A Feeling of Belonging

Asian American Women's Public Culture, 1930-1960

241 pages

16 illustrations

December, 2005

ISBN: 9780814751947



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Shirley Jennifer Lim is Assistant Professor of History at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

All books by Shirley Jennifer Lim

When we imagine the activities of Asian American women in the mid-twentieth century, our first thoughts are not of skiing, beauty pageants, magazine reading, and sororities. Yet, Shirley Jennifer Lim argues, these are precisely the sorts of leisure practices many second generation Chinese, Filipina, and Japanese American women engaged in during this time.

In A Feeling of Belonging, Lim highlights the cultural activities of young, predominantly unmarried Asian American women from 1930 to 1960. This period marks a crucial generation—the first in which American-born Asians formed a critical mass and began to make their presence felt in the United States. Though they were distinguished from previous generations by their American citizenship, it was only through these seemingly mundane “American”activities that they were able to overcome two-dimensional stereotypes of themselves as kimono-clad “Orientals.”

Lim traces the diverse ways in which these young women sought claim to cultural citizenship, exploring such topics as the nation's first Asian American sorority, Chi Alpha Delta; the cultural work of Chinese American actress Anna May Wong; Asian American youth culture and beauty pageants; and the achievement of fame of three foreign-born Asian women in the late 1950s. By wearing poodle skirts, going to the beach, and producing magazines, she argues, they asserted not just their American-ness, but their humanity: a feeling of belonging.


  • “Offering imaginative interpretations, Lim’s work brings to the fore the everyday acts Asian American women used to claim cultural citizenship, and it paves way for more cultural histories of Asian Americans informed by gender and race, as well as by class and sexuality, as categories of analysis.”

    The Journal of American History

  • A Feeling of Belonging yields fresh insights into Asian American women's participation in U.S. popular culture. Drawing on a rich array of sources, Shirley Lim illuminates young women's efforts to claim citizenship and gain access to social and economic opportunities, whether in the 1930s film industry or ethnic beauty pageants of the Cold War era. Her study highlights both the emergence of Asian American women as significant symbolic representatives of their communities and the complexities they faced in fulfilling this role.”

    —Valerie Matsumoto, UCLA

  • A Feeling of Belonging breaks new ground in examining the cultural practices of Asian American women in U.S. popular culture. By uncovering their activities in sororities, the movies, beauty contests and magazines, it considers how these women negotiated places for themselves as ethnic Americans in an era dominated by race and Cold War politics. In the process, it expands the study of race, gender, culture, and citizenship.”

    —Shirley Hune, editor of Asian/Pacific Islander American Women: A Historical Anthology

  • "In this book, Shirley Jennifer Lim argues that scholars too foten conflate "agency" with overt--or at least convert--oppostition to the status quo. Lim seeks to demostrate a more nuanced application of the terms, one in which Asian American women do not merely mimic their majority counterparts in an effort to gain acceptance but rather adapt their behavioral patterns and institutions in ways that make sense within an Asian American context."

    —George Anthony Peffer, American Historical Review