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The Color of Success: Asian Americans and the Origins of the Model Minority

Ellen D. Wu
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 376
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  • Book Info
    The Color of Success
    Book Description:

    The Color of Successtells of the astonishing transformation of Asians in the United States from the "yellow peril" to "model minorities"--peoples distinct from the white majority but lauded as well-assimilated, upwardly mobile, and exemplars of traditional family values--in the middle decades of the twentieth century. As Ellen Wu shows, liberals argued for the acceptance of these immigrant communities into the national fold, charging that the failure of America to live in accordance with its democratic ideals endangered the country's aspirations to world leadership.

    Weaving together myriad perspectives, Wu provides an unprecedented view of racial reform and the contradictions of national belonging in the civil rights era. She highlights the contests for power and authority within Japanese and Chinese America alongside the designs of those external to these populations, including government officials, social scientists, journalists, and others. And she demonstrates that the invention of the model minority took place in multiple arenas, such as battles over zoot suiters leaving wartime internment camps, the juvenile delinquency panic of the 1950s, Hawaii statehood, and the African American freedom movement. Together, these illuminate the impact of foreign relations on the domestic racial order and how the nation accepted Asians as legitimate citizens while continuing to perceive them as indelible outsiders.

    By charting the emergence of the model minority stereotype,The Color of Successreveals that this far-reaching, politically charged process continues to have profound implications for how Americans understand race, opportunity, and nationhood.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4887-4
    Subjects: History, Sociology, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xviii)
  4. Introduction Imperatives of Asian American Citizenship
    (pp. 1-10)

    This isthesuccess story ofasuccess story.

    In December 1970, theNew York Timesran a front-page article declaring Japanese and Chinese in the United States “an American success story.” Both groups had witnessed “the almost total disappearance of discrimination . . . and their assimilation into the mainstream of American life”—a situation that would have been “unthinkable twenty years ago.” TheTimesopened with the biography of immigrant J. Chuan Chu as proof. When Chu arrived from China at the end of World War II, he had run into difficulty finding a place to live because...

  5. Part I War and the Assimilating Other

    • [Part I Introduction]
      (pp. 11-15)

      The Second World War irrevocably altered the place of the United States in the global arena. American history, of course, had never been free of foreign entanglements despite the isolationist streak firmly embedded in the nation’s political culture. Continental expansion, the dispossession of Native peoples, the claim to the Western Hemisphere as its sphere of influence with the 1823 Monroe Doctrine, the annexation of Hawai‘i, and the conquest of the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Guam as spoils of the Spanish-American War in 1898 were all building blocks of US empire. Yet the United States had remained relegated to the second...

    • Chapter 1 Leave Your Zoot Suits Behind
      (pp. 16-42)

      Some 275 young people converged at Chicago’s Ashland Auditorium on Saturday evening, November 20, 1943, to attend the Reminiscent Dance of Relocation Days. The soiree was billed as the area’s first large-scale public event exclusively catering to second-generation Japanese Americans. All were recent arrivals to the Midwest, having left the WRA’s internment camps as participants in the federal government’s resettlement program, and eager to reunite with old friends and forge new acquaintanceships. A palpable tension marred the highly anticipated affair, however, as Nisei zoot-suiters, commonly referred to as “pachuke” and “yogore,” appeared in droves. Noticing the “sneers on the faces...

    • Chapter 2 How American Are We?
      (pp. 43-71)

      The experience of World War II could not have been more starkly different for Japanese and Chinese Americans. Configured as enemy aliens, Nikkei endured mass removal, internment, the effective nullification of their citizenship, and a coercive dispersal.¹ The Chinese, by contrast, enjoyed sounder social footing as a result of their real and presumed ties to China, the nation’s partner in the Pacific War against Japan. Thousands of Chinatown residents left the ethnic economy for the first time to take up arms and fill positions in the defense industry. Like never before, the prospect of attaining full acceptance and equality seemed...

    • Chapter 3 Nisei in Uniform
      (pp. 72-110)

      Tempers flared at JACL’s first postwar national gathering in early 1946. At the Denver meeting, delegates thundered about an “embarrassing situation” as Japanese Americans returned to the Pacific coast from the WRA camps. Among those repairing to their former homes were the Tule Lake renunciants, some five thousand internees who had forsworn their US citizenship during the internment. These “troublemakers” stood at odds with the patriotic proclivities of JACL, the organization that had promoted Nikkei cooperation with the federal government during the war. JACL leaders dreaded that local residents would confuse the renunciants with Japanese Americans of “unquestioned loyalty.” Given...

    • Chapter 4 America’s Chinese
      (pp. 111-144)

      Ethnic Chinese throughout the United States greeted the news of the People’s Republic of China’s entry into the Korean War in October 1950 with immense trepidation. “Like others of Oriental ancestry, they remember only too well the plight of 125,000 persons of Japanese ancestry after an infamous December 7,” observed theWashington Evening Starof the District of Columbia’s Chinatown residents. “[They] cannot help but wonder if the larger community may some day turn upon them, especially if a more violent war should engulf China and the United States.” Reverends Albert Lau and Wun Bew Wong of Los Angeles’ Chinese...

  6. Part II Definitively Not-Black

    • [Part II Introduction]
      (pp. 145-149)

      In the two decades after World War II, the universe in which Japanese and Chinese Americans dwelled had changed almost beyond their recognition. The regime of Asiatic Exclusion was moribund. Congress had loosened successive laws impeding the admission and naturalization of Chinese (1943), Indian (1946), Filipino (1946), Korean (1952), and Japanese (1952) persons, with token annual quotas granted to each group. Piecemeal legislation after World War II permitted the entry and stay of nonquota immigrants and refugees from Asia, including students and intellectuals stranded after China’s Communist revolution in 1949, military brides and fiancées from Japan and other countries, and...

    • Chapter 5 Success Story, Japanese American Style
      (pp. 150-180)

      Since JACL’s inception, its leaders had intuitively grasped the intimate connection between knowledge and power. This correlation became especially clear during World War II and afterward, when the organization waged its campaign to rescue both Japanese American citizenship and the league’s own repute. Through the invention of the iconic Nisei soldier, JACL had shaped a new racial knowledge about its community. The convincing martial patriotism strategy had enabled JACL to tighten its hegemony over Nikkei. Still, JACL leaders did not feel totally secure in either regard. The anti-Japanese hostilities that had flared up in the tense moments of US-Japan postwar...

    • Chapter 6 Chinatown Offers Us a Lesson
      (pp. 181-209)

      Trouble punctuated two San Francisco Bay Area Chinese American youth gatherings in February 1949. The sudden appearance of a “gang” at a party hosted by San Mateo’s Chinese Youth Organization sparked a melee as the group forced its way into the crowd. President Frank Lee reported being assaulted at knifepoint. The uninvited visitors fled the scene before police arrived. Just days later, a second fight erupted at the Oakland Rollerland Rink.¹

      The outbursts prompted a flood of responses from the ethnic community. TheChinese Presschided the instigators for “shatter[ing] in a day” the “goodwill” amassed by San Mateo’s Chinese...

    • Chapter 7 The Melting Pot of the Pacific
      (pp. 210-241)

      Americans have long been enamored with Hawai‘i as paradise: lush flora and fauna, dreamy topography, and temperate clime. Beyond these natural splendors, Yankee fantasies have also latched on to the exoticism of the islands’ people and their putative culture, especially the notion of a welcoming, feminized, and sexually available aloha spirit. This imagination has operated to justify the United States’ continued domination of the archipelago since the mid-nineteenth century.¹

      By the early twentieth century, this fascination had come to encompass the idea of Hawai‘i as aracialparadise.² In the 1920s and 1930s, intellectuals began to tout the islands’ ethnically...

  7. Epilogue Model Minority/Asian American
    (pp. 242-258)

    By the twilight of the civil rights era, the success stories of Japanese and Chinese America had themselves become success stories. The cross pressures of exigencies and desires both within and beyond the ethnic communities had effectively midwifed the rebirth of the Asiatic as the model minority. Since then, the model minority has remained a fixture of the nation’s racial landscape, ever present yet constantly evolving to speak to a host of new imperatives in the late twentieth century and early twenty-first. Recent iterations depart from the original in notable ways, but retain many of the themes that first coalesced...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 259-332)
  9. Archival, Primary, and Unpublished Sources
    (pp. 333-340)
  10. Index
    (pp. 341-354)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 355-357)