Citizens of Asian America

Democracy and Race during the Cold War

285 pages

October, 2014

ISBN: 9781479880737



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Cindy I-Fen Cheng is Associate Professor of History and Asian American Studies at the University of Wisconsin – Madison.

All books by Cindy I-Fen Cheng

Winner, 2013-2014 Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature, Adult Non-Fiction presented by the Asian Pacific American Librarian Association
During the Cold War, Soviet propaganda highlighted U.S. racism in order to undermine the credibility of U.S. democracy. In response, incorporating racial and ethnic minorities in order to affirm that America worked to ensure the rights of all and was superior to communist countries became a national imperative. In Citizens of Asian America , Cindy I-Fen Cheng explores how Asian Americans figured in this effort to shape the credibility of American democracy, even while the perceived “foreignness” of Asian Americans cast them as likely alien subversives whose activities needed monitoring following the communist revolution in China and the outbreak of the Korean War.
While histories of international politics and U.S. race relations during the Cold War have largely overlooked the significance of Asian Americans, Cheng challenges the black-white focus of the existing historiography.  She highlights how Asian Americans made use of the government’s desire to be leader of the “free world” by advocating for civil rights reforms, such as housing integration, increased professional opportunities, and freedom from political persecution. Further, Cheng examines the liberalization of immigration policies, which worked not only to increase the civil rights of Asian Americans but also to improve the nation’s ties with Asian countries, providing an opportunity for the U.S. government to broadcast, on a global scale, the freedom and opportunity that American society could offer.


  • “A marvelous and greatly-needed book, Cheng’s chronicle of Asian American battles against restrictive covenants, housing discrimination, and politically-inspired deportations as well as her accounts of battles for professional positions and honors, immigration reform, and civil rights adds important new ideas, evidence, and arguments to the social history of the U.S. by revealing the crucial role played by Asian American racial formation in shaping the broader racial imagination of the nation.”

    —George Lipsitz, author of How Racism Takes Place

  • "Citizens of Asian America offers a significant contribution to the scholarship on Cold War racial politics by highlighting the significance of political discourse about and by Asians, particularly those of Chinese and Korean ancestry in the U.S. from World War II to 1965. Cheng deftly analyzes how various political actors provided competing cultural narratives about race, nation, and identity. Her interpretation of government reports, sociological studies, court cases, and other sources related to housing integration, alien sedition, and immigration rights, will be of interest to scholars of the Cold War, U.S. race relations, U.S.-Asia relations, and immigration."

    —Judy Tzu-Chun Wu, Associate Professor of History and Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, Ohio State University

  • "Cheng (history and Asian American studies, Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison) illuminates matters of race during the Cold War that scholars often have overlooked as they focused on the plight of African American efforts to achieve civil rights during the era."


  • "In these chapters, Cheng offers a number of new insights into an understudied period. In her discussion of 'firsts,' she presents the lives of her subjects with a rare warmth and complexity; she also persuasively shows that such people developed their own understanding of race, democracy, and Americanness distinct from media portrayals of the mas symbols of American superiority and freedom. Juxtaposing celebrations of Asian Americans' loyalty with probes into their alleged subversion, Cheng astutely observes that these apparently conflicting ideas were in fact not so contradictory after all."

    —Charlotte Brooks, Political Science Quarterly

  • “Cheng casts her net widely to effectively prove the centrality of Asian Americans in Cold War politics and race relations. . . . Cheng’s greatly needed study demonstrates how Asian Americans were not only conscious of their political position but were also active participants who staked a claim to their place in the United States and, in so doing, shaped broader cultural imaginings of race and nation.”

    —Susie Woo, The Journal of American History

  • "Through Cheng's work, Cold War civil rights become much more capacious than previously thought."

    —Melissa Phruksachart, Journal of Asian American Studies

  • "Astounding and nuanced work. . . . Ultimately, Cheng's subtle but important shifts in how we understand race and democracy during the Cold War pushes the field of Asian American history in new directions on the politics of racial inclusion."

    Western Historical Quarterly

  • "While many other works have focused on Asian Americans as the ‘foreigners within’ the dominant order, this book breaks new ground by demonstrating the centrality of conflicts over the political status of Asian Americans during the Cold War itself."

    American Historical Review

  • "Cheng's Citizens of Asian America places Asian Americans at the center of this story, showing how the project to highlight the superiority of U.S. democracy over Soviet communism involved removing long-standing barriers to immigration and naturalization for Asians and Asian Americans. . . . A solid addition to the literature on Cold War Civil Rights." 

    Pacific Historical Review

  • "Citizens of Asian America is a welcome addition to the scholarship on race and the Cold War. . . . Cheng certainly shows that there us a story to tell about the impact of Asian American civil rights on U.S. foreign relations during the Cold War."

    American Politics

  • "Accessible and well-structured, Citizens of Asian America could be generatively incorporated into graduate and advanced undergraduate courses on Asian American history, the Cold War, and post-1945 U.S. political and diplomatic history.”

    American Historical Review