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A riveting blend of family history and original reportage by a conversation-starting writer for The New York Times Magazine that explores--and reimagines--Asian American identity in a Black and white world In 1965, a new immigration law lifted a century of restrictions against Asian immigrants to the United States. Nobody, including the lawmakers who passed the bill, expec A riveting blend of family history and original reportage by a conversation-starting writer for The New York Times Magazine that explores--and reimagines--Asian American identity in a Black and white world In 1965, a new immigration law lifted a century of restrictions against Asian immigrants to the United States. Nobody, including the lawmakers who passed the bill, expected it to transform the country's demographics. But over the next four decades, millions arrived, including Jay Caspian Kang's parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles. They came with almost no understanding of their new home, much less the history of "Asian America" that was supposed to define them. The Loneliest Americans is the unforgettable story of Kang and his family as they move from a housing project in Cambridge to an idyllic college town in the South and eventually to the West Coast. Their story unfolds against the backdrop of a rapidly expanding Asian America, as millions more immigrants, many of them working-class or undocumented, stream into the country. At the same time, upwardly mobile urban professionals have struggled to reconcile their parents' assimilationist goals with membership in a multicultural elite--all while trying to carve out a new kind of belonging for their own children, who are neither white nor truly "people of color." Kang recognizes this existential loneliness in himself and in other Asian Americans who try to locate themselves in the country's racial binary. There are the businessmen turning Flushing into a center of immigrant wealth; the casualties of the Los Angeles riots; the impoverished parents in New York City who believe that admission to the city's exam schools is the only way out; the men's right's activists on Reddit ranting about intermarriage; and the handful of protesters who show up at Black Lives Matter rallies holding "Yellow Peril Supports Black Power" signs. Kang's exquisitely crafted book brings these lonely parallel climbers together amid a wave of anti-Asian violence. In response, he calls for a new form of immigrant solidarity--one rooted not in bubble tea and elite college admissions but in the struggles of refugees and the working class.


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A riveting blend of family history and original reportage by a conversation-starting writer for The New York Times Magazine that explores--and reimagines--Asian American identity in a Black and white world In 1965, a new immigration law lifted a century of restrictions against Asian immigrants to the United States. Nobody, including the lawmakers who passed the bill, expec A riveting blend of family history and original reportage by a conversation-starting writer for The New York Times Magazine that explores--and reimagines--Asian American identity in a Black and white world In 1965, a new immigration law lifted a century of restrictions against Asian immigrants to the United States. Nobody, including the lawmakers who passed the bill, expected it to transform the country's demographics. But over the next four decades, millions arrived, including Jay Caspian Kang's parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles. They came with almost no understanding of their new home, much less the history of "Asian America" that was supposed to define them. The Loneliest Americans is the unforgettable story of Kang and his family as they move from a housing project in Cambridge to an idyllic college town in the South and eventually to the West Coast. Their story unfolds against the backdrop of a rapidly expanding Asian America, as millions more immigrants, many of them working-class or undocumented, stream into the country. At the same time, upwardly mobile urban professionals have struggled to reconcile their parents' assimilationist goals with membership in a multicultural elite--all while trying to carve out a new kind of belonging for their own children, who are neither white nor truly "people of color." Kang recognizes this existential loneliness in himself and in other Asian Americans who try to locate themselves in the country's racial binary. There are the businessmen turning Flushing into a center of immigrant wealth; the casualties of the Los Angeles riots; the impoverished parents in New York City who believe that admission to the city's exam schools is the only way out; the men's right's activists on Reddit ranting about intermarriage; and the handful of protesters who show up at Black Lives Matter rallies holding "Yellow Peril Supports Black Power" signs. Kang's exquisitely crafted book brings these lonely parallel climbers together amid a wave of anti-Asian violence. In response, he calls for a new form of immigrant solidarity--one rooted not in bubble tea and elite college admissions but in the struggles of refugees and the working class.

30 review for The Loneliest Americans

  1. 4 out of 5

    Thomas

    A conversation-provoking text that I give three stars to because I feel like it could have been even better. I will start with what I liked. I feel like Jay Caspian Kang did an excellent job of challenging us to question and to think more deeply about “Asian American” identity, in particular how Asian Americans may try to assimilate to whiteness instead of engaging in solidarity with refugee, undocumented, and working class Asian Americans. He weaves in historical analysis to further flesh out h A conversation-provoking text that I give three stars to because I feel like it could have been even better. I will start with what I liked. I feel like Jay Caspian Kang did an excellent job of challenging us to question and to think more deeply about “Asian American” identity, in particular how Asian Americans may try to assimilate to whiteness instead of engaging in solidarity with refugee, undocumented, and working class Asian Americans. He weaves in historical analysis to further flesh out his arguments and to show how the topics he’s writing about have manifested in the past and into the present. In general, I appreciated the consistency of his voice and tone in The Loneliest Americans: it emanated this existential dread angst vibe that felt authentic to him as a person even if a bit intellectualizing of his emotions at times. One of the major elements of this book I found lacking includes a lack of tangible narratives and actions to disrupt white supremacy and whiteness from within the Asian American community. Kang repeatedly makes the argument that Asian Americans should align themselves with the most marginalized in our community, an argument I agree with, yet he doesn’t delve as deeply into this recommendation as I would like. For example, the book could have benefitted from including voices of actual working class, refugee, undocumented Asian Americans. Furthermore, I do know Asian Americans who are doing the work of fighting for the most marginalized in our communities as well as engaging in solidarity with the Black community – I’m curious why he didn’t include more of those perspectives as well, which would’ve given more examples for readers to follow or learn from. I also felt a little frustrated by how Kang wrote about his own positionality. I appreciate his openness about naming his privilege, how he married a white woman, and the nuanced emotions he has about having a biracial kid. However, I personally wanted a more thorough self-analysis here: so if you’re going to (rightfully) criticize Asian Americans who ascend into upward class mobility and whiteness, how do you feel about your own decision to engage in whiteness in your own life? I don’t want to assume his emotions because only he knows them, though I sensed some unspoken meandering guilt about marrying a white person and having a half-Korean, half-white kid. If he does or even if he doesn’t feel that guilt, instead of wallowing in it, I wanted to know what specifically is he doing to counteract and dismantle the privilege he has and the privilege his child will inherit? Similar to my point in the second paragraph, I also feel like Kang could have included the voices of Asian Americans who have chosen specifically not to date or marry white people and who rather engaged with other people of color or fellow Asian Americans either as romantic partners or lifelong friends. A couple of more minor points (lol I feel like I’m writing one of my reviews for a peer-reviewed manuscript, oops): I found a couple of places in the text I wanted a bit more specificity and precision. For example, on page 59 he writes that “the flood of Asians who came to the United States after Hart-Cellar had no experience with American racism or oppression.” While I appreciate his point about disentangling Asian Americans’ experiences of racism/oppression based on year of immigration as well as his use of a more dramatic tone for rhetorical effect, I think statements like the one on page 59 can obscure the experiences of marginalized groups within the Asian American community, such as LGBTQ+ Asian Americans. Also, there were two places in the book where Kang describes half-Asian, half-white people as especially attractive, once on the first page when describing half-Asian kids he met in his youth and once later on when he describes a half-Asian, half-white man he interviews in the chapter “Flushing Rising.” While my sense is that Kang would want to reject the glorification and idealization of half-white, half-Asian individuals’ appearance over monoracial Asians, I wish he would have more explicitly addressed these incidents in the text and where they came from. Clearly this book was compelling enough to elicit such a strong response from myself and other readers. I’d recommend it as a starting point for conversation and self-reflection, with the additional recommendation of even more reading, introspection, and action to enact some of the more abstract ideals purported by Kang in this book.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Cat

    Pretty disappointed by this book, as someone who generally likes Jay Caspian Kang’s writing and rather abrasive disposition online. Right now, it is popular for Asian American writers to begin their discussions of Asian America with a caveat that “Asian America” as a concept is nonsensical, because of the vast diversity of experiences re: race, ethnicity, gender, etc that cannot be encompassed through a single narrative or frame of analysis. Kang has said this before, and he reiterates it here. Pretty disappointed by this book, as someone who generally likes Jay Caspian Kang’s writing and rather abrasive disposition online. Right now, it is popular for Asian American writers to begin their discussions of Asian America with a caveat that “Asian America” as a concept is nonsensical, because of the vast diversity of experiences re: race, ethnicity, gender, etc that cannot be encompassed through a single narrative or frame of analysis. Kang has said this before, and he reiterates it here. That’s fine, the argument is valid. But he has no problem making sweeping generalizations in other senses, by saying “most immigrants don’t have the racial consciousness to X” or “we, the upwardly mobile Hart-Celler immigrants, still have no idea which side we’re on,”referring to post-1965 immigrants ... which is a huge swath of people! (Worth noting that most of his anecdotes in the book are about Chinese and Korean Americans) Obviously, some of this is polemical but I find his imprecision throughout the book annoying and counterproductive to a meaningful understanding of Asian American identity and politics. Kang says AAs find themselves divided between two camps: nationalists, like the Korean storekeepers bearing guns during the Rodney King riots, or “upwardly mobile second gen immigrants who mimic the language of Black liberation as a way to ascend into a liberal multicultural elite.” First, is there really this clean of a binary? Second, the rendering of the second camp feels bad faith — the initial Asian American movement was founded on ideas from Black Power, do we really want to say those early activists were just trying to buy their way into a liberal multicultural elite? One thing they absorbed was self-determination for their communities, not relying on white institutions but making your own, plus multiculturalism as a concept didn’t really come into vogue until the 90s or so. I mean, if we really want to get into it there’s nuance here but that’s my point — Kang is doing readers a disservice by not being precise, and he’d get further with his arguments by being more focused. The upwardly mobile, second gen AAs become this amorphous entity that he can shove blame onto—the group includes AA celebrities like Simi Liu and AA scholars/activists who might attack the representation politics Simi Liu embodies—which is strange because his conclusions are pretty tepid and basically what many of them have publicly been arguing. “We must align ourselves with the forgotten Asian Americans ‘the refugees, the undocumented, the working class’”’he says. Well duh. Also, how to understand orgs like CAAAV, which represent Asian public housing residents but also talks about Black liberation and anti-capitalism? Where does it fall in the book’s framework? I think Kang’s NYT articles tend to be more illuminating because they’re reported and more centered around a question, whereas this is a lot of personal narrative that is interesting but isn’t necessarily the best at driving home an argument. (Nothing I couldn’t get from reading his tweets) In the MRA section I really wish he’d given a history/definitions of MRAs before diving in, I mean I already know way more about than the average person about MRAs but still there’s a lot I could have used clarification on, like how their political radicalism (reading Malcom X, knowing about Asian American history) converges with their misogyny and why they’ve chosen WMAF relationships as their frontier of activism. (If MRAsians are reading Malcolm, do they fall under the upwardly mobile Asians parroting black liberation?) Ok going to end this word vomit here, maybe I’ll try to clean up my thoughts at some other time but ultimately I’m kind of sad about how meh this book turned out … i was open to an exploration of how how liberal AA rhetoric pushes people to the right because at least right wing talking points feel more honest but this book just doesn’t feel punchy either way :/ I also don’t think it really addresses loneliness that much?

  3. 5 out of 5

    Hannah Yoon || yoon.reads

    I didn’t read too much of Kang’s work until his NYT magazine piece on Steven Yeun from earlier this year. His writing is sharp and thought-provoking, and in many ways, makes you feel a bit uncomfortable. 
The Loneliest Americans examines the historical and political identity of being Asian American. What does this actually mean especially in a Black and white country? The book uses the Hart-Celler Act of 1965 as a central way to explore the history of recent Asian immigration to the US. There’s a I didn’t read too much of Kang’s work until his NYT magazine piece on Steven Yeun from earlier this year. His writing is sharp and thought-provoking, and in many ways, makes you feel a bit uncomfortable. 
The Loneliest Americans examines the historical and political identity of being Asian American. What does this actually mean especially in a Black and white country? The book uses the Hart-Celler Act of 1965 as a central way to explore the history of recent Asian immigration to the US. There’s a part where he addresses the lack of shared history among Asian Americans and how there really isn’t that much that is unifying us other than possibly how we look and how we were treated. Kang challenges a lot of worn-out narratives on this and it might upset you, even when it’s informative. His honesty isn’t there to serve you or make you feel good. Instead, it’ll disrupt the comforts and tropes we hold on to. And I think this is what a book should do - interrogate what we believe, challenge us to question what we determine is true and maybe reframe the way we see the world in order to move forward.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Murtaza

    I'm a big fan of Jay Caspian Kang's writings on race and immigration for the New York Times so I was quite disappointed with this book, which felt both formulaic and rushed. There were some statistical recaps of the ways that immigration from Asia had reshaped the United States, some guarded statements to the effect that not all minorities are the same and that there have been tensions between Asians and African-Americans, and a recap of his own life moving in the similar educational and literar I'm a big fan of Jay Caspian Kang's writings on race and immigration for the New York Times so I was quite disappointed with this book, which felt both formulaic and rushed. There were some statistical recaps of the ways that immigration from Asia had reshaped the United States, some guarded statements to the effect that not all minorities are the same and that there have been tensions between Asians and African-Americans, and a recap of his own life moving in the similar educational and literary circles as most other writers of note in the United States while going through a few familiar second-generation immigrant confusions. That's all perfectly fine, but it was not revelatory in any sense. The book is short and I pushed through it waiting for the moment that it would start to get good but it never came. There was no narrative, but rather a set of essays strung together. It would've been stronger had he done more on-the-ground reporting with Asian immigrants of different walks of life and simply written about their perspectives on various issues rather than using his own life as a through-line. The whole thing felt much safer than it should've been and he was too guarded and careful in the essays to provoke any interesting or new thoughts. This is no knock at Kang: he is still a great writer and reporter and is very honest and even cutting in his New York Times pieces. I'm sure he has a great book in him, although its not as yet arrived.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Sunni C. | vanreads

    To: THE LONELIEST AMERICANS by Jay Caspian Kang Hi, it’s me, a fellow second generation Asian Canadian (grew up in the USA) from the aftermath of the Hart-Celler Immigration Act. I agree, there’s a lot of history my family was not personally a part of since they only came in the 80s, so perhaps I am missing a lot of historical context of the struggles of Asian Americans who came before me. BUT, that’s what ✨history✨ is for. History shapes how we’re perceived whether we like it or not. That’s why s To: THE LONELIEST AMERICANS by Jay Caspian Kang Hi, it’s me, a fellow second generation Asian Canadian (grew up in the USA) from the aftermath of the Hart-Celler Immigration Act. I agree, there’s a lot of history my family was not personally a part of since they only came in the 80s, so perhaps I am missing a lot of historical context of the struggles of Asian Americans who came before me. BUT, that’s what ✨history✨ is for. History shapes how we’re perceived whether we like it or not. That’s why so many second generation post Hart-Celler Asians spend so much time trying to learn Asian American history. Solidarity isn’t always about a shared past, or even shared culture, but about a white supremacist America that assumes we’re all the same. Solidarity comes from rejecting that. Solidarity comes from celebrating our differences. History gives us context for how we fit into the narrative of Asian America. You say our parents ascribed to white supremacy because they don’t think about race. But have you ever left your home country wrecked by western colonialism to a country built on western colonialism, to speak a new language, to learn a new culture? The parents I know experience racism and they see it. They each respond to it differently. So perhaps stereotyping them without nuance of the individual experiences that shaped them really simplifies them into 2D characters. On that note, Black solidarity is also nuanced and complex, so stop making them a monolith. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that Black people come from equally different backgrounds. Maybe stop laughing and poking fun of recent immigrants too. Yes, I know. Some can be wealthy and obnoxious, but trust me, anyone can be obnoxious. I can bet you that they have a deep inner life and racialized experiences that they don’t show on their faces when they’re IN THE F-ING COURTYARD AS OBSERVED BY YOU. Also there’s more to meets the eye on why they’re here. Clue: it’s probably a result of western colonialism that has inserted its dominance to most parts of the world, including East Asia. Oh yeah, remember at the end when you talk about needing more representation from marginalized Asian groups. Well, you also spent the whole book inserting high brow references on all the ✨intellectual✨ people you know and on your knowledge of stupid upper east side schools. None of which is accessible for the average reader. And might I also state that of the people you actually interviewed for the book, they were mostly upper middle class Korean Americans. True representation means not speaking over other Asians. I get it, you and I are both upper middle class. There are ways to talk about the loneliness we experience without stomping over other Asian groups. Making snide comments about East Asian students sitting together in a university and assuming every East Asian is the embodiment of a boba liberal (I agree we can have boba liberal tendencies, but no one is a walking caricature of one, trust me) shows me that you’re still grappling with self hatred over your own identity. Perhaps this book would have worked better as a memoir about ✨your✨ Korean American experience. Instead you took these pages of yours to stomp on Asian Americans for “ascribing” to the stereotypes reinforcing the boxes that America has already shoved us in. P.S. Can you not be weird about biracial experiences? Having mixed families either through marriage or adoption are equally complex and nuanced and lots of Asian Americans speak about it. P.P.S. Don’t assume we have no allies. That in itself is the inferiority complex that prevents you from connecting to the wide diaspora of Asian America. Yes, there are problems with the Asian American identity, like how it is frequently conflated with East Asians, which you reinforce here, since you only really address East Asians. Let’s not even pretend that you were trying to write this for anyone besides East Asian Americans in the first place, so perhaps just admit so in the beginning of this book. I think there’s a lot of growth to be made there. But to discount every effort made in a positive direction by other Asian Americans is to go backwards. If you didn’t know already, I hate this book. Signed, A fellow Hart-Celler East Asian Visit my Instagram @vanreads for more of my reviews.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Vincent

    I finished this in more or less a day. So that probably indicates something about my enjoyment level, or maybe just that it's a pretty quick read. Regardless, I'm very familiar with JCK's political thinking and writing over the last year plus, since I listen to TTSG and read a lot of his writing. So there wasn't a ton in here that I found specifically new. He's been doing this Asian America as a political identity doesn't exist bit for a while now, and I mostly agree. That said, I think the first I finished this in more or less a day. So that probably indicates something about my enjoyment level, or maybe just that it's a pretty quick read. Regardless, I'm very familiar with JCK's political thinking and writing over the last year plus, since I listen to TTSG and read a lot of his writing. So there wasn't a ton in here that I found specifically new. He's been doing this Asian America as a political identity doesn't exist bit for a while now, and I mostly agree. That said, I think the first third to half of the book is by far the best articulation of this premise and interweaving his own narrative. I also think within the context of his criticism, it's hard to dispute. As he transitions into the current era of politics and what to do about all this, which makes up about half of the book, I think the book becomes more meditation than conscription (probably not the right word here but I don't care). He wades through participating in Black Lives Matter protests, MRAZN's, his relationship with white music, and comparing how his daughter will process the world versus himself; all within the framework of Asian Americans not fitting within the American racial binary and the implications of that. At the moment, this part has me less effusive in praise, but I think that's maybe a good thing. I don't concretely know how I feel about his writing here, but I also get the vibe that he isn't fully settled either. I need time to fully process this, but some general thoughts I had as I read. -I agree, we (the upwardly mobile AA's) should be class traitors and have more vested interest in the working class and lower income people. However, I'm not entirely convinced that the vested voting and political interests of these two groups are that different. Both care a lot about education, healthcare, and tending a path of class mobility forward for their children. You could probably throw in safety too. The tendency to vote in tax/economic interests as they ascend in class is true regardless of race/gender/categorization. So if this is true, where is it that upwardly mobile AA's are falling to account for their working class and poor are neglecting with their voting politic. Is it by mostly being libs who vote for the Democrat establishment? If so, sure I agree it would be nice to see a more progressive (or preferably radical) bend to richer people, but I feel that way about basically everyone in this country independent of race. Perhaps, this book is one path for Asian Americans to rebuild a politic and be more progressive/radical through an identity lens, as opposed to the typical DEI seminar + class exclusion lens that liberals have bastardized identity politics into. Now that I've word rambled + meditated through that thought, this falls entirely in line with the politics he portrays and I approve. Maybe I revoke a bit of the initial criticism from above, but I already typed it out so I'm not deleting it. -I think a lot of abstraction about the upwardly mobile class caring a lot about Hollywood representation and management positions aren't their real motivating political factors. I agree that it's annoying and utterly pointless, but I don't really believe that people make political decisions based on Crazy Rich Asians. Perhaps I'm stretching a point, but part of the haranguing of rich AA's, in this book and other work, is centered around effectively telling people representation, especially Hollywood rep, is superfluous and bad to organize around. I don't believe people actually organize around this or let it meaningfully influence their political activity. I think people are just annoying on twitter and a lot of bad stories/op-eds get published by lazy media. -The Epilogue is beautiful. I was pretty thoroughly "in my feelings," as he meditated on his daughter's potential experiences and interaction with this future world. I'm tired of typing for now. But overall, as I process this more I think this book is really brilliant. I don't know that it's any sort of totally prescriptive perfect manifesto that will last in perpetuity, but who cares really, it's great and thoughtful. I think this functions as an interesting sequel/partner reading to Minor Feelings. (To be clear, I do not see these two books in any real opposition. I see these as two very interesting and different meditations that I draw from.)

  7. 4 out of 5

    juch

    i remember in 6th grade me and my friends made a sign for our table called "the asian table" that my black teacher confiscated. it's funny bc i'm from san jose and our school was like 50% asian (this number would climb higher through middle + high school as the white kids went to private school, while the children of vietnamese refugees + chinese, korean, indian, pakistani tech workers toughed out "meritocracy" at public schools that were thankfully for me, good enough but not the kind so intens i remember in 6th grade me and my friends made a sign for our table called "the asian table" that my black teacher confiscated. it's funny bc i'm from san jose and our school was like 50% asian (this number would climb higher through middle + high school as the white kids went to private school, while the children of vietnamese refugees + chinese, korean, indian, pakistani tech workers toughed out "meritocracy" at public schools that were thankfully for me, good enough but not the kind so intense that kids threw themselves on the caltrain tracks). where did that come from? was it ethnocentrism or racial consciousness? youtube, it came from youtube i finished this book an hour ago, just as my mom sent my brother and me a triumphant text about princeton, where we siblings both graduated, hiring an ex mit professor who had gotten "cancelled" at that campus. the article quotes the james madison program lol. earlier this week my bf asked me how many siblings my parents had and i mentioned how both of them had siblings who passed away young, probably bc of poverty/famine/the great leap forward. i'm not really sure. my mom really hates mao zedong and when i wore an ironic marxism hat in college (which after reading about kang's coveting of UWS literati status, i realize was bc i wanted to be like those edgy nass girls w/ the confidence of their ivy league-educated parents to identify as "leftists" (while at the same time being hyper identitarian + resentful of "white privilege," envy and resentment are the same!)). she also hates chesa boudin and once sent me a lecture by a white supremacist claiming that asians have higher IQs i've seen dunks on this book for being like, "we should talk about the asian working class!" while continuing to focus on upwardly mobile post-hart cellar chinese/korean immigrants + their children but i think that critique misses the point. this book is a class analysis of that group of asians. it's not pure representation, like crazy rich asians or smth (or what guilty east asians gesture at when they talk about "centering" other perspectives). it's critical and advocates for emancipatory movement-building while acknowledging how messy and difficult that is (the i hotel chapter was so interesting and it's crazy that the people's temple was involved?? like the ratio of academics historicizing this event to ppl who would know about/participate in smth similar today is so wildly off?? i also saw the BLM chapter as contributing to this thesis), articulating the roadblock as not guilty "indebtedness" (per cathy park hong in minor feelings), a very white liberal feeling, but resentment. korean war vets during the LA riots, MRAzns, and my mom resent liberals for defaulting to social justice platitudes instead of confronting how asian americans represent a bunch of contradictions to those maxims (e.g., men have it easy, testing is bad) i think this is a really interesting + sharp contribution. i guess i'm knocking off a star so i don't seem like a total kang devotee (in fact i want to be a contrarian and degenerate... like kang) and also bc i read cat zhang's goodreads review and i agree w how the argument and terms could be a bit muddied at times. probably the overall framework should've been, here are these groups of asians who are shifting rightward, w/ chapters on origins of asian american movement vs. now, testing, MRAzns, etc. but i guess that would have diluted the memoir part of this book which i really liked and just found personally resonant too. my dad is also a biotech engineer/entrepreneur?? i think saying things like "asian america doesn't exist" or "asians are becoming white" is more provocative than useful when kang is usually very good about precision, saying east asian when you mean east asian and hmong when you mean hmong and rich when you mean rich, etc. i also think "asian american" as a concept is probably not going away any time soon, at the same time "capitalism" and critiques of it are being popular/memeified so maybe with that we do have the vocabulary to distinguish from when "asian american" is used to sell books vs. to try to get ppl interested in things that don't directly affect themselves. i'll probably have more thoughts to add to this later. in the meantime i'm going to tweet this review in hope that someone NOTICES

  8. 4 out of 5

    Kevin Chu

    I was intrigued by the fiery reception to the book's launch, in which JCK somehow managed to draw the ire of both Ellen Pao and Reddit MRAzns alike. Upon reading, I found the Loneliest Americans to be far from the self-hating, dirtbag polemic it was made out to be by blue check professional Asian Americans who swore they would never read the book. The Loneliest Americans instead reads as an earnest memoir of Jay's political formation and career as a journalist, crossed with incisive (though ofte I was intrigued by the fiery reception to the book's launch, in which JCK somehow managed to draw the ire of both Ellen Pao and Reddit MRAzns alike. Upon reading, I found the Loneliest Americans to be far from the self-hating, dirtbag polemic it was made out to be by blue check professional Asian Americans who swore they would never read the book. The Loneliest Americans instead reads as an earnest memoir of Jay's political formation and career as a journalist, crossed with incisive (though often sweeping) observations on the state of "Asian America" and a tribute in memoriam of his mentor, Noel Ignatiev (How the Irish Became White). Jay's diagnosis of a complex, incoherent Asian America benefits from his on-the-ground reporting, impressively thorough research, and his ability to connect with and portray with sympathy a glimpse of his subjects' lived experiences. Kang has been doing his "Asian American political identity doesn't actually exist" bit for a while, and this book is his most lengthy articulation of why. By now, I don't think it's that groundbreaking to suggest that Asian America is a wide umbrella that in its watered-down lack of specificity offers dubious political meaning (ethnic studies discourse level zero). At the same time, his distinction between the generation of the sixties, situated in their specific political context that doesn't quite exist anymore, and the subsequent Hart-Cellar generation is an important clarification. Jay seems to be writing against the specific class of Asian American academics and Twitterverse pundits who possessively cling to the mythical Camelot version of 1960s Asian American organizing. I found most insightful how he troubles the notion of a unified political front even in those storied movements of the late sixties, highlighting the tensions that rose within, for example, the I-Hotel resistance characteristic of petty leftist infighting and oneupmanship. We are taught how Asian American identity formed out of political necessity, but even that coalition was tenuous from the beginning. JCK's conclusion that Asian Americans must ground our politics in organizing with the Asian immigrant working and middle class is important, albeit an easy one. It felt like an abrupt close formed in contrast to the exclusively upwardly mobile second generation folks he interviewed throughout the book. I wish he had featured folks such as Nepalese immigrant caregivers in Elmhurst, Fujianese families in Sunset Park with kids on free lunch studying for the SHSAT, or mainland Chinese immigrants taking to WeChat over concerns of rising crime in their underserved neighborhoods. Jay's forewarning that an Asian working class left behind by shallow liberal politics will turn reactionary is a prescient one that I also wish he had covered further beyond the MRAzn chapter. The Loneliest Americans makes for a great companion read to Cathy Park Hong's Minor Feelings. The authors' Twitter spats with each other aside, both works share a similar memoir-criticism structure and degree of neuroses, with JCK appearing to specifically inveigh against many of Minor Feelings' shortcomings.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Kristi

    Very easy to read, I never got bored. (I recently learned this is what academics call "MFA writing" 🙂) I was drawn in by the title, The Loneliest Americans. I was curious if the book would evoke a peculiar loneliness of Asian America. Not quite. Rather, Jay Caspian Kang avoids sentimentality. He begins with his personal history, interspersed with stories from Asian America post-1965. In these early chapters, Kang avoids being prescriptive. His main aim seems to be poking holes in the collective “ Very easy to read, I never got bored. (I recently learned this is what academics call "MFA writing" 🙂) I was drawn in by the title, The Loneliest Americans. I was curious if the book would evoke a peculiar loneliness of Asian America. Not quite. Rather, Jay Caspian Kang avoids sentimentality. He begins with his personal history, interspersed with stories from Asian America post-1965. In these early chapters, Kang avoids being prescriptive. His main aim seems to be poking holes in the collective “Asian American” identity. Reading these sections, I wasn’t picking up on any strong conclusions and midway through the book began asking myself, What is he trying to say? What is he even talking about? Enter, Chapter Six: "What Are We Talking About?" Kang describes his experience reporting on the Philando Castile protests in Minnesota. Commenting on protest movements and their relationship to media, he also critiques Asian American "wokeness." He points to online responses following the massacres at Asian-owned massage parlors in Georgia. Here, he makes some of his most polemic statements. Speaking to upwardly mobile Asian Americans, he argues, "I know that so many of our problems would be solved if we stopped mewling about identity and simply took the time to show up." Restated in the Epilogue: To find a meaningful place in politics...upwardly mobile Asian Americans must drop our neuroses about microaggressions and the bamboo ceiling, and fully align ourselves with the forgotten Asian America: the refugees, the undocumented, and the working class. I enjoy Jay Caspian Kang's honesty. I thought it was funny how sometimes he doesn't even commit to his own conclusions ("The personal should be preserved as the personal, I guess.") Despite his abrasive tone, this book is a sincere exploration of belonging and identity (his own admitted neuroses)—and whether such a search can ever lead to politically meaningful action. What ultimately endeared me to this book was the Epilogue, maybe most personal and earnest, when he writes about his late mentor and shifts between the amorphous anxieties over belonging and identity to the very real anxieties of a parent.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Natalie Park

    4.5 stars. This is a thought provoking collection of essays and appreciated this perspective of what it means to be Korean American/Korean living in America, Asian American and the complexity of this through a historical lens.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Kimberly

    Author Jay Caspian Kang sums up this very informative book with this line; "This book is about that desperate need to find oneself within the narrative of a country that would rather write you out of it." Even though Asian Americans, a much broader term than I ever realized before reading this book, face discrimination like all other minority groups living in the United States, their experiences are often ignored or labeled as trivial compared to other more obvious forms of racism, such as polic Author Jay Caspian Kang sums up this very informative book with this line; "This book is about that desperate need to find oneself within the narrative of a country that would rather write you out of it." Even though Asian Americans, a much broader term than I ever realized before reading this book, face discrimination like all other minority groups living in the United States, their experiences are often ignored or labeled as trivial compared to other more obvious forms of racism, such as police shootings of unarmed black people or the detention of Latino children in cages. Though Asian Americans may experience racism in different ways than other peoples of color, they still experience the effects of white supremacy and are not viewed, and do not view themselves, as white. "There are still only two races in America; Black and white. Everyone else is part of a demographic group headed in one direction or the other." It is downright impossible to find an identity in a country that insists upon such a racial binary. As a liberal middle-class white woman, I learned a lot from this book. Taking an honest look at myself, I realized that I am one of those liberals whose good intentions do not always extend to Asian Americans as they do other peoples of color. Just because all of the Asian Americans in my social circle are succeeding well financially, this does not mean that they do not experience racism. Going forward, I am going to do a better job at recognizing the very real issues Asian Americans face in this country, as well as how past policies such as the Chinese Exclusion Act, the Japanese detention camps, and the wars in Vietnam and Korea still influence the present. Many thanks to NetGalley, the author, and the publisher for the opportunity to read an advanced digital copy of this eye-opening book in exchange for my honest review.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Book Minded Mag

    So I read this book expecting to learn more about what Asian Americans go through in America. Jay Caspian Kang provided much more insight into the racism and sense of belonging Asians deal with on a daily basis. But he did not write these problems in a way many would expect. Kang is a cynical person and there are a lot of things he doesn't abide within his own community and the country as a whole. He looks for answers and challenges the ones he receives, as we all should. And he doesn't just loo So I read this book expecting to learn more about what Asian Americans go through in America. Jay Caspian Kang provided much more insight into the racism and sense of belonging Asians deal with on a daily basis. But he did not write these problems in a way many would expect. Kang is a cynical person and there are a lot of things he doesn't abide within his own community and the country as a whole. He looks for answers and challenges the ones he receives, as we all should. And he doesn't just look to people who think like him. He talks to people many of us would avoid like the plague and does it without the silliness of wanting to hear "both sides." Kang looks to his own family as source material for the book, from his parents' immigration to America and his own childhood growing up in predominantly white spaces. He admits his own attitudes towards other minority groups, especially Black people, which I did not find surprising knowing where he grew up. But he also gives readers a mini history lesson about Asian/Black relations, which has been contentious since I can remember. It always confused me why Asians would open shops in Black neighborhoods and then treat us like we're the intruders. I rarely frequented those places because I don't spend money where I'm treated poorly. But I appreciated Kang's perspective on this because I truly think that should these two communities join forces, this country would change dramatically. Unfortunately, I don't see that happening anytime soon. I think this book is definitely one that should be read. Keep your mind open to what is written because it will make you think about a subject that you may not have thought or even cared about. But you should if things are ever going to change. We need to understand each other before we can move forward.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Aida Ylanan

    This book provided a useful framework for me in thinking about how Asian Americans who came post Hart-Celler differ from those who were in the US before. I agree with supporters of the book who say it’s well researched; I bristled, as I imagine many of his critics did, at some of its sweeping generalizations, which are often delivered in first- or second-person. By focusing so much of its attention on socioeconomically ascendant Asian Americans (who, to be fair, will probably comprise most of th This book provided a useful framework for me in thinking about how Asian Americans who came post Hart-Celler differ from those who were in the US before. I agree with supporters of the book who say it’s well researched; I bristled, as I imagine many of his critics did, at some of its sweeping generalizations, which are often delivered in first- or second-person. By focusing so much of its attention on socioeconomically ascendant Asian Americans (who, to be fair, will probably comprise most of the readership of this book) the text can feel a little narrowly focused, though isn’t that the point? That Asian Americans, as a group, are so diverse it would be unrealistic to expect a single book to cover it all? I appreciate Kang’s ambitious goal in bringing these necessary questions and critiques out of the Twittersphere and into a single coherent, yet polemical, text. It feels like just the beginning — for more productive conversations about identity, but also for a more personal reckoning with the quiet estrangement and conflict I’ve felt with the term that has, until now, previously gone unsaid.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Dawn Michelle

    I am not sure what I was really expecting when I was asked to review this book, but ultimately, what I got was not it [and therefore makes it next to impossible to review as I was bored throughout most of this, along with my disappointment]. I was hoping for more insight in the Asian-American life and the history of Asian and their culture in the US, but what I got was history I already knew [there were a couple of points I didn't know, but it wasn't enough to wow me in regards to this being a s I am not sure what I was really expecting when I was asked to review this book, but ultimately, what I got was not it [and therefore makes it next to impossible to review as I was bored throughout most of this, along with my disappointment]. I was hoping for more insight in the Asian-American life and the history of Asian and their culture in the US, but what I got was history I already knew [there were a couple of points I didn't know, but it wasn't enough to wow me in regards to this being a stand out book because of that knowledge], and some insight into the authors life [which I a not sure was simply whining and not the searching he was aiming for] and how he has felt [sort of] about being Asian in America, but mostly, I got a lot of information on African American culture, the shootings and riots and marches that came out of those shootings and to be honest, that felt...weird. When you think you are going to be reading a book about Asian culture within the USA and you get something completely different, it then becomes really difficult to review said book. I am more confused and even less informed then I was going in, and I didn't enjoy the process getting there. Ultimately, this was not the book for me and I am sad over that - I was hoping for more and was disappointed in the result. Thank you to NetGalley, Jay Caspian Kang and Crown Publishing for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Lynn

    Good for Thought The author who’s Asian American whose parents are from Korea and whose wife is White, thinks about the place of Asian Americans in American society. In this essay, he looks at the past and ends with Asian Americans being accused of being Chinese and causing the coronavirus. Fear of being brutalized in the streets becomes real but he also knows that emigrating to Korea might be too difficult on his family too. Where do Asian Americans fit in when the county believes itself to be B Good for Thought The author who’s Asian American whose parents are from Korea and whose wife is White, thinks about the place of Asian Americans in American society. In this essay, he looks at the past and ends with Asian Americans being accused of being Chinese and causing the coronavirus. Fear of being brutalized in the streets becomes real but he also knows that emigrating to Korea might be too difficult on his family too. Where do Asian Americans fit in when the county believes itself to be Black or White? Good read.

  16. 4 out of 5

    rosa guac

    “To find a meaningful place in politics, one that doesn’t require us to lie about “white adjacency” or ignore the pain of everyone who looks like us, upwardly mobile Asian Americans must drop our neuroses about microaggressions and the bamboo ceiling, and fully align ourselves with the forgotten Asian America: the refugees, the undocumented, and the working class” I always find Jay’s voice incredibly refreshing, especially as it comes to Asian-Am discourse. This book, a mix between a memoir & pol “To find a meaningful place in politics, one that doesn’t require us to lie about “white adjacency” or ignore the pain of everyone who looks like us, upwardly mobile Asian Americans must drop our neuroses about microaggressions and the bamboo ceiling, and fully align ourselves with the forgotten Asian America: the refugees, the undocumented, and the working class” I always find Jay’s voice incredibly refreshing, especially as it comes to Asian-Am discourse. This book, a mix between a memoir & political exploration around identity, was an incredible read on how one gets politicized 🥺. Enjoyed it, although I got a bit lost when he takes about Springsteen and old pop culture references 🤣

  17. 5 out of 5

    Mark Hiew

    TLDR: A provocative, enjoyable exploration of Asian American identity, history and contemporary challenges within the crucible of American racial politics. I really enjoyed this book, and read it quickly over a couple of days - much more quickly than my usual reading pace. This is because I’m the ideal audience for this book: a Chinese-Australian/American interested in questions of identity and belonging, and also because I have enjoyed Kang’s writing for years. It’s hard to disagree with his cor TLDR: A provocative, enjoyable exploration of Asian American identity, history and contemporary challenges within the crucible of American racial politics. I really enjoyed this book, and read it quickly over a couple of days - much more quickly than my usual reading pace. This is because I’m the ideal audience for this book: a Chinese-Australian/American interested in questions of identity and belonging, and also because I have enjoyed Kang’s writing for years. It’s hard to disagree with his core argument: that “upwardly mobile Asian Americans must drop our neuroses about microagressions and the bamboo ceiling, and fully align ourselves with the forgotten Asian America: the refugees, the undocumented, and the working class.” However, I’m not sure if I agree with his rationale for why: “What we do now--the lonely climb up into the white liberal elite--might lead to personal comfort, but it will never make us full participants in this country, nor will it ever convince others to join in our fight.” This sounds good, but I’m not sure if it’s actually true. Like other reviewers, I craved a deeper, more comprehensively argued case for class solidarity in Asian-American (‘AA’) identity politics. But ‘The Loneliest Americans’ is not that book. Kang is not interviewing privileged AAs who are working to improve the plight of marginalized Asians, or building inter-racial solidarity. There is no guide or recommended action steps for bougie AAs to build a more meaningful AA community. Kang is at his best as a provocateur and curmudgeon, pointing out the gaps and follies within the social groups he appears to be most familiar with: liberal white elites, and the bougie AAs who often ape them. I found Kang’s dismantling of the term “Asian American” as a hollow, meaningless concept to be very convincing. During the spike in anti-Asian violence in 2020, I recall wondering how resonant a term as broad as “AAPI” (“Asian American Pacific Islander”)--as in the hashtag “Stop AAPI Hate”--could actually be. As a constructed political bloc, the big tent makes sense; as an actual community upon which to, say, calculate the racial diversity of an institution’s members, it is at best, better than nothing, at worst, actively harmful in its vagueness. This begs further questions, like: “If AA as a concept is meaningless, what should it be replaced with?” or even “What is the value of fixating on race and even identity at all?” Kang’s book asks important questions, points out obvious issues and problems, and then offers a lightly argued solution (racial class solidarity). I would have liked to see him dig deeper into such questions and provide more arguments for alternatives and solutions, but am grateful that he has provoked more critical discussion about these important issues. Book Summary: The book is divided into eight chapters and an epilogue, and is a mix of personal memoir, history and reportage, including that based on Kang’s work as a reporter covering the BLM protests. Here is a summary of each chapter: Chapter 1: ‘How We Got Here’: Tells the story of his family’s immigration from South Korea to the US, and a history of Asian immigration to the United States, particularly the 1965 Hart-Cellar Act, which allowed tens of millions of new immigrants from Asia, southern and eastern Europe, and Africa. I appreciated the context regarding the arguments for and against expanding immigration at the time (a reminder of how far we’ve come in terms of the country’s racial politics), and the role of WW2, particularly the need to build solidarity with the Chinese as an ally against the Japanese. Kang also acknowledges that the nativists were “right about the coming hordes”: “In 1960, white immigrants from Europe and Canada made up roughly 84 percent of the immigrant population in the United States. East and South Asians were around 4 percent. Between 1980 and 1990, the majority of the millions of immigrants to the United States came from Latin America or Asia.” 2. ‘The Making of Asian America’: Provides a history of the AA political movement in Berkeley in the 1960s and 70s, including the I-Hotel solidarity campaign in San Francisco’s Chinatown, and distinguishes between these AA activists and the less explicitly political ‘Hart-Celler’ immigrants. A useful primer that, as with the previous chapter, succeeds in deepening and complicating the reader's understanding of history. 3. ‘How the Asians Became White’: Discusses Kang’s personal struggle with racial identity growing up in Chapel Hill, NC and as an undergrad at Bowdoin, a white liberal arts college, and his mentor Noel Ignatiev’s Marxist writings and labor organizing. As a former radical who didn’t read as rigorously as Kang, I enjoyed this chapter a lot. 4. ‘Koreatown’: Gives a detailed history of Los Angeles’ Koreatown neighborhood, and Korean-Black conflict, particularly during the Rodney King riots. Fascinating and powerfully told. Key quote: ‘Modern Asian American identity is built out of the assumption that because we aren’t white, we must be “people of color.” But this is all greatly complicated by class: the upwardly mobile Asian Americans hang in a suspended state outside the Black-white binary, while the millions of Asian working poor have been made entirely invisible, not just by white people but also by their professional brothers and sisters. Perhaps we, the children of Hart-Celler, are simply biding our time until someone tells us which side we’re on. For Richard Rhee and the men on top of California Market, the calculus was much simpler: America would never accept them as white. The questions of identity that would plague their children meant nothing to them. They weren’t Asian Americans or Korean Americans or “not Black,” but Korean people in America.’ 5. ‘Flushing Rising’: As with the prior chapter, provides a detailed history of the Flushing neighborhood in Queens, including Taiwanese immigrant Tommy Huang’s enterprising efforts to convert it from a white middle-class ghost town into the bustling Taiwanese/Mainland Chinese area it has since become. Profiles Elite Academy’s Korean founders, a hagwon (Asian test prep centers), and related political controversy regarding admission of Asians to prestigious schools. As a white-washed suburban 2nd gen Chinese immigrant who enjoys visiting Flushing to eat, I really enjoyed learning about the history and distinctions between different New York Asian communities. Key quote: ‘The reason Asian parents drill their kids in math and violin or piano is because they understand that those fields, where skill can be acquired through relentless practice, give their kids the best shot at overcoming racial barriers. Assimilated Asians don’t talk about this much because we don’t know how to discuss discrimination against us, in part because it feels so trivial when compared to police shootings, child detentions, and all the more pressing forms of racism, but also because it seems to contradict the progressive consensus that the system has been rigged to favor white people and, in the words of the CRJE, all those who “benefit from white supremacy.”’ 6. ‘What Are We Talking About?’: Discusses the place of Asians within the white-black binary of American racial politics, drawn from Kang’s reporting for Vice on BLM movement and related protests, particularly the complex relationship between wokeness, white liberals and AAs. There are so many lines of argument around these issues, and Kang is wise to focus specifically on his/our group: bougie AAs and our fragile position adjacent to the white liberal establishment. Key quote: 'The choice, for Asian Americans, is more binary than we might want to believe—there’s no space for a separate kind of wokeness. Either we protest for Peter Liang, the Chinese American police officer who killed Akai Gurley, or we protest for Gurley. And if we choose the latter, we can either approach these questions with the detachment of white liberals or submit ourselves to the messy, oftentimes absurd task of sorting out every type of new person into a hierarchy of privileges and oppression.’ 7. ‘The Rage of the MRAZNs’: Discusses the men’s rights AA community, and controversies related to inter-racial sex and dating; profiles Doug Kim, a struggling, aspiring Korean-American actor, and Al, a leader of a toxic AA male Reddit community, r/AsianMasculinity. Articulates the limits of the bougie AA path, while refusing to present his own thoughts on the omnipresent ‘White Male Asian Female (WMAF)’ issue, which I found disappointing--perhaps Kang believed it would be difficult to present an impartial or constructive take (he is married to a Caucasian woman). Key quote: ‘From the MRAZNs’ perspective, why would you trust those Asians who deny that Harvard is discriminating against Asian applicants, who tweet jokes about your small dick and your flat face, who seem almost embarrassed every time there’s a hate crime against your people? They will sell you out in a minute to maintain the illusion of the multicultural elite, and then they’ll go off and marry a white man and laugh in your face.’ 8. ‘Bruce and Me’: Compares the author’s relationship with Bruce Springsteen’s music with that of white and black listeners, and considers his daughter’s future and racial identity. This chapter is short and I didn’t find it particularly insightful, and a pretty anticlimactic ending. But for… Epilogue: Discusses the 2020 rise in anti-Asian violence, concludes family memoir and reiterates Kang’s core argument. A strong and moving close to the book.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Sam

    Jay Caspian Kang has written a superb book that upends the conventional wisdom on Asian Americans. Funny, sharp, and always insightful, THE LONELIEST AMERICANS challenges readers to reconsider their beliefs about race and class in the U.S.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Mimy

    Kang's main thesis is that Asian-Americans, especially the second-generation, upwardly mobile children of immigrants, should align themselves with working-class Asians and other minorities. He criticizes Asians that have assimilated into "whiteness" and care more about representational politics than working-class issues. At the same time, he admits that he has married a white woman from a wealthy background and laments that his mixed-race child looks too Asian to pass for white. He spends 80% of Kang's main thesis is that Asian-Americans, especially the second-generation, upwardly mobile children of immigrants, should align themselves with working-class Asians and other minorities. He criticizes Asians that have assimilated into "whiteness" and care more about representational politics than working-class issues. At the same time, he admits that he has married a white woman from a wealthy background and laments that his mixed-race child looks too Asian to pass for white. He spends 80% of the book discussing the issues of upper-middle class Chinese/Taiwanese and Korean immigrants while only discussing Filipinos in passing when he discusses the I-Hotel in San Francisco and the Japanese in reference to WWII internment camps. Other Asian ethnic groups are barely mentioned. He disingenuously separates the Chinese of Flushing into simply Chinese (the wealthy ones who own property) and Fujianese working-class laborers (who are also Chinese but he does not mention that). If Kang cares so much about working-class Asian-American issues, he should have spent more time writing about their issues rather than about Asian-American men angry that Asian-American women date white men in large percentages or how his various relatives are surgeons/graduates of Korean Harvard/own acres of property in Washington state. Some choice quotes: His description of Asian students at UC Berkeley: "They, like all Berkeley students, wear lumpy Cal sweatshirts and mostly complain about schoolwork, but they also seem completely uninterested in making friends with people of other races or backgrounds. Their insularity always feels banal and unwarranted--if you're just going to speak English, dress like everyone else, and complain about schoolwork like every other Berkeley student, what exactly is the culture you've created?" Kang makes so many unwarranted assumptions here. Just because you see a bunch of Asian kids sitting together does not mean they are uninterested in making friends with people of other races or backgrounds. This is basically asking "why are all the Asian kids sitting together in the cafeteria?" without examining any of the deeper issues. On activists: "I generally don't like activists, even when I admire their courage and support their convictions. They always feel a bit like the actors I have met--the ego warped from the demands of projecting yourself out into such wide spaces." These are the people fighting for working-class people who Kang purports to advocate for yet he can not help but make backhanded compliments about.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Nursebookie

    The Loneliest Americans By Jay Caspian Kang The Loneliest Americans is a thought provoking essays about Kang's family as they moved from Korea during the time in the mid 60's when the restrictions (Hart-Cellar Act) against Asian immigrants were lifted in the United States. What follows is Kang's perspective of the "Asian American" collective identity, and through a non-traditional memoir that I really enjoyed reading about. His arguments are taut, well-researched and well presented albeit brought The Loneliest Americans By Jay Caspian Kang The Loneliest Americans is a thought provoking essays about Kang's family as they moved from Korea during the time in the mid 60's when the restrictions (Hart-Cellar Act) against Asian immigrants were lifted in the United States. What follows is Kang's perspective of the "Asian American" collective identity, and through a non-traditional memoir that I really enjoyed reading about. His arguments are taut, well-researched and well presented albeit brought more questions to the table. The epilogue was sincerely heartfelt as he ponders the life of his newborn daughter, born mixed race and her place as an Asian American looking more like him than her Jewish mother. This is a book that I will re-read time and time again.

  21. 5 out of 5

    pugs

    based off a lot of reviews and critiques of 'the loneliest americans' i can see the reason for rating it around 3/5, but kang's inquisitive style of writing produced a lot of "hmm, let me think about that" reactions while reading, so i bump it up a star for his insight and introspection of an experience i don't know, but has the writing ability to bring the reader along through his mind. a lot of anecdotes, but also a fair amount of history and cultural accounts, kind of felt like two ends of a based off a lot of reviews and critiques of 'the loneliest americans' i can see the reason for rating it around 3/5, but kang's inquisitive style of writing produced a lot of "hmm, let me think about that" reactions while reading, so i bump it up a star for his insight and introspection of an experience i don't know, but has the writing ability to bring the reader along through his mind. a lot of anecdotes, but also a fair amount of history and cultural accounts, kind of felt like two ends of a timeline curling in on itself-- some reviewers might say i'm giving kang too much structural credit, but hey that's my interpretation, maybe i'm inclined to search for what isn't there. oh, and the essay describing the whole incel/mra-ish corner of the internet was both eerie and interesting. worth a read, buy maybe not a rush?

  22. 5 out of 5

    Terence Lau

    I discovered Jay Caspian Kang on the pages of Grantland and have followed his writing in various publications since, including the Atlantic and The New York Times. He is one of my favorite writers - provocative and he always has a different perspective on race, culture, and history - usually one I haven’t considered. This book is extremely - extremely - well written, but I’m not sure I agree with the premise - that Asian Americans are the loneliest Americans forever bouncing between whiteness and I discovered Jay Caspian Kang on the pages of Grantland and have followed his writing in various publications since, including the Atlantic and The New York Times. He is one of my favorite writers - provocative and he always has a different perspective on race, culture, and history - usually one I haven’t considered. This book is extremely - extremely - well written, but I’m not sure I agree with the premise - that Asian Americans are the loneliest Americans forever bouncing between whiteness and outsiders depending on situations. It is thought provoking though and I will be thinking about his conclusions and history lessons for a while.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Mythili

    I was really looking forward to this—I’ve enjoyed Kang’s NYT magazine reporting/essays and ideas on Time to Say Goodbye. And there is some terrific, mercilessly searching writing here that skewers a lot of commonly-held assumptions about Asian American-ness. Plus Kang’s own personal/family story is inherently interesting. But I wanted the whole thing to cohere into a clearer bigger vision about … oh, racial identity in America? Or what good citizenship or good politics looks like for the upwardl I was really looking forward to this—I’ve enjoyed Kang’s NYT magazine reporting/essays and ideas on Time to Say Goodbye. And there is some terrific, mercilessly searching writing here that skewers a lot of commonly-held assumptions about Asian American-ness. Plus Kang’s own personal/family story is inherently interesting. But I wanted the whole thing to cohere into a clearer bigger vision about … oh, racial identity in America? Or what good citizenship or good politics looks like for the upwardly mobile immigrant? There were lots of strains of interesting arguments but it didn’t all connect for me. Some of it (the dichotomy between blackness and everything else, for example) felt a little too simplified. And I felt that sometimes his self-interrogation veered into self-flagellation, which, while entertaining, was ultimately a little unsatisfying. Anyway, this is a good book! I just wanted it to be even better!

  24. 4 out of 5

    Lyuba

    2.5 stars. This felt very clumsy, but I did learn a lot and appreciated the difficult questions weaved through the personal musings and historical context.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Merricat Blackwood

    A few excellent reported pieces knitted together with a thesis that barely exists. Certain sections are really compelling. A section on the meaning of L.A.’s Koreatown, and its destruction during the 1992 riots, mostly recapitulates other people’s research and reporting, but Kang weaves together sources in a way that shows what a genuine loss this was to Korean immigrants. 1800 Korean businesses burned down over the course of the riots, including the U.S.’s first Korean grocery store, and while A few excellent reported pieces knitted together with a thesis that barely exists. Certain sections are really compelling. A section on the meaning of L.A.’s Koreatown, and its destruction during the 1992 riots, mostly recapitulates other people’s research and reporting, but Kang weaves together sources in a way that shows what a genuine loss this was to Korean immigrants. 1800 Korean businesses burned down over the course of the riots, including the U.S.’s first Korean grocery store, and while public money rebuilt much of the rest of L.A., Korean business owners got almost no help from the government. Kang also tells the story of the defense of San Francisco’s International Hotel (or the “I-Hotel”), a single room occupancy building where many elderly Asian immigrants lived. (These men typically lived alone because of restrictive laws that prevented their families from immigrating with them.) In the late 1960s, the landlord of the I-Hotel began making plans to evict the tenants and demolish the building. Asian American college students, many of whom had developed politically through opposition to the Vietnam War, through the Black Power movement, or through identification with the global Third World movement, joined the building’s mostly elderly and working-class tenants to resist the eviction. This was a rare instance of cross-generation solidarity among Asian Americans; it was also, according to Kang, the first time that the phrase “Asian American” was widely used. Such a sense of unity among Asian diaspora people in the U.S., Kang argues, is an anomaly; as a rule, the different populations grouped under the title “Asian American” don’t have much to do with each other. Much of his analysis goes back to the Hart-Celler Act, a 1965 law that removed the caps on Asian immigration to the U.S. imposed in 1924. The Hart-Celler Act opened the doors to immigrants, including Kang’s own Korean parents, and resulted in a significant increase in the Asian American population. It also created a new system of categorizing and prioritizing immigrants, including a preference for immigrants with professional and specialized skills. This meant that, from 1965, the Asian immigrants arriving in the U.S. were distinctly different from those who came before: for the most part not single men who came as laborers, but well-educated, upper-middle-class migrants who often arrived as families. Many of them arrived in the U.S. with small amounts of capital that they used to start small businesses (like the corner stores and salons that burned in L.A. in 1992). These new immigrants would have had little common ground with either the student radicals or the elderly laborers at the I-Hotel. This generation, Kang argues, did not experience American racism in the brutal forms that affected earlier waves of immigrants: the Chinese Exclusion Act and its aftermath, wartime Japanese internment. Many of them had experienced the ravages of American imperialism in Korea or Vietnam, but the result of this was a view of America that was ambivalent at worst. The U.S. may have been the source of terror (and the patron of brutal governments like the Park dictatorship in South Korea, which Kang’s family fled after coming as refugees from the North), but it was also the source of escape. These immigrants simply had few points of solidarity with those from older generations. Kang spends a good deal of the rest of the book dutifully fretting over how we ought to be paying more attention to working-class and undocumented Asian immigrants, while documenting the lifestyles and neuroses of the post-Hart-Celler professional class of immigrants that he belongs to. A section about how Tommy Huang, “the Asian American Donald Trump,” turned Flushing, Queens into a shoddily built but thriving little Taipei is well-reported and compelling, and builds on Kang’s theme of successive richer generations of Asian immigrants that have little to do with those who came before. A chapter about “MRAZNs,” Asian American men who combine superficial revolutionary rhetoric with misogyny and a particular hatred of Asian women who date white men, is probably the book’s best bit. It’s certainly the section where Kang’s writing is most specific and engaged, tracing how Reddit posts incorporate the rhetoric of Malcolm X and anti-imperialist academics. Kang writes about the training and test-prep schools in New York City that have made Asians the largest demographic in the city’s most prestigious and selective public schools. He notes that this success is not just a function of privilege; undocumented Fujianese students, who live in intense poverty in the city, still make it into the best schools in impressive numbers. But even in this section, he mostly interviews Asians from the upper middle class. Another chapter examines Kang’s feelings about being Asian at a protest against the police killing of Philando Castile. This section feels directionless--Kang wants to say something about being neither white nor Black at a moment of intense focus on white supremacy and anti-Black racism, but it’s not clear what, and his relentless self-focus is tasteless. You want to say, Jay, a man died. In general, Kang seems to be gesturing at the idea that there isn’t a real place for Asians in America’s racial hierarchy, but his writing isn’t analytical or specific enough to show what this means or why it matters. His reflections on the Asian American experience often seem to assume that every non-Asian’s experience of race is static and clearly defined, that no one else in American history has ever been both an oppressor and a victim. He claims that “the assimilated Asian American must disavow Tou Thao” (the Hmong cop who stood by while Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd), but that “doing so also requires us to turn a blind eye to the struggles in our own community. We cannot ask about the treatment of Thao’s Hmong people in America, much less the persecution they faced in Southeast Asia that led tens of thousands to seek refugee status and settle in the midwestern United States.” Is that true--is it inevitably true that we can’t identify Thao as part of a white supremacist institution and also grasp that he has suffered racial harm? Half of the cops who killed Freddie Gray were Black. It doesn’t seem paradoxical or even particularly hard to grasp to me that a person can suffer racism and still want to align himself with a racist institution, either because he wrongly believes in it or just out of cynicism. Kang describes himself as an adolescent as “flitting” back and forth between whiteness and Blackness; the flitting into Blackness is his obsession with rap music and culture. Of course, countless white Americans of Kang’s generation shared that obsession, and it didn’t make them less white. Reflecting on his desire to make his life match up to the literature he loved--Franny and Zooey, the works of the Beat poets--Kang writes that Asian Americans constantly “try to match the edges to the contours of our lives,” but “no narrative feels particularly relevant.” Isn’t that a universal experience of book-loving kids? I too longed to smoke an entire pack of cigarettes in the Glass family bathtub when I was a teenager, and maybe Kang’s longing was of a different quality than mine, but he hasn’t succeeded in evoking that difference. Kang often seems to be arguing against a phantom interlocutor who thinks that Asian Americans are basically white. (I think this is such a fringe position as to be hardly worth rebutting, but then I don’t occupy the same discursive world that Kang does.) He writes that the Asian Americans he knows “never felt white a day in [their] life” and “never wanted to be white in the first place,” but surely that’s also true of most white people. I would argue that not “feeling” your race is, in fact, the defining feature of whiteness. Kang writes fetishistically about the suffering his family, and other Asian families, endured to come to America. Well, my Irish ancestors were colonized and brutalized and faced grinding poverty and race hatred, and that didn’t stop me from becoming a perfectly generic white American. Changeability is built into the American conception of race. The biggest problem, ultimately, is that whenever Kang dives directly into his overarching themes--the black/white racial binary, the alleged “whiteness” or “white-adjacency” of Asians--his writing becomes timid and muddled. Take this set of sentences, from the beginning of the paragraph on the Philando Castile protests: “The images of the civil rights movement, rendered in black and white and seared into our memories at an early age, float around in a soup of widely accepted memes, which, when stripped of their context, become fodder for television commercials and glossy, manipulated renderings of history. ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere’ became Martin Luther King Jr.’s most quoted line because it’s flexible enough to be used in nearly any context. When hundreds of Chinese Americans met in Brooklyn’s Cadman Plaza Park to protest the conviction of Peter Liang, an NYPD rookie who shot and killed an unarmed Black man named Akai Gurley in the stairwell of a New York City housing project, that slogan was on their signs. This was met with sharp rebuke and attempts at correction--this is not what King meant--but it hardly mattered, because justice is the most intractable idea in America, and you can’t really change anyone’s mind on the matter.” I can kind of grasp what Kang is getting at here--the Civil Rights Movement circulates as a set of images that can be appropriated and have their moral gravitas borrowed by anyone, even someone with wildly unjust ends--but come on, you have to build to a climax better than “justice is the most intractable idea in America.” Part of the problem here is that when Kang gets theoretical, his language gets absolutely bled of flavor. It’s fine to be ambivalent, but if you’re ambivalent with no style and no resonance, what’s the goal?

  26. 5 out of 5

    지훈

    2.5 // I had higher hopes for this book than it met, to be quite honest. Kang is a pretty talented writer, and from reading his previous work, I thought that The Loneliest Americans was pretty replete with half-baked, lukewarm takes, as well as a lot of lacking in nuance. While I generally agree with some of the premises and points Kang makes, especially on the origins of Asian American identity and who clings to that identity today, I also think he makes some overly broad statements, tends to l 2.5 // I had higher hopes for this book than it met, to be quite honest. Kang is a pretty talented writer, and from reading his previous work, I thought that The Loneliest Americans was pretty replete with half-baked, lukewarm takes, as well as a lot of lacking in nuance. While I generally agree with some of the premises and points Kang makes, especially on the origins of Asian American identity and who clings to that identity today, I also think he makes some overly broad statements, tends to loop everyone into his own perspective on issues, and provides solutions that are not realistic. It's ok to have ideals, but I fall into the camp of having very little tolerance for people who speak with a microphone and don't have the personal experience or wherewithal to know what's purely idealistic and what's actually realistic. In terms of style and prose, I think Kang did a fine job tracing the arc, but I also felt like there were a lot of unnecessary asides that detracted from whatever point he was trying to make. That, combined with his propensity to drop blanket statements with no further explanation or context and move on, made the reading a bit jarring and a bit convoluted. It read (as it may have been intended to read) like an overextended opinion piece masquerading as a generic column in the New York Times, which is fine for some audiences but certainly imbued with some literary, contextual, and dialectic fallacies that don't get addressed properly. Overall, I think there was a lot of potential in this book, and there were some gems and pieces of the book that were informative, but overall I found myself either writing in question marks out of confusion about a statement or disagreeing with Kang's conclusions despite agreeing with his premises. That is, of course, a function of my own biases and opinions, and in some fashion it's healthy to have the variation in perspectives, but I don't quite see how this book helps advance any goals or narratives, or what the objective of writing this book was to begin with.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Ethan Lee

    The overall impression I got from Jay Caspian Kang's The Loneliest Americans is that Jay Caspian Kang likes to ask questions. When you're unsure about your position and identity within the multicultural slate of the world as Kang is, you almost can't help but ask them. Kang is at least sure about one thing: Asian Americans are lonely. And he likes to back this up with a rather extensive (albeit, insular) lesson in Asian American history and activism. Each chapter seems to observe different facet The overall impression I got from Jay Caspian Kang's The Loneliest Americans is that Jay Caspian Kang likes to ask questions. When you're unsure about your position and identity within the multicultural slate of the world as Kang is, you almost can't help but ask them. Kang is at least sure about one thing: Asian Americans are lonely. And he likes to back this up with a rather extensive (albeit, insular) lesson in Asian American history and activism. Each chapter seems to observe different facets of just how lonely Asian Americans are and offers the evidence, whether it's rooted in the politically-quenching roots of the term, or displayed more recently in the rise of online incel MRAZNs whose sexual fragility has been reduced to shards of toxic misogyny thinly disguised as windows into Asian American activism. All of these stories and anecdotes cater to the narrative that Asian American loneliness is rooted in a history of assimilation into white society while still navigating the world as POC, which isn't a novel concept. How do Asian Americans navigate a sociopolitical space with no shared history or struggle and evaluate the problems in a community built on a binary framework of race? I say Kang's lessons are insular because they are; his stories are usually derived from personal anecdotes and hand-picked stories in history and will probably apply and appeal most to the upper-middle class Korean and Chinese American communities (Hart-Cellar immigrants who sought upward mobility in the States post-1965, as he calls them). Kang's anecdotes include, but also exclude, a lot of history, and he is quick to couple them with scathing judgments to varying degrees of agreement. He harshly describes Asian Americans connecting with cultural garb as "cosplay", equating the act with self cultural appropriation, with which I find myself in ambivalent disagreement. To me, that's the same as saying reading his book is provincial performative activism, as his critics may say. When Asian Americans feel distant from a heritage they never knew, they'll likely do what they can afford to find the seeds to foster that connection - we can't criticize them for not knowing better when they need to start somewhere. At the same time, I can also see from where his negativity grows - Kang recognizes that Asian Americans stand in a space where they sometimes can afford to clock out from being Asian American for the day and continue their assimilation into whiteness. His harshness, while unwarranted, usually has an ounce of truth to it and can also prompt us to think more carefully about how we view our culture and identity. His anecdotes and judgments may very well be imperfect, but they provide Kang the stable personal support to draw themes and conclusions that more or less speak on the unstable framework of the Asian American diaspora with reasonable accuracy and precision, and they still manage to rile up my critical thinking and help find my own footing within this uncertain space. For that, I can give the book credit for spurring me to ask myself the tougher questions and reflect on my approach to my own identity. The Loneliest Americans seems to be more in the business of story-telling for the sake of repertoire expansion than it is in offering answers to its self-imposed questions. Readers may be disappointed when they open it up expecting definitive solutions to our loneliness, only to find questions and ruminations that are, at at best, repetitive, and, at worst, ignorant, but I don't think this is the mindset intended for this book. Kang provides stories and anecdotes to articulate why being Asian American can be so complicated and difficult to navigate within a seemingly binary world of race. But, as Kang says himself, the key to finding any solutions to this loneliness and moving forward is in choosing the narratives and stories for ourselves. And Kang certainly made his contributions.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Annie

    Jay Caspian Kang humbles me every time I read his writing. He can somehow distill my hazy ideas with clarity, and also include perspectives I fail to think about. Besides range, he also has an emotional self-knowledge that lets him state his limitations - whether his ever-persisting anger from his youth, his disdain for a particular type of "good kid," or his youthful hotheadedness. I liked this book's mix of history and personal story. Despite being a 1.5th generation immigrant, I haven't read Jay Caspian Kang humbles me every time I read his writing. He can somehow distill my hazy ideas with clarity, and also include perspectives I fail to think about. Besides range, he also has an emotional self-knowledge that lets him state his limitations - whether his ever-persisting anger from his youth, his disdain for a particular type of "good kid," or his youthful hotheadedness. I liked this book's mix of history and personal story. Despite being a 1.5th generation immigrant, I haven't read this influx of immigration that enabled my own within the context of the Hart-Celler Act. Knowing this actually allowed me to rebut my mom during an argument! Lit. These essays rang especially true for me when it differentiates the differences in experience and expectation between Asian Americans like me and our parents - their disinclination to buy into the liberal elite's black white dichotomy, and our desperate neurosis for a climb to the top. Many essays cover the same question: how do Asian Americans fit into the racial politics of America, when our shared history is quite thin? Kang's answer is to coalesce behind working class immigrants, which feels comforting to me but not yet actionable. That's enough for me for now though. Deep down, I felt this book was really about parenthood, and the struggle to hold a connection to your child as you live through a rapidly changing chapter of American history. I've wondered multiple times whether it's deeply sad for my parents to never quite understand my American youth, my preppy college education, and the slice of the professional world I now wade through. Kang fears the same unrelability with his daughter - will she understand him as a biracial child in an increasing multicultural America? Is it better if she never does, and also skip his neurosis? So much Asian American lit has fallen short for me when they carefully avoid the traumatic trap of Asian parenthood. Kang doesn't go over the experience of getting emotionally abused over school either, but his broad view of how each generation's self-told stories tie together more than make up for it. Such a good read!!

  29. 5 out of 5

    Lin

    interesting read about the loneliness and ambiguity of being asian american in a black and white racial system. kang articulates well the frustrations that i have with boba liberalism and asian american identity politic. i came away feeling that truly revolutionary activism among asian american communities (however you want to define that) will require moving away from the interests of upwardly mobile, college educated asian americans and towards the most vulnerable -- the refugees, the undocume interesting read about the loneliness and ambiguity of being asian american in a black and white racial system. kang articulates well the frustrations that i have with boba liberalism and asian american identity politic. i came away feeling that truly revolutionary activism among asian american communities (however you want to define that) will require moving away from the interests of upwardly mobile, college educated asian americans and towards the most vulnerable -- the refugees, the undocumented, the working class. still, even as kang argues that we advocate for these especially vulnerable groups, he rarely includes their perspectives. i think the thing that knocked this down to 3 stars for me was the fact that he interviews so extensively the upwardly mobile class of asian americans who he claims to be condemning, yet barely includes anything from working class and poor asian americans. many of the sections also felt winding and extraneous; the last chapter in particular, the one about bruce springsteen, was... confusing. i know that this book is meant to be a combination between polemic, manifesto, and memoir, but some of the memoir sections felt out of place and steeped in liberal guilt. again, i would've liked for him to center other voices, particularly ones that don't mirror his comfortable, upper middle class identity. overall, a worthwhile jumping off point to start reflecting on the place of asian american identity, though it shouldn't be your last.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Iris Kim

    "Modern Asian American identity is built out of the assumption that because we aren’t white, we must be “people of color.” But this is all greatly complicated by class: the upwardly mobile Asian Americans hang in a suspended state outside the Black-white binary, while the millions of Asian working poor have been made entirely invisible, not just by white people but also by their professional brothers and sisters. Perhaps we, the children of Hart-Celler, are simply biding our time until someone t "Modern Asian American identity is built out of the assumption that because we aren’t white, we must be “people of color.” But this is all greatly complicated by class: the upwardly mobile Asian Americans hang in a suspended state outside the Black-white binary, while the millions of Asian working poor have been made entirely invisible, not just by white people but also by their professional brothers and sisters. Perhaps we, the children of Hart-Celler, are simply biding our time until someone tells us which side we’re on. For Richard Rhee and the men on top of California Market, the calculus was much simpler: America would never accept them as white. The questions of identity that would plague their children meant nothing to them. They weren’t Asian Americans or Korean Americans or “not Black,” but Korean people in America.” A thought-provoking, humorous read full of Jay Caspian Kang's relatable neurotic musings about the upper income class Asian American. Didn't quite reach the level of inspiration that I felt after reading Minor Feelings, but I enjoyed Kang's personal anecdotes and candor on the page.

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