Quick Questions for Ellen D. Wu, author of The Color of Success

7W8A1140Ellen D. Wu is assistant professor of history at Indiana University where she conducts research on issues of race, immigration, citizenship, and nation through the lens of Asian American history. She is also author of The Color of Success:Asian Americans and the Origins of the Model Minority, a recent book that tells of the astonishing transformation of Asians in the United States from the “yellow peril” to “model minorities”–peoples distinct from the white majority but lauded as well-assimilated, upwardly mobile, and exemplars of traditional family values–in the middle decades of the twentieth century.

Now, on to the questions!

 

What inspired you to get into your field?

As the daughter of Chinese immigrants, I was originally drawn to Asian American history as a way to understand my own place in the world. (I always felt a little bit freakish, growing up in Indiana.) But I soon learned that it is much more than that. The founders of Asian American Studies in the late 1960s and early 1970s emphasized the importance of research and education relevant to Asian American communities. They also believed that it was possible not only to fight oppression, but to end it completely.

The original, radical vision of Asian American Studies continues to invigorate me. I strive to tell new stories in such a way that is meaningful to Asian Americans from all walks of life.  I aim to highlight the diversity of Asian America. And I am interested in the actions that ordinary people have taken in the face of racism and other dehumanizing challenges.

What is the biggest misunderstanding people have about what you do?


The reigning misconception of Asians in the United States is that we are “model minorities.”


People often think that history is just a string of dates and facts about “great” white men.  (Is it a coincidence that many of those who believe this also tell me that they think history is boring?)  I would also say that most non-historians have no idea how historians actually go about doing what they do (i.e. archival research)—probably because it’s pretty bizarre from an outsider’s perspective! A friend of mine explains it this way: we read other people’s mail. While that makes us sound like NSA employees, that description works for me.

What would you have been if not a historian?

I have fantasies about being/becoming a documentary filmmaker, a food writer, and an independently wealthy lady of leisure.

What are you reading right now?

This summer I plan to dig in to some of my favorite literary writers: Jhumpa Lahiri, Monique Troung, and Junot Diaz. I can’t wait to be inspired by their words, sentences, and storytelling. Meanwhile, I’m reading lots of things via my Twitter feed.

What was the most influential book you’ve read?

Ummmm… The Bible?

Why did you write The Color of Success?

It was a book that I wished had already existed.

What was the biggest challenge involved with bringing this book to life?


[Book] titles are so hard! They’re akin to naming one’s child.


Conceptually it was quite difficult for me to figure out how to move from dissertation to book. It’s the kind of thing (at least in my experience) that one doesn’t really know how to do until one has done it, if that makes sense. But now I can say the process has been demystified and hopefully all the pieces will fall into place much faster with the next book.

What do you think is the book’s most important contribution?

Today the reigning misconception of Asians in the United States is that we are “model minorities”—people of color who are naturally smart and hardworking, socio-economically mobile, etc. Observers often attribute the putative “success” of Asian Americans to “culture.”  By excavating the origins of the “model minority” image (it’s a relatively recent creation, dating back only to the 1940s-60s), The Color of Success shows that it is an invented fiction rather than timeless truth. Certain Asian American spokespersons, government officials, social scientists, journalists, and others conjured up the “model minority” for various political purposes. For those invested in delegitimizing the African American freedom movement, the “model minority” stereotype served as handy “evidence” that the United States was indeed a land of opportunity for all, including racial minorities. People are often surprised to hear that the “model minority” stereotype, while ostensibly positive, is actually highly problematic and pernicious.

The value of tracing the relatively recent emergence of a stereotype that is prevalent today is that it drives home the point that race is a social process rather than a fact of nature. That gives me hope that racial stereotypes and categories can be “unmade” as well as “made.”

Who do you see as the audience for this book?

My goal with The Color of Success was to generate something empirically-rich and stimulating for professional scholars, but also significant and accessible in a broader way. I wanted to write for “lay” Asian Americans and others interested in historical and present-day conditions and consequences of race in the United States. Additionally, I tried to produce something that my friends and relatives might actually read. (A shout out to my cousin Denise in Logan, Utah for being my first family member to finish it!) I’m crossing my fingers that the book will speak to this these disparate audiences.

k10134[1]How did you come up with the title or jacket?

Titles are so hard! They’re akin to naming one’s child: it’s a heavy decision because it seems that it will seal the fate of the book forever. I definitely wanted something that conveyed the main themes of the book, but I didn’t want it to sound too boring or “academic-y” (hopefully I succeeded?). I went through about a million titles before my husband came up with The Color of Success at the eleventh hour.

On the other hand, the cover image (a photograph of the 1956 San Francisco Chinese basketball team, clad in “USA” jackets and holding “USA”-stamped balls), was something that I had kept in mind for years.  I first spotted it in a 1956 issue of San Francisco’s bilingual Chinese World newspaper when I started my research.  It was one of those ah-ha! moments. Like other notable American artists and athletes at the time, the team had been tapped by the US State Department to tour Asia as “goodwill” ambassadors—essentially Cold War cultural diplomats. It’s a great double-take image that plays with the tenacious notion that Asians remain “forever foreigners” in the United States, that Asian Americans have never truly been seen by others as “real” Americans.  And like Linsanity, it also messes with assumptions that Asian Americans make good scientists or violinists or whatever, but not good basketball players.

Several years after I initially ran across the photo, I wrote to a senior Asian American historian to ask if she knew how I might get a hold of it for the book. She forwarded my message to her contacts in San Francisco Chinatown, and, voila!, I tracked down Percy Chu, the 80-something coach of the basketball team. Mr. Chu not only kindly sent me the photo, but now he’s also my penpal. Every Chinese holiday, he sends me little gifts in the mail—zongzi (Chinese tamales) for the Dragon Boat festival, mooncakes for the Mid-Autumn Festival, red envelopes for Lunar New Year. (Maybe he feels sorry for me for living in Bloomington, so far removed from the epicenters of Chinese America?) So that’s been unexpected and fun!

 

Ellen is the author of:

bookjacket

The Color of Success:
Asian Americans and the Origins of the Model Minority
Ellen D. Wu
Hardcover | $39.50 / £27.95 | ISBN: 9780691157825
376 pp. | 6 x 9 | 19 halftones.eBook | ISBN: 9781400848874
Endorsements | Table of Contents
Introduction pdf-iconThe Color of Success embodies exciting developments in Asian American history. Through the lens of racial liberalism and cultural diplomacy, Ellen Wu offers a historically grounded analysis of the Asian American model minority in the contexts of domestic race politics and geopolitics, and she unveils the complexities of wartime and postwar national inclusion.”–Eiichiro Azuma, University of Pennsylvania

PUP News of the World

NewsOfTheWorld_Banner
Welcome to the next edition of our brand new series, PUP News of the World! Every week we will be posting a round-up of all of our most exciting national AND international reviews/interviews/events/articles, etc. that took place in the last week.


http://press.princeton.edu/images/k9383.gifThis week our article of the week comes from Financial Times! In the spirit of the holidays, the FT has posted a list of the best books of 2013 as chosen by FT writers and guests, including six Princeton University Press titles!
In the category of Business, Marc Levinson’s book, The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger, was chosen by none other than the Chairman of Microsoft, Bill Gates! Of the book, he said, “[This book] was published in 2006 but I read it just this year, around the time I visited the Panama Canal. A book about metal boxes may not sound like a thrill ride, but Levinson keeps it moving with compelling characters and surprising details. He unravels the history of how the shipping container revolutionised the way the world does business, affecting everything from shipping times to the depth of ports. A helpful guide to one of the cornerstones of globalisation. I won’t look at a cargo ship in quite the same way again.”
In the category of Economics, three of our books were chosen by Martin Wolf. The first, The Bankers’ New Clothes: What’s Wrong with Banking and What to Do about It by Anat Admati & Martin Hellwig, Wolf called “[T]he most important book to have come out of the financial crisis”. The second, Mass Flourishing: How Grassroots Innovation Created Jobs, Challenge, and Change by Edmund Phelps was called “[E]xtraordinary… Phelps has addressed some of the big questions about our future”. Last but not least, the third selection was The War of the Sexes: How Conflict and Cooperation Have Shaped Men and Women from Prehistory to the Present by Paul Seabright, which Wolf says “With characteristic brilliance, Seabright uses biology, sociology, anthropology and economics to explain the war of the sexes”.
In the category of History, Tony Barber chose two PUP titles. Barber called the first Prague, Capital of the Twentieth Century: A Surrealist History by Derek Sayer, “[T]houghtful, witty and well-illustrated”. He also selected Benn Steil’s The Battle of Bretton Woods:John Maynard Keynes, Harry Dexter White, and the Making of a New World Order, of which he said, “Steil’s book is an object lesson in how to make economic history entertaining and instructive”.
Lastly, in the category of Art, Jackie Wullschlager chose T.J. Clark’s Picasso and Truth: From Cubism to Guernica, calling it “[A] brilliant art-historical analysis… The most original book on Picasso for years”.


j10074[1]Robert Herritt of the Daily Beast reviewed Would You Kill the Fat Man? The Trolley Problem and What Your Answer Tells Us about Right and Wrong by David Edmonds, calling it “[I]mpressive…[A] walking tour of moral philosophy organized around one of the most well-known thought experiments of the last half century….By weaving together abstract principles, biographical sketches, historical examples, and trendy research in this just-so way, Edmonds has figured out how to illustrate the dimensions and consequences of moral decision-making without sacrificing entertainment value…[A] carefully executed book”.


There was a review in The Guardian for Why Can the Dead Do Such Great Things? Saints and Worshippers from the Martyrs to the Reformation by Robert Bartlett, in which Diarmaid MacCulloch said “… there is much to enjoy in the array of human behaviour, sacred and by our standards profane or just downright mad, chronicled in Bartlett’s excellent study.”


cookingAnne Kingston of Maclean’s wrote a feature on Cooking for Crowds: 40th Anniversary Edition by Merry White this week, saying “Recipes ahead of the curve 40 years ago—dirty rice, pork vindaloo— remain au courant; others—Swedish meatballs, Charlotte Malakoff au chocolat—exude a retro ’70s vibe that’s also au courant. Prep details for six, 12, 20 and 50 servings of each recipe are provided. Practical advice abounds, including not to multiply powerful spices like other ingredients… [Cooking for Crowds] remains a boffo resource for those hankering to make chicken Bengal for 12 or baklava for 50.”


Nicholas Kristof mentioned The Great Escape: Health, Wealth, and the Origins of Inequality by Angus Deaton in his New York Times Sunday Review column discussing foreign aid this past weekend.


Joan Acocella reviewed The Book of Job: A Biography by Mark Larrimore in The New Yorker.


Gordon Marino had an Op-Ed  piece about Nelson Mandela and Kierkegaard on the Chronicle’s “The Conversation” blog, which mentions The Quotable Kierkegaard, Marino’s most recent publication. Similarly, Marino had an Op-Ed in The New York Times this week in which he discusses Vitali Klitschko’s run for the Ukranian presidency.


David Wessel recently wrote an article about The Dollar Trap: How the U.S. Dollar Tightened Its Grip on Global Finance by Eswar S. Prasad in the Wall Street Journal, calling it “[A] surprising argument….[L]ucid….”. Prasad also did an interview with Wessel, which can be found here. Lastly, Prasad wrote an article for the Harvard Business Review about the argument his new book makes.


What W. H. Auden Can Do for You by Alexander McCall Smith was reviewed by Times Higher Education this week. Chris Jones called it  “charming”.


On a very international note, Edmund Phelps was interviewed about his book, Mass Flourishing: How Grassroots Innovation Created Jobs, Challenge, and Change, by Die Welt (The World), a German national daily newspaper, this past weekend. Phelps also did a Q&A recently with Dylan Matthews that appeared on WashingtonPost.com’s Wonkblog in which they discuss his book, plus Arnold Kling reviewed Mass Flourishing on his blog, Econlib, saying “Phelps has given us a clear warning of the dangers of corporatism. I hope that more people hear and heed the warning.”


Sides_TheGamble3National Journal published their featured list of “The Best Political Books We Read in 2013” this week, which included The Gamble: Choice and Chance in the 2012 Presidential Election by John Sides & Lynn Vavreck. Of this selection, Steven Shepard said, “What really mattered in last year’s elections? George Washington University professor John Sides and UCLA professor Lynn Vavreck, in a remarkably fast turnaround for an academic work, applied social science to the developments of last year’s presidential election in The Gamble. It turns out that the events journalists described in real time (including this one) weren’t as important as they were made out to be. And Sides and Vavreck provide an important reality check that observers should heed before the daily doings of 2016 consume us all.”


Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas by Natasha Dow Schüll, was recently listed in The Atlantic’s Best Book’s of the Year roundup. Alexis Madrigal said, “If books can be tools, Addiction by Design is one of the foundational artifacts for understanding the digital age—a lever, perhaps, to pry ourselves from the grasp of the coercive loops that now surround us.”


With Christmas rapidly approaching, Irish Independent put together a Christmas books round-up, which included The Battle of Bretton Woods: John Maynard Keynes, Harry Dexter White, and the Making of a New World Order by Benn Steil, which they referred to as a “masterful account”.


The Limits of Partnership: U.S.-Russian Relations in the Twenty-First Century by Angela E. Stent was recently reviewed in the Kirkus Reviews. In the article they called it “[L]ucid….[R]eadable and sometimes surprising…..”.


Times Higher Education reviewed The Confidence Trap: A History of Democracy in Crisis from World War I to the Present by David Runicman this week, calling it “[I]nsightful”, and saying that “Runciman has written a brilliant book in which both the prose and the ideas sparkle”.


Lastly, a number of PUP books are featured in Bloomberg Businessweek’s best books of 2013 feature, “Buffett, Slim, Greenspan, El-Erian, Lew Pick Best Books of 2013.” The list includes Worldly Philosopher: The Odyssey of Albert O. Hirschman by Jeremy Adelman, The Banker’s New Clothes: What’s Wrong with Banking and What to Do about It by Anat Admati & Martin Hellwig, The Great Escape: Health, Wealth, and the Origins of Inequality by Angus Deaton, An Uncertain Glory: India and its Contradictions by Jean Drèze & Amartya Sen, and The Battle of Bretton Woods: John Maynard Keynes, Harry Dexter White, and the Making of a New World Order by Benn Steil.


COMING SOON: An interactive map of the world where you can check out all of our reviews from multiple countries and continents, sorted by publication.

Interview with Enrico Coen, Author of “Cells to Civilizations”

Enrico Coen, author of Cells to Civilizations: The Principles of Change That Shape Life, was recently shortlisted for the 2013 Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books. In the following YouTube video, Coen is interviewed about his book, which is the first unified account of how life transforms itself–from the production of bacteria to the emergence of complex civilizations.


Enrico Coen is a plant molecular geneticist based at the John Innes Centre in Norwich, United Kingdom. He is the author of The Art of Genes, a fellow of the Royal Society, and a foreign associate of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. His awards include the Linnean Gold Medal and the Royal Society Darwin Medal.


Check out our Cells to Civilizations Facebook Page for all of the latest news on this book.

Financial Times Interview Angus Deaton

Angus Deaton, author of The Great Escape: Health, Wealth, and the Origins of Inequality, recently did an interview with John McDermott of Financial Times. Deaton spoke about his book and the past and present of global inequality.

Q&A with Abdelwahab Meddeb and Benjamin Stora, Editors of “A History of Jewish-Muslim Relations”

A History of Jewish-Muslim RelationsIn an exclusive interview, Abdelwahab Meddeb and Benjamin Stora, editors of A History of Jewish-Muslim Relations: From the Origins to the Present Day, spoke about their experiences with Jewish-Muslim relations, their inspiration for the book, and what they believe will happen in the future.

At its release in November of this year, the book will be the first encyclopedic guide to the history of relations between Jews and Muslims around the world from the birth of Islam to today. It features more than 150 authoritative and accessible articles by an international team of leading experts in history, politics, literature, anthropology, and philosophy. Organized thematically and chronologically, this indispensable reference provides critical facts and balanced context for greater historical understanding and a more informed dialogue between Jews and Muslims.

Abdelwahab Meddeb is professor of comparative literature at the University of Paris-X (Nanterre). His books include Islam and Its Discontents.

Benjamin Stora is University Professor at the University of Paris-XIII (Villetaneuse), where he teaches the history of nineteenth- and twentieth-century North Africa and the history of North African immigrants in Europe. His many books include Algeria, 1830-2000: A Short History.

1. Both of you grew up in places where Jewish and Muslim communities lived side by side but, for the most part, kept to themselves. How did your early experiences affect the way you developed this book?

Benjamin Stora: I grew up in Constantine, in the Jewish Quarter. At that time the Jews in Algeria mostly felt French, but their ties to the Muslim communities were real; we shared the same language of everyday life, the Arabic language. Then came the departure of the Jews from Algeria: another exile after the fracture introduced by the Cremieux Decree. I have worked extensively on the history of the Maghreb and on Algeria in particular, and more recently I have become interested in the question of memory among the Jews of Algeria: it is an essential part of my memory and of Algeria’s history. And to inform these memories, the work of the historian is necessary because it puts events in context, it connects them to one another. This project made sense to me because it would bring together European and American historians, but also Muslims and Jews. And it is only in this collective dimension that the history of Jewish-Muslim relations can be written.

Abdelwahab Meddeb: During my childhood in Tunis, in the 1950s, the presence of Jews was part of my story. During my schooling I had many Jewish teachers in nearly all subjects—history, geography, French literature, English, mathematics, physics, the natural sciences. They were our fellow citizens, our elders. They helped us into the modern world as Tunisians. So, with this background, I decided to join this project. Because Jews have virtually disappeared from Arab reality, from the Maghreb, from Tunisia, it was important to revisit the past, to recall the peaceful coexistence with Jews, sharing the same city. It is necessary to remember, to replace imagination with memory, and from that point, history can be written.

2. This project took more than five years to complete–years that coincided with major changes and conflicts in the Middle East. Did current events affect your decisions about the essays and topics the book would include?

Benjamin Stora and Abdelwahab Meddeb: The history of relations between Jews and Muslims is complex. But the editorial committee tried to focus on the long term, not on issues tied solely to current events.
At a time when the relationship is in bad shape, very bad, we cannot ignore these religious conflicts nor their manifestations in political and social history.
Even in medieval times, when the two civilizations coexisted more peacefully, the “protected” legal status (dhimmi) of Jews did not prevent anti-Judaism among Muslims that led to forced conversions or destruction by the sword. This enmity mutated with the rise of Western hegemony that eventually subjugated the Islamic territories. Other forms of ambivalence developed under colonialism and imperialism.
We have situated A History of Jewish-Muslim Relations at the heart of this tragic scene. We wanted to make this an objective, balanced history, which at first seemed impossible. The history contains not only conflicts, but also times of fertile intellectual, cultural, and artistic exchange.

3. The book traces the history of a long and complicated relationship from a global perspective. Why is this shared history important for contemporary readers to understand?

Benjamin Stora:  Making a book today on the history of relations between Jews and Muslims is a true challenge. Despite all the differences, all the apprehension, all the fears that exist between these two communities, one must maintain the link between them.  They have experienced common histories, and despite the clashes, they belong to the same shared universe.
It is a fundamental undertaking, not simply to remember but to engage readers at the civic level, at the political level. Because if you have this deep knowledge of the recent past, then you can envision working together. But if you do not have this conception of a shared past, how can you find common ground on which to build?

4. What are some of the cultural assumptions this book hopes to challenge?

Benjamin Stora: The first articles in the book challenge the idea that Muslims were hostile toward Jews from the outset. Specialists such as Mark Cohen have shown that the attitude of the Prophet of Islam toward the Jews was shaped by pragmatism, not ideology.
In contrast, the idea of an Andalusian golden age in which the two communities lived in perfect harmony has prevailed for a long time: but again, the historian must have the courage to reflect critically on its sources. This book, which ignores neither the bad nor the good, has the humble ambition to provide the results of contemporary research and to offer a common memory, a tool that will facilitate dialogue.

5. What do you think the future holds for Jewish-Muslim relations?

Abdelwahab Meddeb: I agreed to edit this project because I believe in the possibility of future reconciliation, but always also in the irreconcilable. For there is no reconciliation that does not preserve an irreconcilable part. It is a long history that contains the irreconcilable, on both sides, and for compromise to happen we must recognize that the two entities will maintain irreconcilable elements.
I believe in a future reconciliation and I agreed to do this work because I believe its effect remains to be seen:  to work toward a better time in which everyone will regain reason. Without ignoring the negativities and the abominations, this book tells a complex story. The relationship between Jews and Muslims is complex: it has seen the best, it has seen the worst. But I think it is important at least to remember this ambiguity and to show that it does not move in only one direction.  And to hope that, despite the hatred that currently exists between the two communities, a different vision is possible.

Angela E. Stent Interviews with TVO About “The Limits of Partnership”

The conflict in Syria has strained an already tenuous relationship between the United States and Russia. The Story of the Week over at TVO: the US and Russian clash over what to do about Syria.

Angela E. Stent, a professor of government and foreign service and director of the Center for Eurasian, Russian, and East European Studies at Georgetown University, weighs in on the conflict. Her recent book, The Limits of Partnership: U.S.-Russian Relations in the Twenty-First Century, makes her an expert on the topic.