickup. I knew a bit about the Japanese internment camps from World War II. Chinese immigrants coming for the gold rush. But what other parts of Asian-American history did I not know?
A lot. As this doorstop (I mean that nicely) of a book shows, the history of Asian immigration to the Americas shows a
Oct 28, 2015 rated it really liked it
Thoroughly researched and compellingly well-written history of Asian migration to the United States. Its generally papered-over how much discrimination Asians faced when first arriving, many as either indentured laborers and even slaves to the Americas, and what a hard fought battle it was to establish themselves in these countries. They faced racist laws, violence, denigration as national security threats and "unassimilable foreigners," yet generally proved these allegations wrong. They have al ...more
This is a book I didn’t even know about till a week ago but I couldn’t stop once I started listening to the audiobook. It’s a fascinating book about the people who migrated from different countries in Asia to the US from the 17th century till recently, and I think the author did a good job relaying both the political as well as the personal reasons for this migration. Along with the desperation of a people who want a better life, we also see the bigotry and xenophobia towards them and how these ...more
First things first: yes, The Making of Asian America is very well researched but not the most well written (at times with unclear and confusing event descriptions, at times a regurgitation of statistics or too many personal stories). Yes, The Making of Asian America, by nature of the undertaken task, necessarily sacrifices depth for breadth. These two points notwithstanding, I really think The Making of Asian America should be mandatory reading--not only for Asian Americans so they can better un ...more
Dec 13, 2020 rated it liked it

- Not a fan of Zeller's narration for this one.
- Good intro to the topic but be aware that all historical accounting are biased.
- Title is misleading. It's not a good presentation of all Asian American immigration. That would have made the book 3x as long in length.
- The delivery for Chinese immigration was best. Followed by Japanese. Going by content, I would say the other parts are not as well understood/researched/etc.
- I'd recommend reading the book over the audio. It was obvious th
Sep 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It's crazy how much of this history we don't learn in our k-12 education. What we do learn is like a summary of the Cliff's notes version. I didn't realize the magnitude of numbers involved with the Chinese, South Asian, and South East Asian "indentured servant/laborer force" being brought in. Nor did I know just the scope of their disbursement in the Americas. I had referenced the "endless waltz" of " war, peace and revolution" in another review, but it seems like there's an endless waltz here ...more

I do NOT have a head for history, so I'm grateful for books like this that can help educate me on topics that are a part of American history and yet are not covered at all in education. The reader of the audio book was excellent, and I tracked along just fine. I loved how the author talked about Asian immigrants to the United States from all kinds of Asian countries, definitely chipping away at the concept of the Asian monolith (ie, that we are all the same). She also did a great job
Anita Fajita Pita
Apr 05, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Honestly all, this is going right up there with Minor Feelings for me. The history here is so rich and expansive. We're talking Asian American history spanning half a century at least and multiple nationalities. I learned so much. I felt so much. Whereas Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning by Cathy Park Hong took a pretty intimate yet macro view of the Asian American as a whole, The Making of Asian America zoomed us in and out of the Asian American diaspora to show immigrant historie ...more
Jun 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
A well researched and compilation of Asian American history that is never mentioned through any history books. I recommend this book for others to read and how Asian communities have made an impact throughout history.
May 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
I listened to this on CD. I became aware that, at times, it sounded like the same story over and over again: the prejudice, the immigration barriers, the legal injustice. It reminded me of the quote that history does not repeat itself, but it rhymes (apparently not a quote by Mark Twain, but worthy of him).
It was interesting to hear the story of other Asian Americans. I was familiar with the Chinese and Japanese and to some degree Southeast Asian stories, but not of Koreans, Philippinos, and I
The most comprehensive Asian American history 101 book I've come across, including details about early communities that settled in CA and New Orleans in the 18-19th century, undocumented immigration in the early 20th century after immigration legislation exclusion, stories of the wide diversity of Asian communities (Hmong, Cambodian, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, Laotian, Indian). Great read! ...more
Feb 18, 2021 rated it liked it
I found myself somewhat disappointed with The Making of Asian America, perhaps because I read it so soon after Ronald Takaki's Strangers from a Distant Shore. Lee borrows heavily from Takaki's work, imitating elements from his style and many sources, quotations, and people. To some extent, that's to be expected, as they are writing on largely the same topic, but Lee's work feels more like a revised edition than a new and fresh piece of scholarship. It does offer some expansion by delving into th ...more
Aug 02, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wonderfully detailed book on the history of Asian Americans. Lee details the beginnings of the pervasive racism that currently exists towards Asian Americans from the othering that began in holding Asians in a human zoo, to immigration restriction, to internment camps, to the use of the model minority myth to pit Asians against other minorities as well as deny problems within different groups of Asians to the present day atrocities that began after 9/11. While definitely a book I would recommend ...more
Aug 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
Thorough history of Asian immigration from before the United States was even founded, to present day. Includes stories of individuals as well as many statistics of large groups of people from all over Asia -- SE, south, east, etc. Definitely not something I consider "easy" reading (it took me a few months), but is essential to understanding the context of how Asians and Asian Americans have operated in society for hundreds of years. This coming from someone who grew up in the Midwest and had onl ...more
Jul 07, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very good. This book was a great chronicle of history regarding many of the Asian people groups who have come to America. The author details the struggles faced by each group and how immigration laws, wars, and racism caused so much difficulty and pain for families. It's the story that I didn't hear much of growing up as a white American. I appreciated her honesty, and sharing the good and the bad of the lives of many Asian Americans. Even though it was long and a lot of history, I found myself ...more
Zara Rahman
Apr 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It gave me an insight into Asian Americans, and a much broader overview than anything I've read before. It includes a historical perspective which helped me understand much more how different populations and nationalities of Asian Americans ended up in the US, and perhaps more crucially, the relationships between different nationalities of Asian Americans and other ethnic minorities too.
It was a good book to read while being here in the US, particularly in New Yo
Dianne Woods
Aug 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Erik Lee shares a comprehensive history of the immigration experience of Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, and Indian populations coming to the U.S. These histories of Asian Americans, and their difficult transitions to the U.S. with some focus on Canada and Mexico are extremely interesting and filled with stories of both willing and unwilling immigrants. Lee provides the reader with substantial details related to the racial oppression that the different groups of Asians experienced during their jour ...more
Apr 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Wow, I wish I had learned all this in school! As an Asian American myself, I learned so much and this really broadened my perspective. This is must-read remedial education for pretty much anyone who grew up in the US. Our US history books had a few paragraphs on the Chinese exclusion act and the Japanese interment camps, but there is so much more context that is missing and so much detail that we didn’t learn. I’m so glad I read this.
May 31, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: highly-recommend
I read this in tandem with watching PBS's Asian American docuseries and they went hand in hand. It also helps that Erika Lee is featured in it as well. It's amazing to see the rich history Asian Americans have since it's a subject not widely known or talked about. There are definitely topics in here that I want to explore more! ...more
Feb 22, 2021 rated it really liked it
I learned a lot that I hadn't known about before. It's a history that spans 500ish years so there are some parts that have to necessarily be glossed over. ...more
Claire Perko
Aug 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is a must read for anyone who wants a greater understanding to a very complex history of Asian American immigration. Dense and well researched, this gives a great overview of historic and current immigration issues.
Fantastic! Super thorough, without being dry. With all the hysteria surrounding immigration these days, now is the perfect time to gain some perspective on this complicated issue through the lens of Asian American immigration, by reading this history published in 2015.
Dec 16, 2020 rated it did not like it
If you're looking about a series of statistics, by century, about the immigrants to America from various Asian countries, then this is your book. Most of Lee's history is like this, unfocused and lacking in narrative. The book would have been more interesting had she organized it according to each immigrant group's immigration history told over time. There are drawbacks to this approach in that readers might get lost in time as we get caught up to the 21st century when discussing China and then ...more
Matt Fitz
Sep 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
While Asian Americans tend to make up folks on the higher end of socio-economic and educational success statistics, they are also overly-represented on the lower ends. That's something worth considering.

Asian-American history is my blindspot. While largely due to it not really being a subject in school growing up in the pre-cultural diversity era, as a grown up Asian man in the 21st century, that blind spot is owned wholly by me now. This book did a lot to fix my prism and did it in a nicely org
Nanako Mizushima
Jun 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
As an Asian American, loneliness is my life. Notice how much of the map of World Languages is covered with Green. ( ) Roots of the Romance languages link Europe, the Americas and my home country, the United States, together. So even though Americans may find European immigrants different -- there are threads of familiarity and empathy. Immigrants, and their children, from these countries can assimilate. There is no such link of language between most of th ...more
Angela Sun
Jan 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
A comprehensive history on Asian American immigration and assimilation into the Americas -- from the mass Chinese migration during the railroad and gold rush era to the Filipino independence to the modern stereotypes of the model minority -- Lee manages to condense a lot of history on immigration from a large geographic mass into an easily readable book. If you want a primer on Asian American history, this is a great read. I loved the historic images of how the pacific union rail was built by a ...more
May 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book taught me so much. Going into it, I thought it would be more about Asian cultures, but it's really a history of Asian immigration (from people who were forced here, to those who came searching for a better life, to refugees) and discrimination in the U.S. It's an in-depth analysis of the waves of immigration, how each group was treated and why, and also contains personal stories. There is information about Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Hmong, Indian, and other peopl ...more
4.5/5 stars, mostly because this book be six books or so, one each for the major cultural groups and then some. There's a lot of information packed into this book, most of it the sort that is never covered in standard US history (aka white people) narratives because it exposes all the dirty racist bits we like to pretend don't exist. But they did, and a lot of people got hurt and still do.

A very engaging and necessary book.
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I’m a writer and professor who loves reading and writing. I finished my fourth book: America for Americans: A History of Xenophobia in the U.S., which will be published by Basic Books/Hachette on November 26, 2019.

I’m a historian who still does history the old-fashioned way by doing research in the archives. I get excited finding dusty documents, but I’m also fully immersed in the 21st century as

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