This month marks Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, celebrated in May to commemorate the arrival of the first Japanese immigrants to the United States on May 7, 1843, and to mark the anniversary of the transcontinental railroad completion on May 10, 1869. Below, we’ve highlighted some of our recent Asian American Studies titles that explore dynamics of culture and race—from little-known histories of indigenous labor and immigration to explorations of present-day communities.
Empire’s Tracks: Indigenous Nations, Chinese Workers, and the Transcontinental Railroad
By Manu Karuka
“A tour de force. Beautifully written. A dramatic and compelling retelling of the history of the Transcontinental Railroad.”—Patrick Anderson, author of Autobiography of a Disease
Empire’s Tracks boldly reframes the history of the transcontinental railroad from the perspectives of the Cheyenne, Lakota, and Pawnee Native American tribes, and the Chinese migrants who toiled on its path. In this meticulously researched book, Manu Karuka situates the railroad within the violent global histories of colonialism and capitalism. Through an examination of legislative, military, and business records, Karuka deftly explains the imperial foundations of U.S. political economy. Tracing the shared paths of Indigenous and Asian American histories, this multisited interdisciplinary study connects military occupation to exclusionary border policies, a linked chain spanning the heart of U.S. imperialism. This highly original and beautifully wrought book unveils how the transcontinental railroad laid the tracks of the U.S. Empire.
The Life of Paper: Letters and a Poetics of Living Beyond Captivity
By Sharon Luk
“A rigorous, beautifully written, and important work that significantly shifts our current understandings of the epistolary, ‘prison writing,’ and the reproduction of social life within spaces of racialized confinement and incarceration.”—Jodi Kim, author of Ends of Empire: Asian American Critique and the Cold War
Exploring the evolution of racism and confinement in California history, this ambitious investigation disrupts common understandings of the early detention of Chinese migrants (1880s–1920s), the internment of Japanese Americans (1930s–1940s), and the mass incarceration of African Americans (1960s–present) in its meditation on modern development and imprisonment as a way of life. Situating letters within global capitalist movements, racial logics, and overlapping modes of social control, Sharon Luk demonstrates how correspondence becomes a poetic act of reinvention.
Flavors of Empire: Food and the Making of Thai America
By Mark Padoongpatt
“Flavors of Empire makes significant, original, and generative contributions to civic life by revealing the degree to which the U.S. racial order has been shaped by the direct and collateral consequences of U.S. warfare in Asia.”—George Lipsitz, author of How Racism Takes Place
Flavors of Empire examines the rise of Thai food and the way it shaped the racial and ethnic contours of Thai American identity and community. Full of vivid oral histories and new archival material, this book explores the factors that made foodways central to the Thai American experience. Starting with American Cold War intervention in Thailand, Mark Padoongpatt traces how informal empire allowed U.S. citizens to discover Thai cuisine abroad and introduce it inside the United States. When Thais arrived in Los Angeles, they reinvented and repackaged Thai food in various ways to meet the rising popularity of the cuisine in urban and suburban spaces. Padoongpatt opens up the history and politics of Thai food for the first time, all while demonstrating how race emerges in seemingly mundane and unexpected places.
Trespassers?: Asian Americans and the Battle for Suburbia
By Willow Lung-Amam
“A timely primer for scholars and students as well as practitioners concerned with race and metropolitan development. Summing Up: Highly recommended.”—CHOICE
Trespassers? takes an intimate look at the everyday life and politics inside Silicon Valley against a backdrop of these dramatic demographic shifts. At the broadest level, it raises questions about the rights of diverse populations to their own piece of the suburban American Dream. It follows one community over several decades as it transforms from a sleepy rural town to a global gateway and one of the nation’s largest Asian American–majority cities. There, it highlights the passionate efforts of Asian Americans to make Silicon Valley their home by investing in local schools, neighborhoods, and shopping centers. It also provides a textured tale of the tensions that emerge over this suburb’s changing environment. With vivid storytelling, Trespassers? uncovers suburbia as an increasingly important place for immigrants and minorities to register their claims for equality and inclusion.
Beyond Hawai’i: Native Labor in the Pacific World
By Gregory Rosenthal
“Beyond Hawai‘i gracefully illuminates the aspirations and struggles of Hawaiian chiefs and laborers, and those of an entire Islander civilization navigating a global capitalist system.”—Matt K. Matsuda, author of Pacific Worlds: A History of Seas, Peoples, and Cultures
In the century from the death of Captain James Cook in 1779 to the rise of the sugar plantations in the 1870s, thousands of Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) men left Hawai‘i to work on ships at sea and in na ‘aina ‘e (foreign lands)—on the Arctic Ocean and throughout the Pacific Ocean, and in the equatorial islands and California. Beyond Hawai‘i tells the stories of these forgotten indigenous workers and how their labor shaped the Pacific World, the global economy, and the environment. Whether harvesting sandalwood or bird guano, hunting whales, or mining gold, these migrant workers were essential to the expansion of transnational capitalism and global ecological change. Bridging American, Chinese, and Pacific historiographies, Beyond Hawai‘i is the first book to argue that indigenous labor—more than the movement of ships and spread of diseases—unified the Pacific World.
Soldiering through Empire: Race and the Making of the Decolonizing Pacific
By Simeon Man
“This is a mind-blowing, landmark book. Simeon Man brilliantly shows how the freedom and dreams of the formerly colonized, the laboring classes, and the racially marginalized across the Asia Pacific and in the United States came to be mobilized toward the making of the U.S. empire and its perpetual state of war.”—Takashi Fujitani, author of Race for Empire: Koreans as Japanese and Japanese as Americans during World War II
In the decades after World War II, tens of thousands of soldiers and civilian contractors across Asia and the Pacific found work through the U.S. military. Recently liberated from colonial rule, these workers were drawn to the opportunities the military offered and became active participants of the U.S. empire, most centrally during the U.S. war in Vietnam. Simeon Man uncovers the little-known histories of Filipinos, South Koreans, and Asian Americans who fought in Vietnam, revealing how U.S. empire was sustained through overlapping projects of colonialism and race making. Through their military deployments, Man argues, these soldiers took part in the making of a new Pacific world—a decolonizing Pacific—in which the imperatives of U.S. empire collided with insurgent calls for decolonization, producing often surprising political alliances, imperial tactics of suppression, and new visions of radical democracy.
A Shark Going Inland Is My Chief: The Island Civilization of Ancient Hawai’i
By Patrick Vinton Kirch
“A tale told for everyone. . . . This personal account by Kirch, the world’s foremost authority on the prehistory of the Hawaiian Islands, is based on a lifetime of research. . . . His account is both engaging and accessible. . . . It is a fascinating narrative, impossible to put down.”—Choice
Tracing the origins of the Hawaiians and other Polynesians back to the shores of the South China Sea, archaeologist Patrick Vinton Kirch follows their voyages of discovery across the Pacific in this fascinating history of Hawaiian culture from about one thousand years ago. Combining more than four decades of his own research with Native Hawaiian oral traditions and the evidence of archaeology, Kirch puts a human face on the gradual rise to power of the Hawaiian god-kings, who by the late eighteenth century were locked in a series of wars for ultimate control of the entire archipelago.
This lively, accessible chronicle works back from Captain James Cook’s encounter with the pristine kingdom in 1778, when the British explorers encountered an island civilization governed by rulers who could not be gazed upon by common people. Interweaving anecdotes from his own widespread travel and extensive archaeological investigations into the broader historical narrative, Kirch shows how the early Polynesian settlers of Hawai’i adapted to this new island landscape and created highly productive agricultural systems.