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Journal of Asian American Studies 9.2 (2006) 205-206
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Committee members: Madeline Hsu, Najia Aarim-Heriot
Mae Ngai's Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America is an extraordinary study of the creation of the illegal immigrant as a legal and social category and the continuing and unstable relationship between race and immigration in American society. Ngai weaves together the histories of various excluded groups, Asian and Non-Asian, with virtuosity and attention to detail. The comparative aspects of Ngai's work are particularly impressive, as she demonstrates linkages in racial ideologies, bureaucratic formations, and legal practices that cut across and through the experiences of a broad range of marginalized Americans. The constructions of illegal immigrants that she traces unfortunately continue to reverberate through contemporary society—thus her book also serves as a potent example of how we should strive to learn from the past. Her monograph rests upon prodigious and meticulous research that encapsulates a broad range of sources. The diversity of archival sources she consults give her book such authority despite the breadth of ground covered.
Sucheng Chan's Survivors: Cambodian Refugees in the United States traces the odyssey of a little-studied group of Asian Americans—Cambodian refugees—and their efforts to build lives and communities in the United States. The book's strengths lie particularly in its multidisciplinary approach,and its trans-Pacific perspective, through which Chan traces the experiences of Cambodian refugees in both Asia and the United States.
Although Chan was not able personally to conduct the ethnographic or archival research due to her declining health, she has been able through the work of appropriate research assistants to collect, preserve, and make publicly available scores of oral interviews of Cambodian American subjects. This monograph also illustrates Chan's masterful command of the secondary sources which she has [End Page 205] turned creatively and sensitively to producing a very useful overview of Cambodian American experiences. This is a monograph that can be turned to many purposes outside the classroom, for example, in the realms of public policy and public health.
An honorable mention is awarded to Sharon Delmendo's The Star-Entangled Banner: One Hundred Years of America in the Philippines. A witty and audacious interdisciplinary survey of the impact of American culture on the Philippines, Delmendo's monograph attempts to demonstrate the extent to which both the Philippines and the United States constructed their national narratives through, against, and in collusion with each other. Delmendo's book is a welcome addition to the growing historical literature on Asian American experience and US imperialism.