If the diversity of Asian America has become one of the cardinal principles of Asian American studies, then the task of compiling and organizing a comprehensive volume that covers the history and cultures of this formation seems daunting if not impossible. To their credit, Huping Ling and Allan W. Austin have done an admirable job of editing this two-volume encyclopedia. Asian American History and Culture includes over 400 entries that cover a wide range of topics. Written in a direct and accessible manner, each entry offers an introductory overview and concludes with a suggested reading list. This encyclopedia will be appreciated by high school and college students and general readers alike, and would make a valuable addition to any reference library or collection. Scholars will benefit from the wealth of information contained in these volumes, although their introductory approach renders them less useful for in-depth research. Nevertheless, the publication of Asian American History and Culture offers a timely opportunity to reflect on the challenges of conceptualizing Asian American knowledge.
The organization of Asian American History and Culture reflects a conventional definition of Asian America as conglomerate of East and South Asian groups that possess related histories and experiences by virtue of being racialized in the United States. While topics related to transnationalism and diaspora are addressed throughout the two volumes, the encyclopedia is mainly divided into sections that focus on individual subgroups such as Korean or Cambodian Americans. Middle Eastern Americans, despite their geographical origins in Asia, are not included. [End Page 454] Lao and Hmong Americans are named separately even though they share the same section. With the notable exception of the section on Pacific Islander Americans, the rest of the sections focus on distinct ethno-national groups. Each section starts off with an introductory essay that provides a general overview of the group's history and contemporary demographics. This essay is followed by entries that cover a wide set of topics including acculturation, religion, and the arts as well as important historical events, prominent community organizations, and famous persons. To take the example of the Chinese American section, the entries address topics ranging from bachelor societies to Madame Chiang Kai-shek, Chinatowns, Maxine Hong Kingston, restaurants, and Vera Wang. The length of each section corresponds roughly with the size of the group in question and the extent of its history in the United States. The sections on Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, and Indian Americans contain the most entries while the sections on Korean, Laotian, Taiwanese, Vietnamese, and Pacific Islander Americans are noticeably shorter. The sections on smaller groups such as Burmese, Mongolian, and Tibetan Americans only contain an overview essay.
Asian American History and Culture begins with an extended section on "The Asian American Experience," which covers topics of pan-ethnic relevance. These include organizations such as the Association for Asian American Studies and the National Asian American Telecommunications Association as well as themes such as immigration legislation, the model minority, and affirmative action. In their introductory essay, Ling and Austin suggest that the term "Asian American" "remains ambiguous and complex" because it denotes a means of asserting political agency even while it echoes racialized labels such as "Oriental" (3-4). Moreover, they caution, the study of Asian American history is complicated by considerable variations among different subgroups, a point that often gets obscured by the widely accepted use of Asian American as an umbrella term in academia, government, and community organizing (xxi). In light of these issues, the editors identify several methodological questions, including the usefulness of Asian American as a rubric, the relative neglect of subgroups other than Chinese and Japanese Americans, and the challenges of comparing pre-1965 communities with those formed by more recent immigration.
In accordance with its empirical approach, Asian American History and Culture pays less attention to the critical and theoretical debates that have been at the forefront of Asian American studies. At times, the organization of entries reveals...