• 242 pages
  • 6 x 9
  • 1 table, 4 halftones
  • Price: $34.95
  • EAN: 9781439919026
  • Publication: Mar 2021
  • Price: $110.50
  • EAN: 9781439919019
  • Publication: Mar 2021
  • Price: $34.95
  • EAN: 9781439919033
  • Publication: Mar 2021

Illegal Immigrants/Model Minorities

The Cold War of Chinese American Narrative

Heidi Kim

In the Cold War era, Chinese Americans were caught in a double-bind. The widespread stigma of illegal immigration, as it was often called, was most easily countered with the model minority, assimilating and forming nuclear families, but that in turn led to further stereotypes. In Illegal Immigrants/Model Minorities, Heidi Kim investigates how Chinese American writers navigated a strategy to normalize and justify the Chinese presence during a time when fears of Communism ran high.

Kim explores how writers like Maxine Hong Kingston, Jade Snow Wong, and C. Y. Lee, among others, addressed issues of history, family, blood purity, and law through then-groundbreaking novels and memoirs. Illegal Immigrants/Model Minorities also uses legal cases, immigration documents, and law as well as mass media coverage to illustrate how writers constructed stories in relation to the political structures that allowed or disallowed their presence, their citizenship, and their blended identity.

Kim illuminates the rapidly shifting political and social pressures on Chinese American authors who selectively concealed, revealed, and reconstructed issues of citizenship, belonging, and inclusion in their writing.


"Kim examines how Chinese American authors responded to the 'Cold War-driven official narrative of the pervasiveness of illegal immigration' in this insightful study.... Kim places (writers') works in the context of mid-20th-century U.S. immigration laws, shining a valuable new light on the history of Chinese American literature. The result is an accessible, timely work of literary criticism."
—Publishers Weekly

“Heidi Kim deftly uncovers the gaps in literary discourse produced by legacies of racial surveillance and xenophobia in the postwar United States. Her legwork sheds new light on the editorial pressures that writers of color faced in order to conform to mid-century models of social propriety, unearthing at times eye-popping evidence of the lengths writers took in order to avoid state scrutiny. Kim convinces us that the discrepancies between a historical account and a literary one matter deeply. Illegal Immigrants/Model Minorities confronts readers with the pathos surrounding the toll exacted by secrecy and fears of deportation that continue into the present.”—Leslie Bow, Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professor of English and Asian American Studies and Draheim Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin–Madison

Heidi Kim sheds much-needed light on well-known and overlooked works of Chinese American literature in two key ways. First, she historicizes them in the Cold War era, during which Chinese Americans were seen paradoxically both as illegal aliens and as members of the model minority. Second, she delves into the unpublished archives of Maxine Hong Kingston, Jade Snow Wong, Lin Yutang, and other notable writers to help us understand the hard choices they made to accommodate—or, more often, resist— these binary discourses. Kim’s close readings of the primary texts themselves, as well as the drafts, letters, and other media that surround them, generate new insights about how Chinese Americans navigated systems that alternately sought to silence them as criminals and make them complicit as informants.”—Floyd Cheung, Professor of English Language and Literature and American Studies at Smith College

"(Kim) examines in great detail the layers of meaning in what it means to become 'an American,' and what is considered legitimate as family and kin.... (T)he interest in this work is not so much the project itself (close textual analysis) but rather the exposure to the existential tensions, the ambiguities, and even the self-delusion embedded in the personal experiences of immigrants, lives which we so often study only in the aggregate.... Kim’s work reminds us that, beneath our categorizations and statistical generalizations (of immigrant groups and of other urban networks), there lies a set of uniquely personal lived experiences. "
—Journal of Urban Affairs

"Kim explores the literary production of family, legality, and citizenship in mid-20th-century Chinese American literature, primarily in works by Maxine Hong Kingston, Jade Snow Wong, and C. Y. Lee. She adds a layer by studying the archive surrounding it––editorial comments, earlier drafts, notes, and correspondence––which reveals how authors sought to control images by concealing fraught family relations or hiding immigration status.... Recommended."

About the Author(s)

Heidi Kim is Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is the author of Invisible Subjects: Asian Americans in Postwar Literature and editor of Taken from the Paradise Isle: The Hoshida Family Story.

In the Series

Asian American History and Culture

Founded by Sucheng Chan in 1991, the Asian American History and Culture series has sponsored innovative scholarship that has redefined, expanded, and advanced the field of Asian American studies while strengthening its links to related areas of scholarly inquiry and engaged critique. Like the field from which it emerged, the series remains rooted in the social sciences and humanities, encompassing multiple regions, formations, communities, and identities. Extending the vision of founding editor Sucheng Chan and emeriti editor Michael Omi, David Palumbo-Liu, K. Scott Wong and Linda Trinh Võ, series editors Cathy Schlund-Vials, Rick Bonus, and Shelley Sang-Hee Lee continue to develop a foundational collection that embodies a range of theoretical and methodological approaches to Asian American studies.