Where Are the Asian Americans in American History?

August 10, 2022

Over the past two years, the United States has experienced an enormous surge of anti-Asian violence. According to a new report from the Brookings Institute, 1 in 6 Asian Americans reported personally experiencing a hate crime in 2021. In the first half of 2022, 1 in 3 Asian Americans have been told to “go back to your country.” As a result, the Pew Research Center reports, 1 in 5 Asian Americans now fear for their safety so severely that they have made substantial changes to their daily routines.

In her new book, Asian American Histories of the United States (Beacon, Aug. 2), scholar Catherine Ceniza Choy argues that this surge in violence derives from the erasure of Asian American lives over centuries. This erasure has resulted, according to the Brookings report, in over half of the American population being unable to name a single “prominent” Asian American and in Asian American history being unavailable to students in 48 states. Choy’s text addresses this gap in a comprehensive and conversational manner. Covering topics as diverse as the role of Chinese workers in the construction of the Western railroads; the leadership of Filipinos in the Delano, California, grape strike (1965-1970); and the gendered nature of anti-Asian immigration legislation, Choy’s work treats history not as an artifact of the past but as an urgent source of knowledge—and empathy—for the present.

Choy, who is a professor in the department of ethnic studies at UC Berkeley, answered our questions by email; the exchange has been edited for length and clarity.