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Serve the People: Making Asian America in the Long Sixties

A narrative history of the movement that turned “Orientals” into Asian Americans

Until the political ferment of the Long Sixties, there were no Asian Americans. There were only isolated communities of mostly Chinese, Japanese, and Filipinos lumped together as “Orientals.” Serve the People tells the story of the social and cultural movement that knit these disparate communities into a political identity, the history of how—and why—the double consciousness of Asian America came to be.

At the same time, Karen Ishizuka’s vivid narrative reveals the personal epiphanies and intimate stories of insurgent movers and shakers and ground-level activists alike. Drawing on more than 120 interviews and illustrated with striking images from guerrilla movement publications, the book evokes the feeling of growing up alien in a society rendered in black and white, and recalls the intricate memories and meanings of the Asian American movement. Serve the People paints a panoramic landscape of a radical time, and is destined to become the definitive history of the making of Asian America.


  • “This compelling multi-voice story explains how Asian America came into being as both a political identity and a place to call home…Serve the People powerfully argues that recovering and remembering the Asian American Movement is not to live in the past, but rather to claim the future that the Asian American Movement envisioned.”
  • “This fascinating study is highly recommended for those interested in Asian American history and the civil rights movement.”
  • “There was a time, Karen Ishizuka reminds us, when the word ‘Asian American’ was not merely a demographic category, but a fight you were picking with the world.”
  • Serve the People describes beautifully not merely the making of a people but an entire era. People of color, women, queer people, students, and the working class altered US history by making the nation more democratic and aware of its imperialism. This is a work of immense significance.”
  • “With meticulous research and more than a hundred interviews, Karen Ishizuka traces the links between Yellow Power and other radical movements. This engaging book breaks through to new levels of insight into this still-neglected movement of far-reaching influence.”
  • “Karen Ishizuka deftly captures a generation of activist voices from San Francisco to Los Angeles, Seattle to New York. This thoughtful history chronicles a movement just as significant as the Black and Chicano movements and provides a revelatory insight into what it means to be American.”
  • “Karen Ishizuka has opened a window to an ignored but significant part of American history. I love the captivating cartoons, newspaper and arts sections, but what really enlivens her narrative and adds depth to her work is her personal relationship to this history.”
  • “As Karen Ishizuka indicates so well, African Americans and Asian Americans have shared a long history of interaction and influence. Her work reminds us of the need to view race through a broader paradigm.”
  • “We weren’t born ‘Asian American.’ It’s a political identity, forged in the fires of struggle, community and consciousness. Serve the People chronicles the hard-fought history of a new awareness—the story of how we became Asian America.”
  • “An exceptionally well-researched and engaging book.”
  • “Thoughtful and readable, Serve the People explores how activists of Chinese, Japanese, and Filipino descent forged the identity of ‘Asian American’ to make sense of grievances uniting Asian-based ethnic groups. In the process, they acted valiantly, if not always effectively, for a more democratic, egalitarian US.”
  • “Peers behind the contemporary narrative of Asian Americans achieving 'visibility,' with an intricate depiction of the movement that originated the Asian American vision…One of the first comprehensive histories of the movement…Serve the People sheds a backlight on our hyphenated cultural present—not just in terms of who and what 'Asian American' has come to mean, but also in terms of how any political movement becomes an identity and vice versa.”
  • “This text is foundational for understanding the development of Asian American consciousness as relevant identity for political work and organizing in the context of a decade of Civil Rights work we typically think of as dominated by African American and gender organizing.”
  • “With scholarship and verve, Ishizuka traces the creation of what would be called the “yellow power movement”…From San Francisco to New York to Los Angeles, from students to activists, Ishizuka depicts how the story of Asian America is multi-voiced and variegated.”
  • “Fascinating and thorough history...The range and depth covered within these pages makes this tome essential reading for anyone interested in the past, present and future of what it means to be Asian American.”
  • “An indispensable narrative archive of Asian-American organizing and insurgency.”


  • The Unexceptional Racism of Andrew Sullivan

    Detail from the cover of William Petersen's Japanese Americans: Oppression and Success (1971).

    Let’s start at the end.

    In the final paragraph of his recently published commentary, “Why Do Democrats Feel Sorry for Hillary Clinton?,” Andrew Sullivan writes, “Asian-Americans, like Jews, are indeed a problem for the ‘social-justice’ brigade. I mean, how on earth have both ethnic groups done so well in such a profoundly racist society?”

    To some, it may be unclear how a piece criticizing Clinton supporters wound up discussing Asian Americans and the recent brutal attack on United Airlines passenger David Dao. But there is a logic to Sullivan’s screed.

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  • Red Sale 2017

    A special Red Flash-Sale, 50% off these selected books (with free worldwide shipping) until Feb 15, midnight (UTC).

    Click here to activate your discount.


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  • The Year in Review: Verso authors reflect on 2016

    From the explosion in border walls to the rise of Donald Trump to the books that they've read along the way, Verso authors reflect on one of the most shocking years in recent history in this 2016 review.

    With contributions from: Franco Bifo Berardi, Christine Delphy, Keller Easterling, Nick Estes, Liz Fekete, Amber A'Lee Frost, Andrea Gibbons, Owen Hatherley, Eric Hazan, Helen Hester, Karen L. Ishizuka, Reece Jones, Costas Lapavitsas, Andreas Malm, Geoff Mann, Jane McAlevey, Ed Morales, David Roediger Nick Srnicek and Wolfgang Streeck.

    Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi
    , author of Heroes

    Ninety-nine years after the Soviet Revolution the stage is set for precipitation into global civil war. While the financial class exacerbates its agenda fuelling  unemployment and social devastation, the dynamics that led to Nazism are deploying worldwide. Nationalists are repeating what Hitler said to the impoverished workers of Germany: rather than as defeated workers, think of yourself as white warriors so you’ll win. They did not win, but they destroyed Europe. They will not win this time neither, but they are poised to destroy the world.

    After two centuries of colonial violence, we are now facing the final showdown. As worker’s internationalism has been destroyed by capital globalisation, a planetary bloodbath is getting almost unavoidable. 

    After centuries of colonial domination and violence, the dominators of the world are now facing a final showdown: the dispossessed of the world are reclaiming a moral and economic reward that the West is unwilling and unable to pay. The concrete historical debt towards those people that we have exploited cannot be paid because we are forced to pay the abstract financial debt.

    The collapse of capitalism is going to be interminable and enormously destructive, as long as a conscious subjectivity does not emerge.

    Christine Delphy, author of Separate and Dominate 

    The year now coming to an end has abounded with bad news on the political front. After a foul and very long debate on how we could ‘strip’ French citizens of their nationality – ultimately reaching the conclusion that this was impossible with regard to both French laws and international conventions – the government abandoned the bill. Immediately after that, a fresh bill was presented to ‘reform’ the labour code, largely getting rid of the majority of the guarantees enjoyed by workers. There was a mass mobilisation against this plan, lasting across the whole spring and part of summer. It opposed demonstrators in all France’s towns and cities to a police which, as the prime minister Manuel Valls put it, ‘had not been given any orders to show restraint’.

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