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  • Race and the City: Chinese Canadian and Chinese American Political Mobilization
  • Reza Hasmath
Shanti Fernando . Race and the City: Chinese Canadian and Chinese American Political Mobilization. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2006. 173 pp. Notes. Bibliography. Index. $29.95 sc.

Shanti Fernando's book examines how the Canadian and American political systems have dealt with the increasing multi-ethnic makeup of both nations. In particular, the author focuses on the Chinese communities in Toronto and Los Angeles by tracing their national and local histories; the community groups they have established; and, how these groups have mobilized themselves to serve their community and forge a collective mechanism for political participation. Fernando deliberately chooses these two multi-ethnic urban environments given their large immigrant population spanning various ethno-cultural groups, and their history of coming to grips with racial tensions through their formal local political systems.

Through six chapters, inclusive of an introduction and conclusion, the book is in effect split into two chapters looking at "systemic racism" detailing potential barriers to political participation, and another two chapters which draw upon the author's interview findings on the experiences of Chinese community groups in both cities. For Fernando, there are three types of ethno-cultural community organizations and institutions: (1) survival and adjustment groups; (2) civic and political resource development groups; and (3) advocacy and civil groups (12-13). This framework serves as a theoretical background to understand and analyze Chinese community groups' activities.

While the common assumption is that the Canadian context displays "less racism" and the American "more racism," Race and the City dispels this myth through a myriad of theory and ethnography. The author paints an environment where racialized minorities have less access to the urban political system and fewer opportunities for political participation since "systemic racism" excludes them from the system. The situation is further complicated due to the state's denial of systemic racism.

The crux of Fernando's concluding arguments is the most intriguing. She posits that despite community groups' limitations in political participation due to a system that leaves them on "the whims of a power structure they are not part of" (135), they can challenge the conditions of systemic racism through community groups. In other words, in a society that excludes racialized minorities from mainstream institutions, Fernando argues community groups can act parallel to the democratic process.

Whether or not we agree with Fernando's assessment of race relations in Canada and the United States through the prism of the Chinese community's experiences in Toronto and Los Angeles, Race and the City is a short and attractive read for those interested with "on-the-ground" race relations. In this vein, it may be useful [End Page 206] as an introductory reader for a first- and second-year undergraduate course in sociology or ethnic studies. It may also be appealing to more seasoned students of ethnicity who seek a quick refresher or an intellectual appetizer.

Reza Hasmath
Department of Sociology, University of Cambridge