There is a growing amount of literature out there about Asian American Studies. These books are varied, ranging from novels and short stories to academic articles and studies. As a result, people new to the field might find it difficult to know where to start reading. The list below lays out some of those works that we think would best provide those interested with an overview of Asian American Studies. We have divided the list into two categories: Literature and General Interest Books along with Academic Books.
Literature and General Interest Books
Asian American Dreams – Helen Zia ’73. We recommend this book as a great, general introduction to Asian American Studies. Zia both writes from personal experience and recounts some of the major movements in Asian America, such as the murder of Vincent Chin and the protesting of the play Miss Saigon. She strikes some of the more personal notes that might cause people to first become interested in Asian American Studies and then links these feelings with history and academia. If you are just starting to learn about Asian American Studies, we recommend you start here.
Seventeen Syllables – Hisaye Yamamoto. This book is a good introduction to Asian American literature. Yamamoto, often writing from a Japanese American perspective, recounts stories that take place in locations ranging from internment camps to Staten Island. Many of the issues that she addresses in her stories deal with how Asian Americans interact with the multicultural world in which they live. We particularly recommend Wilshire Bus, The Legend of Miss Sasagawa, and Yoneko’s Earthquake.
Native Speaker – Prof. Chang-rae Lee. Following the life of an industrial spy named Henry Park, Native Speaker deals with assimilation and the inability of the protagonist to reconcile his Korean upbringing with his American life. Park begins spying on a Korean American politician named John Kwang, who is compared to Park by both the reader and Park himself. Though the book may start off a bit slow, it becomes gripping as the trials in Park’s personal life and Kwang’s campaign come to light.
Strangers from a Different Shore – Ronald Takaki. This book serves as the ultimate history book on Asian America. The book includes numerous statistics, which are great for anyone doing research on the beginnings of Asian America. Simultaneously, Takaki lets Asian America speak for itself by including a plethora of quotes taken from personal diaries and interviews. While the book can sometimes become a little dull with a similar writing style prevailing for the 509-page volume, it serves as a useful resource with which to be familiar.
Roots: An Asian American Reader – Tachiki, E. Wong, Odo ’61*75, and B. Wong. Roots served as the initial reader used in most early Asian American Studies courses in the 70s. As it emerged in an era where research on Asian America was relatively new, the kind of scholarship differs vastly from that commonly seen today. For those who want to learn about the beginnings of Asian American Studies, this is an indispensable resource. The connection that Asian American Studies had with the Civil Rights movement and the Vietnam War is clearly shown.
Covering – Kenji Yoshino. A law professor at NYU, Yoshino argues in Covering that civil rights are harmed by coerced conformity. By coerced conformity, he means society pressuring individuals to downplay how, because of race, sex, or sexual orientation, they are different from white, heterosexual males. Though the focus of this book is on sexual orientation, Yoshino still devotes a good deal of time to discussing how Asian Americans and other minorities are also coerced to cover their racial identity, whether it is by African Americans not wearing corn rolls or Asian Americans downplaying their personal interests in math for fear that it conforms to a stereotype. Yoshino draws heavily on personal experience, but also provides legal analysis that should be expected of a scholar, providing for a fascinating read.
The Transnational Politics of Asian Americans – Collet and Lien. For those of you who are interested in politics and Asian America, this book is for you. Collet and Lien have collected essays for this book that touch on how Asian Americans’ politics are informed by both their experience in America and their experience in or heritage from Asia. They examine how much different groups participate in American politics, how Asian American interests internationally might impact how they shape a local community, and how transnationalism might impact the use of the term “Asian American.” Those interested in politics are likely to find at least one essay that piques their interest.