Friday, July 24, 2009

Brooks on Asian Americans, Housing, and the Transformation of Urban California

There are many interesting new books this year, and I have not had a chance to mention many that have crossed my desk. I will do my best to catch up on books over the rest of the summer. If we miss your new legal history book, send us a note about it, especially a link to a review.

Many legal historians, especially those interested in race, urban spaces, and housing, will have an interest in Charlotte Brooks' new book, Alien Neighbors, Foreign Friends: Asian Americans, Housing, and the Transformation of Urban California (University of Chicago Press, 2009). Here's the book description:

Between the early 1900s and the late 1950s, the attitudes of white Californians toward their Asian American neighbors evolved from outright hostility to relative acceptance. Charlotte Brooks examines this transformation through the lens of California’s urban housing markets, arguing that the perceived foreignness of Asian Americans, which initially stranded them in segregated areas, eventually facilitated their integration into neighborhoods that rejected other minorities.

Against the backdrop of cold war efforts to win Asian hearts and minds, whites who saw little difference between Asians and Asian Americans increasingly advocated the latter group’s access to middle-class life and the residential areas that went with it. But as they transformed Asian Americans into a “model minority,” whites purposefully ignored the long backstory of Chinese and Japanese Americans’ early and largely failed attempts to participate in public and private housing programs. As Brooks tells this multifaceted story, she draws on a broad range of sources in multiple languages, giving voice to an array of community leaders, journalists, activists, and homeowners—and insightfully conveying the complexity of racialized housing in a multiracial society.
And the blurbs:

A nuanced exploration of multiracial race relations and the complexities attending Asian Americans' shifting social status in California's cities, this book is an important contribution to urban and Asian American history. Charlotte Brooks's discussions about the exclusion of Asian Americans from New Deal programs and the undoing of racial covenants in the cold war era are original, well-researched, and subtly argued. She compellingly illuminates the limits of postwar racial liberalism. -- Mae Ngai, author of Impossible Subjects: Illiegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America

A fascinating study, beautifully accomplished. Comparing the experience of Japanese and Chinese Americans in two California cities, Brooks illuminates the complex texture of discrimination, and the role of citizenship and international affairs in the evolution of equality. This book illustrates the way focused studies of particular communities contribute important insights to our understanding of the intersection of U.S. foreign affairs and civil rights history. -- Mary L. Dudziak, author of Exporting American Dreams: Thurgood Marshall's African Journey

Alien Neighbors, Foreign Friends takes a direct and compelling approach to its investigation of how the most viciously racialized groups in pre-World War II California became, in the decades after the war, the state's most praised non-whites. This book is especially important for it intervention in the black-white binaries of recent urban historiography on racial segregation, the urban crisis, and civil rights politics. It is a book unlike almost anything else in the literature, and as such it significantly broadens our understanding of how race has shaped American cities. -- Robert Self, author of American Babylon: Race and the Struggle for Postwar Oakland