Despite attempts to lump them together or tell their through a simplistic and monolithic “model minority” lens, Asian Americans and their histories are in fact exceedingly diverse and complicated. To be Asian American in the twenty-first century is an exercise in coming to terms with a contradiction: benefiting from new positions of power and privilege while still being victims of hate crimes and microaggressions that dismiss Asian American issues and treat Asian Americans as outsiders in their own country (Lee, 391).
There seems to be an existential crisis every time an Asian American, like myself, attempts to answer “am I American (enough)?” If yes, then what do we mean by “American (enough)”? If no, then what prevents us? What has infected our imagination of who belongs and who does not in this so-called “Land of the Free”?
America, seems to me, has a unique ability to remember things differently and selectively. Reading The Making of Asian America was a speechless experience — how have I never heard of these stories before? Truly, the phantasm of Asian American histories attests and perpetuates the non-visibility of Asian Americans. The reading was also heart-wrenchingly painful — oh, how much we, as a collected lump of diverse Asian Americans, suffered so much and so silently! One does not need to understand much of politics or policy making to see the one thing American history has made clear: things get done fast when — not if — people discriminate. Many preposterous laws, such as you have to be born in the states and be of white skin tone (many early petitions and appeals have been shut down because Chinese or Japanese Americans born in the States do not shimmer white tones; there was even one Middle Eastern who argued on the grounds that he is actually a caucasian but was still denied), have passed and lasted because of unbated fear and hatred.
Of course, Asian Americans are not without faults and blame. I cannot blame all of America, where my citizenship is tethered to, for my own ignorance of our checkered histories.
This is not to say reading and learning history solve moral corruption — far be it! Rather, history provides both a window and mirror: a window to our expansive past, enriched with valuable resources for virility and grace, and a mirror to match and differentiate how our current situations, personal and public, relate to prior ones. Matching and differentiating are crucial for understanding the complicated nature of diagnosing personal and social ills and implementing prescribed healing. In short, learning history must be paired with both constructive-critical lens and untiring hands and feet.
The Making of Asian America is a must read. Do not be stumped by its length (402 pages). By the time you finish, you’ll wish she wrote more.