The Accidental Asian

The Accidental Asian

Notes of A Native Speaker

Book - 1999
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Beyond black and white, native and alien, lies a vast and fertile field of human experience. It is here that Eric Liu, former speechwriter for President Clinton and noted political commentator, invites us to explore.

In these compellingly candid essays, Liu reflects on his life as a second-generation Chinese American and reveals the shifting frames of ethnic identity. Finding himself unable to read a Chinese memorial book about his father's life, he looks critically at the cost of his own assimilation. But he casts an equally questioning eye on the effort to sustain vast racial categories like "Asian American." And as he surveys the rising anxiety about China's influence, Liu illuminates the space that Asians have always occupied in the American imagination. Reminiscent of the work of James Baldwin and its unwavering honesty, The Accidental Asian introduces a powerful and elegant voice into the discussion of what it means to be an American.
Publisher: New York : Vintage Books, 1999.
Edition: 1st Vintage books ed.
ISBN: 9780375704864
0375704868
Branch Call Number: 305.8951 LIU
Characteristics: 206 pages ; 22 cm

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DorisWaggoner
Dec 05, 2014

This very provocative book should be required reading for all Americans who think "the race question" is just about blacks. It is also fascinating reading, as Liu explores his own life experience. Most of his life was spent as part of the only Chinese-American family in whatever town they lived in. Born in the US of Chinese-born parents, he notes that "Asian American" didn't exist in this country until about 1980 when the US Census Bureau created it as a census category. Until then, Asians thought of themselves in terms of their country of origin--Chinese American, Korean American, Cambodian American, etc. Then the census dumped them all into the same basket. At first, Liu resisted this idea mightily. When he went to college, there was no "Chinese American Students' Group," but rather an "Asian American Students' Union." He had no choice, if he wanted to retain any of his identity at all. Still, there he found ethnic groups sitting together. Soon, the groups began mixing, and he himself ended up marrying a white woman. So what does it mean to maintain strict boundaries, or to assimilate? How would Liu write differently, in a country with a President whose mother was white, whose father was black, but who identifies himself on the census as black? And where shootings over race are still common?

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