“Rise: A Pop History of Asian America from the Nineties to Now” by Jeff Yang, Phil Yu, and Philip Wang, Mariner Books, 484 pages, $28.99.
“Rise,” by Jeff Yang, Phil Yu, and Philip Wang is the most physically unique book of 2022 and should be experienced in the hardback version to be fully appreciated.
Beginning with its undersized dust jacket folded over the cover featuring a multitude of Asian faces, the book would make an interesting “coffee table” display. The interior, featuring multiple slick foldout pages, colorful comic book-style panels and clever captions, compels the reader’s immediate attention.
As a bee drawn to the flower, any reader will realize the serious nature of the book’s message as the pages turn. A significant segment of our polyglot nation, the Asian American population, has been undervalued, vilified and stereotyped for most of our country’s history. The forced World War II Japanese American internment camps were addressed in the review of “Facing the Mountain” (June 17) in this space. Most Asian immigration was against the law until 1965. South Asian Americans were often lampooned like Apu, the Indian shopkeeper in television’s “The Simpsons.”
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This book is an attempt by the authors to trace the “rise” of Asian American representation in our pop culture over the past three decades. Remarkably, the overall tone of the book is decidedly upbeat and comedic rather than bitter, despite the unfairness often shown toward these citizens.
By mixing entertainment, fashion, music and cuisine with politics, the authors underline the contributions made to American society by Asian Americans. As the beneficiary of a compassionate and expert Chinese American radiation oncologist, the reviewer certainly agrees.
Hollywood, the recognized purveyor of American cultural acceptance, routinely cast Caucasian actors in Asian roles. Mickey Rooney’s grotesque Japanese neighbor to Audrey Hepburn in 1961’s “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and John Wayne’s 1959 portrayal of a cowboy “Genghis Khan” are ludicrous examples of the “yellowface” involved. The more recent successes of movies featuring Asian American actors such as “Slumdog Millionaire,” “Life of Pi,” “Crazy Rich Asians,” and “Parasite” demonstrate the original misperception by the movie industry.
Since the Census Bureau lists 21 different Asian American ethnic groups, worthy individual examples may be overlooked. The reviewer was disappointed that Andrew Lam ,M.D., a Massachusetts retinal surgeon whose historical novels have been featured in this space, and prolific Lincoln author, Tosca Lee, were not mentioned.
Baseball star, Shohei Ohtani and Nebraska volleyball All-American, Lexi Sun, also did not make the cut. However, one of the reviewer’s favorite television sitcoms, “Fresh Off the Boat,” merited a lengthy feature, perhaps because author Yang’s son was a cast member.
Fortunately, due to the plethora of voices and topics introduced, the creative structure of the book encourages episodic reading. Readers, when finished, should be able to hope that as the 21st century progresses, this subset of our country’s population will simply be known in the future as “Americans.”
J. Kemper Campbell, M.D., is a retired Lincoln ophthalmologist who has a daughter and two grandchildren who were born in Korea.