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Journal of Asian American Studies 6.2 (2003) 219-222

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Asian American Politics: Law, Participation, and Policy. Edited by Don T. Nakanishi and James S. Lai. New York: Rowman & Littlefield. 2003.

Since the 1960s, the Asian population in the United States has experienced unparalleled growth and diversity. Asian Americans have made significant inroads in the economy, but politically, they wield little influence and remain vulnerable. The recent hostility directed against John Huang and Wen Ho Lee testifies to the ongoing political weakness of Asian Americans. In addition, because of stereotypical perceptions of Asian American disinterest in politics in popular discourse, mainstream politicians have paid little attention to Asian Americans and their needs. Challenging these widely held notions of Asian American political apathy, in this timely volume, editors Don T. Nakanishi and James S. Lai have put together a broad range of documents and essays that address both the historical and contemporary political activities of Asian Americans. This volume highlights the role that Asian Americans have played and continue to play in American politics, and identifies the political obstacles and challenges they face in contemporary U.S. society.

The chapters in Part I of this four-part book offer prominent Supreme Court rulings that record Asian American struggles for equal protection rights (Yick Wo v. Hopkins; Korematsu v. United States) and naturalization rights (Takao Ozawa v. United States; United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind). These major rulings [End Page 219] demonstrate that contrary to the often-made assumption that Asian Americans, as noncitizens, had little recourse to and/or made little effort to challenge discrimination in official forums, Asian Americans did, in fact, take their grievances to the courts to confront the state-sanctioned discrimination they faced. By collecting these cases and placing them in this book's first section, Nakanishi and Lai effectively underscore both the historic resistance efforts of Asians in the United States and the participation of the courts in shaping Asian American politics.

Part II turns to analysis of two major immigration policies that had immense impact on the fortunes of Asian Americans: the 1924 Immigration Act and the 1965 Immigration Act. The essay by Lee Makela draws attention to the politics behind the 1924 legislation. It fascinatingly details how domestic politics, more than international politics, decided the fate of Japanese immigration through the 1924 act. According to Makela, the domestic pressure to halt immigration generally was aimed in halting Japanese immigration more than Southern and Eastern European immigration. Bill Hing's chapter then investigates the impact of the 1965 Immigration Act and illustrates how its occupational preference system and family reunification provision dramatically increased and diversified the Asian American population. Hing also addresses refugee policies that have been integral in the making of Southeast Asian communities. In sum, this section of the volume illuminates the arrangement and rearrangement of Asian America through immigration policies.

Part III is the largest section in the volume and its chapters deal with political incorporation issues of Asian Americans from 1965 to the present. Various subtopics are covered: from "political research and demographic trends" to "the Asian American movement and beyond: 1960 to present"; and from "transnational politics and identities" to "Asian Pacific American voting behavior, Asian Pacific American non-voting behavior, prospects for pan-ethnicity." In the first essay in this section, Don Nakanishi discusses various theoretical perspectives that may be used to frame the political activities of Asian Americans. He contends that traditional frameworks that focus primarily on electoral politics are inadequate, as they are unable to account for non-electoral forms of political participation, including transnational or homeland political activities of Asian immigrants, and thus wrongly assume that Asian Americans are indifferent toward politics. Nakanishi's essay, as well as the piece he coauthored with Paul Ong, importantly provides much needed quantitative information about the naturalization and voting patterns of Asian Americans. Ong and Nakanishi's chapter focuses on the naturalization rates of Asian immigrants in recognition of the fact that the ability [End Page 220] to register to vote is determined by the ability to...


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