The Columbia Guide to Asian American History

The Columbia Guide to Asian American History

Gary Y. Okihiro
Copyright Date: 2001
Pages: 352
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  • Book Info
    The Columbia Guide to Asian American History
    Book Description:

    Offering a rich and insightful road map of Asian American history as it has evolved over more than 200 years, this book marks the first systematic attempt to take stock of this field of study. It examines, comments, and questions the changing assumptions and contexts underlying the experiences and contributions of an incredibly diverse population of Americans. Arriving and settling in this nation as early as the 1790s, with American-born generations stretching back more than a century, Asian Americans have become an integral part of the American experience; this cleverly organized book marks the trajectory of that journey, offering researchers invaluable information and interpretation.

    • Part 1 offers a synoptic narrative history, a chronology, and a set of periodizations that reflect different ways of constructing the Asian American past.

    • Part 2 presents lucid discussions of historical debates -- such as interpreting the anti-Chinese movement of the late 1800s and the underlying causes of Japanese American internment during World War II -- and such emerging themes as transnationalism and women and gender issues.

    • Part 3 contains a historiographical essay and a wide-ranging compilation of book, film, and electronic resources for further study of core themes and groups, including Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Hmong, Indian, Korean, Vietnamese, and others.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50595-6
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xx)

    Asian American history is an account of America’s past. It is America writ large. These United States, after all, had its beginnings in Europe’s search for Asia. And it was those Europeans—the seekers—who named America’s indigenous peoples “Indians,” believing them to be the natives of “the Indies,” their fabled land of gold. The Republic’s ships headed east around Africa’s cape and west around America’s horn to Asia, and its wagons and prairie schooners journeyed overland toward the setting sun just beyond the Pacific’s rim and the realization of an American and European people’s dream. That destiny was made...

  4. PART ONE Narrative Overview
      (pp. 3-33)

      This narrative history provides an amplification of the chronology supplied in this book. Like all histories and chronologies, it is interpretive, based on assumptions and biases. In my chronology and hence narrative history I clearly stress, for example, the interactions of Europeans and Asians, the deeds of men, the articulations of capital and labor, and the events typical of political and legal history. These in my view provide the mere skeleton for the more substantial, fleshy matters of history—the thoughts and actions of a more diverse group of people, raced, gendered, classed, and sexualized, who shape and are molded...

    • Chapter 2 PERIODIZATION
      (pp. 34-40)

      Chronologies are laden with assumptions. They are not simple timelines agreed upon by everyone. They are creations peculiar to the historian who concocts them. They reflect, of course, a line with a starting and end point as opposed to a cyclical conception of time and history. As linear texts they suggest, especially during our age, evolution, development, progress—a teleology. The past is prologue; the future, destiny. A chronology’s starting and end points should alert the reader to the perspective from which the timeline was constructed, and to all of the assumptions on which the timeline is based. Historians write...

  5. PART TWO Historical Debates
      (pp. 43-44)

      In this section, I summarize debates within the historical literature and present opposing views from historians and scholars on the following subjects:

      1. Hawai’i’s population before European contact

      2. Hawaiians and Captain James Cook

      3. Migration

      4. The anti-Chinese movement

      5. America’s concentration camps

      These are not all properly “historical” debates engaged by historians, but are problems in Asian American studies across the disciplines, including prominently anthropology and sociology. Still, they bear particular relevance to history and thus their inclusion here.

      Readers should recognize that these are my summaries of selected authors. They are not the authors’ words, except where...

      (pp. 45-55)

      The question of Hawai’i’s population before the arrival of Europeans in 1778 is the subject of this debate. European visitors to the islands provided guesses that formed the bases for subsequent scholarly interpretation on the matter. Lieutenant James King, a member of British Captain James Cook’s expedition to the islands, which led to the first encounter between Europeans and Hawaiians, estimated a population of 500,000 Hawaiians but later revised that figure to 400,000. Because his estimate was based on a rich body of detail, which included his method of calculation, his assumptions, and totals for each of the eight inhabited...

      (pp. 56-66)

      First contact between Pacific Islanders and Europeans commonly assumes greater significance than other initial encounters because of its consequences, both real and imagined. Diseases introduced by Europeans and colonization assuredly influenced the lives of indigenous peoples. But interpretations, particularly by the victors, bring their own sense of perspective and proportion. Europeans can constitute the central figures and loom large in European accounts of meetings with non-European others. Histories of Hawai’i often begin with the arrival of British Captain James Cook, like U.S. history’s commonplace start with the first European settlers. Those origin stories generally ignore the histories of indigenous peoples,...

    • Chapter 3 MIGRATION
      (pp. 67-74)

      When historians conceptualize Asian migration to the United States as immigration, they invoke the “push and pull” hypothesis, and when they conceptualize it as migrant labor they deploy the analysis of capital and labor. The conventional notion of immigration examines forces that “push” people from their homes and “pull” them to their destinations. Accordingly, religious persecution, economic hard times, and political turmoil might drive people from their homes, while religious freedom, economic opportunity, and political stability might attract people to their adopted land. This model favors individual immigrants and the free choices they make from among options. The migrant labor...

      (pp. 75-99)

      Anti-Asianism is the most discussed topic in Asian American history, and because of chronological sequence the anti-Chinese movement sets the pattern for the discussion. Thus historians not only propose that the anti-Chinese movement of the late nineteenth century gave way to the anti-Japanese movement of the early twentieth century; they also maintain that the causes and natures of the anti-Chinese movement were similar to those of the anti-Japanese movement. In addition, those two social movements, historians explain, moved toward certain ends. The anti-Chinese movement, according to that view, culminates with the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, and the anti-Japanese movement...

      (pp. 100-128)

      The mass removal and detention of Japanese Americans during World War II is a part of the historiography of anti-Asianism. In fact, it is probably the subject most written about within that literature and perhaps even within Asian American history as a whole. Books on America’s concentration camps include those that emanated from study projects during the wartime period, personal accounts by those who experienced the forced removals and detentions and those who administered the program, critical accounts by civil libertarians and others, oral histories, and creative writings and art from the camps. And within Japanese American history, America’s concentration...

  6. PART THREE Emerging Themes
      (pp. 131-134)

      In this section, I summarize the following emerging themes within Asian American studies:

      1. Space

      2. Women and gender

      3. The law

      4. Japanese American resistance

      Although all of these topics in Asian American studies are longstanding, the assumptions behind them have only recently been critically reexamined. In addition, no substantial, book-length studies exist that debate the topic, and define the subfield, of space and Japanese American resistance. And while significant bodies of work have been devoted to the topic of women and gender and the law, they have yet to transform the canon of Asian American history. Despite their...

    • Chapter 1 SPACE
      (pp. 135-140)

      Asian American scholars constructed space, albeit without acknowledgment, even as they naturalized and universalized their social geographies. As Michel Foucault reminds us, space is treated as fixed, unchanging, and monotonous whereas time appears as moving, transforming, and various.¹ The main spatial binary in the extant literature is between the urban and rural. Urban Asian America is assumed to be typical of the Asian American experience. Studies on Japantowns, Chinatowns, and Koreatowns naturalize those social formations that are often built on the foundation of East Asian culture and its supposed stress and dependence on collectivity and hierarchy. Those urban spaces have...

    • Chapter 2 WOMEN AND GENDER
      (pp. 141-155)

      Gender has always been a category in the writing of Asian American history, but it was commonly normalized as the experiences of men. Women were generally ignored, especially during the nineteenth century, ostensibly because of their relatively small numbers. Throughout the nineteenth century, for example, women totaled a mere 5 percent of all Chinese Americans.² Accordingly, women are largely invisible during this period of decades characterized by the “bachelor society.” Men constituted the immigrants (as adventurers, fortune-seekers, and sojourners), laborers doing the work (as in gold prospecting, railroads, and laundries), and took part in the community (as in voluntary affiliations,...

    • Chapter 3 THE LAW
      (pp. 156-163)

      Asian American legal history arose because the law constrained and protected Asian American lives and rights, and Asian Americans actively contested and reshaped those laws and their application. Asian Americans and the law is a longstanding issue but, in Asian American studies, an emerging theme. As these selections show, scholarship on this theme has evolved from merely documenting the history of law to participating in current theoretical debates. Japan’s consulate general and the Japanese American Citizens League collected and published law cases involving Japanese Americans, and Milton R. Konvitz advocated for liberal courts to protect the slender freedoms of aliens...

      (pp. 164-174)

      Although underdeveloped and hence “emerging” as an interpretive paradigm, the idea of resistance has implications for Asian American history as a whole. In her survey history, the historian Sucheng Chan organizes pre–World War II Asian American history as the oppositions of “hostility and conflict” on the one hand the one hand and, on the other, of “resistance to oppression.”¹ Ronald Takaki, in his study of sugar plantation life in Hawai’i, surveys the system of labor that regimented the lives of workers and examines the contested terrain of field and factory where workers resisted their exploitation and dehumanization.² Gary Y....

  7. PART 4 Chronology
    (pp. 175-190)

    This chronology builds on Sucheng Chan’s chronology found in her Asian Americans: An Interpretive History (Boston: Twayne, 1991), 192–99. See also chronologies in Masako Herman, The Japanese in America, 1843–1973: A Chronology & Fact Book (Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.: Oceana Publications, 1974); Hyung-chan Kim and Wayne Patterson, The Koreans in America, 1882–1974: A Chronology & Fact Book (Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.: Oceana Publications, 1974); William L. Tung, The Chinese in America, 1820–1973: A Chronology & Fact Book (Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.: Oceana Publications, 1974); Hyung-chan Kim and Cynthia C. Mejia, The Filipinos in America, 1898–1974: A Chronology &...

  8. PART FIVE Historiography and Resources
    • Chapter 1 HISTORIOGRAPHY
      (pp. 193-241)

      The major contours of Asian American historiography were shaped during the second half of the nineteenth century, when America’s economic, political, and religious ambitions in the Pacific and its domestic debates over Asian migration were at their hottest.¹ The themes include U.S. trans-Pacific relations of trade and Christian missions, expansionism and colonialism, competition and conflict (including wars), and Americans’ attitudes toward Asian immigration and, in particular, discrimination and assimilation. Typically, both their international and national variants were framed as “problems,” the enigma and threat posed by Asians for white Americans—the “yellow peril” from abroad and the “Oriental problem” at...

    • Chapter 2 RESOURCES
      (pp. 242-306)

      This compendium of resources lists books and visual materials in Asian American studies, including history. Except for the first subsection (“Reference”) and the last (“Hawai’i, Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders”), the bibliography section of this chapter lists books arranged under the categories I define and discuss in my essay in this book on historiography: anti-Asianists, liberals, and Asian Americanists. The second section provides a selected, annotated list of visual materials available in videotape format. They are arranged under subheadings that parallel the divisions in the list of books. The third section offers a selection of current electronic resources of special relevance...

  9. INDEX
    (pp. 307-324)