Asian American Panethnicity

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Although they still make up only a relatively small percentage of the nation’s population, Asian Americans are the fastest-growing ethnic minority in the United States. In part this is a result of massive immigration following major reforms in U.S.immigration policy in 1965, in part a result of admitting more than a million refugees from Southeast Asia in the aftermath of the Vietnam War. The impact of these new arrivals on already established Asian American communities is but one of many subjects considered in Yen Le Espiritu’s invaluable study.

The term “Asian American,” as Espiritu notes, comprises the distinct cultures of Chinese, Filipinos, Japanese, Koreans, Vietnamese, and others. While members of these diverse groups have in common cultural roots in Asia, they have not historically seen themselves as sharing a panethnic identity. Indeed, strong grievances and mutual prejudices exist among many of these groups. In the United States, however, people of Asian descent have frequently been lumped together by members of the mainstream culture; this blurring of distinctions among different Asian groups has often had a racist element. Thus, Espiritu shows, panethnic solidarity among Asian Americans developed primarily as a response to prejudice and discrimination.

Espiritu, a Vietnamese American who is married to a Filipino American, is an assistant professor of ethnic studies at University of California, San Diego. While she employs a good deal of social science jargon, her book is accessible to the interested general reader. Drawing on interviews as well as a wide range of specialized studies, Espiritu focuses on topics such as the growth of the Asian American movement, electoral politics in the Asian American community, and anti-Asian violence. The text is supplemented by statistical tables, notes, an extensive bibliography, a list of interviews, and an index.