Academic calls for Latinx and Asian Americans to transform the nation



By Long Le-Khac (Redwood City, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2020, 264 pp., $28, paperback)

Since 2000, the Asian American population in the United States has grown to nearly 20 million. At this rate, according to the Pew Research Center, by 2055, Asian Americans will be the largest immigrant group in the country. Meanwhile, Latinx populations have also grown to some 20 percent today and are projected to grow even more in the near future, according to the Census.

While one may not automatically link the two communities together, in this new book, Long Le-Khac uncovers powerful historical connections between Asian American and Latinx histories, including how migration of both ethnic groups were partly triggered by U.S. military interventions, such as the first troops being deployed into the Vietnam War and the invasion of the Dominican Republic, both of which occurred in 1965, and how these moments in history and politics have inevitably intertwined the two communities in surprising ways.

President Lyndon Johnson signed the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which ended the national origins quotas that had previously prioritized immigrants from Europe and restricted people from anywhere else, so that more whites were permitted into the country than people of color. Elimination of the immigration quota completely changed the American landscape and ushered in a new era of growth for Asian Americans and Latinx in particular.

What makes this book so remarkable is how it uses literature to reveal the striking similarities between these two communities, despite mainstream media’s depiction of “illegal immigrants” and refugees. Specifically, Le-Khac builds his case through careful analysis of the work of writers such as Sandra Cisneros, Karen Tei Yamashita, Junot Diaz, Aimee Phan and Rishi Reddi, who have been shaped by their cultural patterns, such as social networking, labor history, development of a panethnic identity, and language.

Many of the novels he examines are also linked by stylistic and storytelling forms, such as traversing the past and present, between country of origin and the U.S., and coming-of-age stories. Most importantly, Le-Khac urges us to see the potential for future cross-racial solidarity and alliances.

While I enjoyed and learned from this book, I can’t easily recommend it to any reader. It is unquestionably a book of academic writing, aimed at a particular scholarly audience, and I struggled to untangle the syntax and wade through the literary theory at times. Yet, the hopeful view of unity between these seemingly separate immigrant populations drives the writing and lays out the clear need for Latinx and Asian Americans to transform our nation for the better.

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