The Making of Asian America

A History

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

(New York: Simon & Schuster, 2015; paperback 2016; new edition with a postscript on Asian American activism during the COVID-19 pandemic, 2021)

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Reviewed in: New York Times | Los Angeles Times | New Yorker | Economist | Huffington Post


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.


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.


The Making of Asian America

A History (Chinese Version)

(Chinese version published by CITIC Press, 2019)


“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

“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

“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 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