This post is part of the Reading Writers of Color 2021 challenge hosted by Lonely Cryptid Media’s staff writer and editor, Dan Michael Fielding.
The movement to Stop Asian Hate is a rallying cry against anti-Asian violence. The COVID19 pandemic has revealed deep, unexamined xenophobia against Asians and Asian Americans within the United States and Europe. This, coupled with the mass shooting perpetrated against spa workers in Atlanta, GA, has propelled the Stop Asian Hate movement into the national spotlight.
Unfortunately, these anti-Asian acts are not new, nor are they isolated incidents. Personally, I have difficulty with the phrase “Stop Asian Hate.” I have seen people use the phrase to imply that anti-Asian racism is merely about “bad actors” and singular racists, and to Stop Asian Hate we simply need to teach people not to be racist.
While this is a noble goal, the history of anti-Asian racism in America is far deeper and more complex. It is embedded into laws and legal systems that systematically banned Asian immigrants from our country in “quota” systems. It is related to the types of jobs people were allowed to have (or were forced into as indentured servants). It is in our cultural fear of “Oriental” Others that continues to make Asians the butt of the joke in media. It is intertwined with the mythos of the “model minority” in which the assimilation of (some) Asian Americans is used as a weapon against Black calls for racial justice, and to dismiss the polarized economic and social inequality experienced by real Asian Americans in everyday life.
As activists are calling for Americans everywhere to learn this history, I wanted to put together this list to get you started. As we move into the reading challenge prompt for May, consider centering the voices of Asian and Asian American activists working to resist racism.
This list focuses on the history of, and resistance to, anti-Asian racism in America and globally. These are stories of immigrant experiences, nation development, war and anti-war, individual actors, and global movements.
I’ve chosen to highlight mostly non-fiction and memoir, however you should feel free to read other histories including fiction, essays, and poetry if they are meaningful to you.
What do you know about the history of anti-Asian racism? What do you have left to learn? Share with us below to help start the conversation.
The Making of Asian America: A History by Erika Lee
In this stunningly-researched history, the award-winning Erika Lee details the myriad of ways that Asian Americans have shaped the country. This history is complicated, with Asian immigrants and their children facing indentured servitude, work recruitment, racial discrimination, and exclusion laws. Lee asks us to consider why today Asians are considered the “model minority” when, historically, they have been vilified by American legal systems. For those who were surprised when #StopAsianHate started trending this book may be a good starting point to discover the depth and complexity of anti-Asian racism in America.
The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir by Kao Kalia Yang
The Hmong people, many of whom assisted America during the Vietnam War, were left to fend for themselves after American withdrawal from the region. What follows is a catastrophe for the Hmong people. Yang begins her memoir immediately after the Vietnam War ends. Her future-parents and grandmother struggle to escape a massacre. Yang traces her family’s journey as they are captured and narrowly escape to the Ban Vinai Refugee Camp where Yang is born. Six years later, her family immigrates to America and Yang must struggle to find her place and voice in a strange land. Yang builds on her family’s story in The Song Poet: A Memoir of My Father, a story of the sacrifices her father has made in order to support his family.
Yellow Peril! An Archive of Anti-Asian Fear by John Kuo Wei Tchen and Dylan Yates
For anyone who wants to know the exact words and art used to support anti-Asian sentiment historically: This is the book for you. Taking its name from the anti-Asian epithet, Yellow Peril! is a repository of paintings, photographs, images, writing, theories, political polemics, and quotes from a myriad of actors from the European Enlightenment era to the present day. Co-authors Tchen and Yates deliver extensive quotes and source material to build an archive which illustrates the ways that Othering takes place.
Tastes Like War: A Memoir by Grace M. Cho
As the daughter of a white American merchant marine and the Korean bar hostess he met abroad, Grace Cho has extensive experience dealing with the way her identities have been polarized. In her memoir Cho discusses growing up in a xenophobic small town during the cold war, the onset of her mother’s schizophrenia, and the power of food to restore history. Cho’s other work, Haunting the Korean Diaspora: Shame, Secrecy, and the Forgotten War, discusses the diaspora of more than 100,000 Korean women who married American GIs after the Korean War. Overall, Cho’s work provides an excellent interrogation of identity, family, and sexuality which centers the particular experience of Koreans and Korean Americans.
Fujino profiles the lives and activism of the siblings Mitsuye Yamada and Michael Yasutake. As second-generation Japanese Americas, the two faced difficult anti-Asian sentiment throughout their lives. As young people they were interned, and were able to leave the camps only after starting college. Michael repeatedly faced pressure to join the military of the very country that had interned him and his family, but instead turned to faith-based activism and remained a staunch anti-war and anti-imperialism activist throughout his life. Mitsuye became an internationally-acclaimed feminist poet. As a study of their life, this book provides an insight into how individual actors are intertwined with global social justice movements. Those who are interested in the activism of Asian Americans may also be interested in Fujino’s forthcoming book, co-published with Robyn Magalit Rodriguez, on Contemporary Asian American Activism: Building Movements for Liberation, set to be published in 2022.
The Karma of Brown Folk by Vijay Prashad
In The Karma of Brown Folk, Indian historian and journalist Vijay Prashad takes seriously the question: “What does it mean to be a model minority?” The “model minority” myth positions Asians as inherently successful and also plaint and suggestible. Prashad provides a sustained critique of how the “model minority” myth is deployed as a weapon against Black Americans in order to sustain anti-Black racism. Prashad recenters Black and South Asian solidarity as a solution to racism rooted in collective struggle.
You may have noticed, but discussion of the “model minority” myth permeates contemporary discussion of anti-Asian racism and racism more generally. But how did we get from “yellow peril” to “model minority?” Wu traces this transformation while also highlighting its contradictions. Wu highlights that “Asian America” is not homogeneous: The development of the model minority myth emerged, in part, through the contest of authority and power between Japanese and Chinese Americans. In the end, Asian Americans find themselves in the contradictory position of both being accepted as legitimate citizens and as being viewed as perpetual outsiders.
Land’s End: Capitalist Relations on an Indigenous Frontier by Tania Murray Li
Land’s End provides a detailed analysis of the emergence of capitalist relations in Sulawesi, Indonesia. Li conducted more than twenty years of ethnographic research, a feat in and of itself, and joins her research with extensive, poignant critiques and detailed theory. As the land, previously collectively owned by Indigenous Indonesians, was enclosed, directing ownership into fewer and fewer hands, some profited wildly from the growing of cacao while others lost their land and found themselves among the permanently unemployed. Li’s work is a detailed look at the history and rise of capitalism in Indonesia, and is a must-read for anyone who has ever enjoyed the fruits of these worker’s labor–chocolate–without knowing where it came from.
White Love and Other Events in Filipino History by Vicente L. Rafael
You may be familiar with the acronym AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islander). This acronym has a storied history, and is often adopted either self-consciously to acknowledge the difficulty of racial classification, or as a sign of solidarity and kinship between those originating from the continent of Asia and those living in the Pacific Islands. Long histories of colonialism and oppression look remarkably similar when viewed through this lens. Despite this, Pacific Islanders are often left out of popular American discourse regarding anti-Asian racism. Rafael’s history in White Love provides a useful counter to this tendency. Drawing from a history beginning in the late 1800s with U.S. colonization of the Philippines and moving towards mass diaspora in the 1990s, this collection of essays critiques both U.S. imperialism and the siren’s call of nationalism.
Chains of Babylon: The Rise of Asian America by Daryl Joji Maeda
Why do we even have a term like “Asian American?” Why not specify in every instance: Chinese, Japanese, Korean American? Or simply: American? Maeda argues that throughout the 1960s and 1970s Asian Americans came to view themselves as sharing a collective, racialized identity, one that needed to come together to reject assimilation in favor of solidarity. What developed was a movement to oppose what Maeda calls the “twin chains of Babylon,” racism and imperialism. This period provides and excellent model for contemporary social justice movements.
Do you have a book not on this list? Feel free to share it in the comments below to help us all grow our reading lists!
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