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Asian American Dreams: The Emergence of an American People Paperback – May 15 2001

4.9 out of 5 stars 21 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; Reprint edition (May 15 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374527369
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374527365
  • Product Dimensions: 14.1 x 2.4 x 20.9 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 340 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars 21 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #2,131,753 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

From Kirkus Reviews

Zia, a Chinese-American and co-editor of the reference Asian American Biography, intertwines a memoir of her own life with an informal history of Asians in America. Unless one starts with prehistoric immigrants crossing the Bering Straits, the first Asians to arrive in America were Filipinos. Spanish traders impressed them as seaman, and many jumped ship in Louisiana in the 16th century. After the Spanish-American War, Filipinos, technically US citizens, immigrated in large numbers to Alaska, where they worked, under barbarous conditions, in salmon canneries. Of course, as Zia points out, the Japanese fared even worse, rounded up and placed in internment camps as WWII began, even as many of the first-born, the nisei, fought both in Europe and the Pacific. In fact, in one of Zia's many telling anecdotes, an all-Japanese unit was set to liberate Dachau, but was held back because of the publicity problem. Zia is perhaps most passionate describing the Chinese, reminding us of the infamous exclusion law of the 1880sinstituted after many of them had died to build the railroads and the country, in a sense, was done with them. Into the larger Chinese story Zia weaves her own more intimate history. A child of the 1960s and initially a traditional, compliant daughter on the path toward becoming a physician, she threw off the traces, joining forces with black activists and groups opposing the Vietnam War. Yet Asians were special, ``invisible'' and yet discriminated against even among activists. Instead of following in the mold of other activists, Zia took yet another routeto Detroit, where she bolted together automobiles and came to see herself as a writer and agitator for Chinese-American rights. Evenhanded, subtle, and engaging, though Zias interwoven memoir is less compelling than the vast story of these many peoples, laboring mightily to become Americans. (B&w photos, not seen) -- Copyright ©2000, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


“Serves not only as an invaluable record of a movement but also as a moving and often funny personal memoir.” ―David Henry Hwang

“An ambitious blend of personal and cultural history, a primer on Asian America that covers everything from the history of Asian immigration to the turbulence of the past three decades as the community has gone from silent majority to demanding its place in American society.” ―Ferdinand M. de Leon, The Seattle Times

“An important book because it seeks to answer a question that few other popular works pose: What does it take for people like the author to become fully American?” ―Somini Sengupta, The New York Times Book Review

“Written with journalistic clarity Asian American Dreams offers a way out of the cycle of racial prejudice, discrimination and violence. Its examples of individuals and communities that have spanned cultural antipathies to fight for a cause serve as beacons of hope.” ―Roger Yim, San Francisco Chronicle

“Helen Zia has produced what many of us were waiting for--an honest, scholarly, yet intensely personal book about the transformation of Asian America. She deftly interweaves the remarkable history of a people with her own unique journey as a pioneer activist and writer. The result--Asian American Dreams--is a fresh and incisive narrative, epic in its sweep, thrilling in its verve and clarity.” ―Iris Chang, author of The Rape of Nanking

“A rich chronicle of personal and national history involving Asian Americans that examines issues ranging from immigration patterns to stereotypes in entertainment.” ―Dinah Eng, Gannett News

Dreams is a wonderful, sophisticated, lively sociohistorical biography of Asian Pacific Americans fighting back to broaden the human rights of U.S. citizens and immigrants alike. Herein Helen Zia emerges as the foremost activist-chronicler of the eighties and nineties.” ―John Kuo Wei Tchen, professor, New York University, author of New York Before Chinatown

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Customer Reviews

4.9 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I remember as a young child, other kids would ask me, "Where are you from?" Even though I was a native U.S. citizen, I would answer "Korea" without even thinking about it. Their response would be a blank stare and a "Where?" They all knew China, and even Japan, but rarely Korea. I grew up thinking that I was from a place that no one knew existed. Now when people ask me, "Where are you from?" I answer "Los Angeles," and I receive the response, "You know what I mean. Really, where are you from?" This question has plagued me throughout my life. People assume I cannot simply be an American - I must be a foreigner.
What Helen Zia has done is taken this universal experience among Asian Americans and transformed it into a quest to learn what it means to be Asian and American. She examines pivotal points in Asian American history and acknowledges racism, but also examines what Asian Americans must do as a whole to become seen as "American" and not as a "gook" or a "chink." As a college student who's done a little bit of research on Asian Americans, it enlightened me on my responsibilites to make my voice heard and also educated me on the history of the Asian American Civil Rights Movement - something that didn't even exist 60 years ago.
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By A Customer on Dec 13 2001
Format: Paperback
Zia's accout of Asian American history is highly readable, panning a long stretch of time and focusing in on a series of major events (that are detailed in other reviews, which I will not reiterate). And, as many of the reviewers already stated, she provides more than an introduction to these events. Unfortunately, Zia's journalistic background---which I see as the simplification of complex issues and the lack of historical depth---surfaces often when she attempts to provide historical context. That is, she often paints in broad strokes (in an effort to state her case, no doubt), especially when dealing with other ethnic groups. A case in point is her discussion of 1921 and 1924 immigration quotas acts. Instead of simply dealing with the implication of these acts on immigration from Asia, she decides to insert statistics on immigration from Italy at the time, leaving the reader to conclude that immigration from Italy was not restricted. Why she does this, one can only wonder. In fact, the quotas acts did reduce immigration from Italy to a mere trickle, and the language that was used to reduce this immigration was most certainly racialized, since Italians were seen as a dark skinned, uneducated, crime-prone people. Zia would have been better advised to leave reference to Italians out, especially if she is not willing to do them historical justice. After all, they too are an ethnic minority with their own distinct history in America Aside from this slip (visable in other places in her text), Zia still writes a very informed and accessible text.
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Format: Paperback
Asian American Dreams is really a touching book. It is touching not because it is a fiction with many moving plots and the hero or heroin possesses moving characteristics --- strictly speaking it is not a fiction --- but because it provides a description, a statement, a confession from the perspective of an Asian American woman writer who exposes so unelaborated, so frankly, so honestly, her innocent feelings about her being as an Asian American.
Helen Zia, the daughter of Chinese immigrants, born in New Jersey, grew up in the fifties when there were only 150, 000 Chinese Americans in the entire country. As an award-winning journalist who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, Zia has covered Asian American communities and social and political movements for more than twenty years.
Different from the other minorities groups, she assumed what Chinese Americans wished to be was not how to preserve their cultural identity, instead, they tried to explore by what they could be made a fully American. However, she was obviously dissatisfied with she was forever conceived as an “alien” even she was born in New Jersey.
“There is a drill,” she wrote, “ that nearly all Asians in America have experienced more times than they can count. Total strangers will interrupt with the absurdly existential question ‘What are you?’ Or the equally common inquiry ‘Where are your from?’ Their queries are generally well intentioned, made in the same detached manner that you might use to inquire about a pooch’s breed.”
She clearly pointed out a situation that Asian Americans, particularly Chinese Americans, had been facing in the American setting.
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Format: Hardcover
Helen Zia provides a good overview of the Asian Pacific American (APA) experience in the United States and highlights specific examples where APAs faced gross discrimination and unfair treatment at the hands of an intolerant (and clueless) society which continues today in more overt ways.
While she provides some personal insights using her own and unique experiences, Ms. Zia doesn't reveal anything new in her book. I would recommend this book for those readers who are not familiar with, for example, the boycott of Korean grocers or the murder of Vincent Chin. But again, it would just be for background information.
I have to admit, though, that this book inspired me to ask myself several questions. For example, it's okay to have an Irish Day or Puerto Rican Day parade. (Ah, yes, it's a way of reconnecting with our roots.) But when APAs want to have an APA parade, we are accused of refusing to assimilate with American culture. I can't wait for the day when every American can celebrate their cultural heritage without being accused of stealing nuclear secrets or giving illegal campaign contributions.
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