The Making of Asian America: A History

(New York: Simon & Schuster, 2015; paperback 2016; coming soon in Chinese)

Awarded the 2015 -2016 Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature in Adult Non-Fiction from the American Library Association

Awarded a 2015 Kirkus Star from the Kirkus Reviews for books of exceptional merit

Named a Best Nonfiction Book of 2015 by the Kirkus Review, named to the “10 Can’t-Miss History Books of 2015” by History Buffs, named an “Editor’s Choice” by the New York Times, and named to the LA Times “Great Reading for the Season” List.

Reviewed in the New York Times, the LA Times, the New Yorker, the Economist, the Huffington Post, the Japan Times, the Dallas Morning News, Asian American News, the Oregonian, the Economic Times, the Cape Cod Times, and profiled in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, NBC News, National Public Radio, Minnesota Public Radio, National Book Festival, Access Minnesota, Intercept


In the past fifty years, Asian Americans have helped change the face of America and are now the fastest growing group in the United States. But as award-winning historian Erika Lee reminds us, Asian Americans also have deep roots in the country. The Making of Asian America tells the little-known history of Asian Americans and their role in American life, from the arrival of the first Asians in the Americas to the present-day.

An epic history of global journeys and new beginnings, this book shows how generations of Asian immigrants and their American-born descendants have made and remade Asian American life in the United States: sailors who came on the first trans-Pacific ships in the 1500s; indentured “coolies” who worked alongside African slaves in the Caribbean; and Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Korean, and South Asian immigrants who were recruited to work in the United States only to face massive racial discrimination, Asian exclusion laws, and for Japanese Americans, incarceration during World War II. Over the past fifty years, a new Asian America has emerged out of community activism and the arrival of new immigrants and refugees. No longer a “despised minority,” Asian Americans are now held up as America’s “model minorities” in ways that reveal the complicated role that race still plays in the United States.

Published to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the passage of the United States’ Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 that has remade our “nation of immigrants,” this is a new and definitive history of Asian Americans. But more than that, it is a new way of understanding America itself, its complicated histories of race and immigration, and its place in the world today.

“A sweeping study of the fastest growing group in the United States that underscores the shameful racist regard white Americans have long held for Asian immigrants. … A thorough … powerful, timely story told with method and dignity.”
Kirkus Reviews, starred review

“Lee’s comprehensive treatise on the experiences of Asians in the United States mostly focuses on the 20th century, but the overall scope is broader in both time and space. … An impressive work that details how this diverse population has both swayed and been affected by the United States. Highly recommended for readers interested in this important topic.”
Library Journal, starred review

“[An] ambitious, sweeping, and insightful survey.”
Publisher’s Weekly

The Making of Asian America is a path-breaking approach to Asian American history. Professor Lee will challenge and surprise most of her readers. . . . She is clearly now a distinct and important voice in a debate of growing complexity.”
— Roger Daniels, author of Coming to America and Charles Phelps Taft Professor Emeritus of History, University of Cincinnati

A stunning achievement,The Making of Asian America establishes the centrality of Asians to American history, and poses alternatives to US national and immigration histories. Asians, this remarkable text reveals, transformed the face of America, and they locate the US firmly within a hemispheric and global order.”
— Gary Y. Okihiro, Professor of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University, and former President of the Association for Asian American Studies

Erika Lee has written a sweeping yet personal and critical history of Asian Americans across centuries, continents, and diverse cultures without losing sight of the global, racial, and historical contexts of Asian migration, exclusion, and resettlement…The Making of Asian America is truly an enjoyable, informative, and insightful read.”
Blurb Author/Source: Judy Yung, Professor Emerita of American Studies, UC Santa Cruz, and author of Unbound Feet

“A fascinating narrative. . . . Deftly weaving together a masterful synthesis of the existing literature with new information culled from hitherto untapped archival sources and with analytical insights on the global currents that have shaped the last five centuries, Erika Lee has created a richly textured tapestry enlivened by vivid stories of hundreds of individuals and groups who played significant, though often unsung, roles in the making of Asian America.”
— Sucheng Chan, Professor Emerita of Asian American Studies, UC Santa Barbara

“In this fascinating retelling of the American creation story, Lee uses incisive scholarship, a wide historic lens and rich detail to fill in the long missing Asian-American pieces. Starting with ancient Greece and the Age of Exploration, from enslavement to modern day challenges, Lee tracks the epic Asian-American journey to North and South Americas, East Indies to West Indies, and in doing so, she breaks new ground and inverts the master narrative.”
— Helen Zia, author of Asian American Dreams: The Emergence of an American People

“A well-written, panoramic view of Asian America from the colonial era to the present that sheds light on how Asian immigrants have sought to make their place in American society and, at the same time, continually changed it.”
— Nancy Foner, coauthor of Strangers No More and Distinguished Professor of Sociology, Hunter College and Graduate Center, CUNY

“Accessibly written for a wide readership, The Making of Asian America opens important, new perspectives on the relationship of the U.S. and the world.”
— Donna Gabaccia, Professor of History, University of Toronto Scarborough

For several reasons, Erika Lee’s new narrative of Asian American history deserves
consideration to complement, if not supplant, celebrated earlier syntheses. Incorporating compelling revisionist approaches, Prof. Lee peels back several centuries of time to locate the origins of Chinese in America to the founding of the Spanish empire in America (Cuba, Mexico, Peru, etc.) in the sixteenth century…In so doing, [she] reinforces the growing imperative that America is hemispheric and pluralistic. She further insists on the “mainsteaming” of Asian American history in the United States, that it is best understood and should be integrated into a re-contextualized synthesis of American U.S. history as a whole.
— Evelyn Hu-DeHart, Professor of History and American Studies, Brown University and Editor, Across the Pacific: Asian Americans and Globalization