Material that has helped inform my understanding of my Asian American identity, in some way or other.
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Serve the People: Making Asian America in the Long Sixties (2016), Karen L. Ishizuka
WHAT IS THIS? An narrative history of the activism, alliances, cultural production, and so much more that comprised the Asian American movement in the long sixties.
WHY IS IT INCLUDED HERE? This book showed me that the emotions I feel and stories I tell around my understanding of my Asian American-ness are not mine alone, but rather, are part of a revolutionary identity built intentionally by a huge community of people that were left out of every conversation I’ve previously had about the radical sixties. I loved understanding how badass it was for Chinese, Japanese, and Filipino communities - previously referred to as “Orientals” - to start calling themselves Asian American. No one had heard that term before. At that point, it meant that there were a bunch of kids of immigrants building a political, social, cultural, and artistic identity that was in-your-face, smart, grounded in Marxism, connected to third world liberation, and honored Asian heritage and cultural values. It’s notable too that Asian Americans did this alongside, but independent of, communities of Black and Chicano folks who were carving out similarly intentional political identities for themselves at the same time. I think Asians in the US are often made to believe that they can only have a political place in this country either as silent allies to White folks or vocal allies to Black folks, rather than remembering that they can reclaim that agenda that is uniquely Asian American and necessarily supports a movement for Black liberation.
Stylistically, Ishizuka creates a really accessible and compelling blend of personal narratives, primary documents, and theory. She’s absolutely clear in her writing and is responsible with her citations, relying heavily on women of color and Asian/Asian American scholars whenever she finds it necessary to tie in theory.
Reading Serve the People brought me a deep sense of peace, sadness, anger, connection, and hope to understand that people with immigrant parents in the Bay Area, New York City, Seattle, Los Angeles, and other cities across the US were feeling all the same things that I have felt and continue to feel - but they were doing it together, loudly, 50 years ago. The decision to create this website actually came after I read Ishizuka’s book, as a tiny way for me to bring back the bite that the term “Asian American” had when it was first created.
The Karma of Brown Folk (2001), Vijay Prashad
WHAT IS THIS? An abbreviated history of the role that Indian immigrants have played in the United States of America and a critique of the “model minority” myth. Prashad examines the way that, as a result of immigration policy, orientalists, the media, pliant cultural ambassadors, and more, South Asians have been deployed as a weapon against black folks.
WHY IS IT INCLUDED HERE? Prashad gave me a solid understanding here of how the gaze on and exploitation of Indian culture has evolved over the past century in the US. He also neatly debunks the model minority myth at the turn of the millennium when the phrase (originally coined in the 1960s) was resurfacing. That being said, Prashad makes sweeping conclusions that rely too heavily on brief anecdotes without supplying enough context for me; plus, his tone of condescension throughout the book really annoyed me. I didn’t grow up in a community with other South Asians around, so this helped me understand the extent to which middle-class and upper-middle class Indians in the US in 2000 were anti-black, compliant, and satisfied with perpetuating the model minority for their own material gain - they must have been, in order to warrant such a deeply reactionary, vitriolic style of argumentation from Prashad through this book.