Ellen Wu’s The Color of Success: Asian Americans and the Origins of the Model Minority (Princeton University Press, 2014). provides a fresh, penetrating analysis on how the historical processes of race making and the differential racialization of Chinese and Japanese Americans in the United States enabled them to be repositioned in the racial hierarchy, and in particular vis-à-vis blackness. This repositioning was strategically designed by the racial order and at times adopted by Chinese and Japanese communities within the politics of citizenship and belonging. This was especially notable in Wu’s discussion of their role in constructing the model minority myth. Nevertheless, as her masterful chapter on Japanese American zoot-suiters illustrates, their participation with blacks and Mexican Americans in a larger multiracial youth culture also defied and called into question this racial order. With elegant, fluid prose, Wu has produced an original and intricate study that illuminates the intersection of wartime geopolitics, domestic race relations, and conceptions of loyalty and citizenship in mid-twentieth-century America. Her important book will undoubtedly be considered the definitive work on the historical origins of the Asian American “model minority” stereotype for years to come.
Wu’s study is meticulously researched, utilizing a vast array of sources including manuscript and archival collections, government documents, oral histories, and other unpublished sources. She also consults an impressive collection of periodicals, mining all of the stories that inform her study. The richness and depth of her research stand out as a major strength of her book, which weaves together materials she painstakingly unearthed from a wealth of archives to produce a complex historical narrative. Overall, The Color of Success makes significant contributions to the scholarship on U.S. race relations and Asian American history.