OHR Readings on Asian American History and Culture

OHR joins our parent organization, the Oral History Association, in condemning anti-Asian violence and in providing resources to educate and inform our community about the experiences of Asian Americans. We much each commit to doing our part to create a welcoming, equitable, and safe environment for all residents of the United States, regardless of race, ethnicity, and immigration status.

By Mark Vallaro

In response to the recent surges in anti-Asian violence and racism, the Oral History Review supports efforts of awareness and anti-racism to counteract these acts of hate. The editorial team also signs on to the statement of our parent organization, the Oral History Association, condemning violence against Asian Americans. Throughout its years of publication, various articles and book/media reviews in OHR have highlighted both the struggle of ethnic minorities and methods to fight against these inequalities in society. In an effort to show our support to the Asian American community, we have compiled a list of OHR publications that have told the stories of Asians and those that wish to end the generations-long systems of discrimination.

Each of these readings offer some takeaway relevant to the call against racism toward Asians. Some are educational, informing readers about the collective experiences of Asians, while others show oral history as a process that can improve public understanding of Asian American experiences. Whether centered around tragedy or healing, we hope our readers will find these selected publications applicable to our shared goals of understanding and progress.


Kayoko Yoshida, “From Atomic Fragments to Memories of the Trinity Bomb: A Bridge of Oral History over the Pacific, “The Oral History Review, 30.2 (2003).

Yoshida looks at Memories of the Trinity Bomb, a documentary that details the experiences of a Manhattan Project scientist’s daughter. Throughout the article, Yoshida integrates Japanese perspectives on the film which explore the historical significance of the atom bomb. While exploring an immense atrocity committed against Japanese civilians, this project also evaluates the use of trans-media as a genre. 

Betty E. Mitson, “Looking Back in Anguish: Oral History and Japanese-American Evacuation,” The Oral History Review, 2.1 (1974).

Following the events of Pearl Harbor, Japanese Americans experienced a surge of anti-Japanese sentiments, highlighted by the infamous internment camps. Mitson looks at early oral history efforts to document the injustices from perspectives of both the victims and perpetrators.

Michael Frisch, “Oral History Across Cultural Space: Responses of Chinese Students,” The Oral History Review, 15.2 (1987).

In response to a documentary on sexual politics and culture, some Chinese students in America were appalled by the content and questioned the intentions of the filmmakers. Frisch uses this story to look at how cultural differences result in distinct reactions and the benefits of an open dialogue between the American and Chinese students.

Yong Chen, “Remembering Ah Quin: A Century of Social Memory in a Chinese American Family,” The Oral History Review, 27.1 (2000).

Chen looks at the history and cultural legacy of Ah Quin, whose life as a Chinese American immigrant became an important part of culture for following generations of Chinese Americans. Through the examination of oral histories, the author analyzes the development of social memories, exploring what is remembered and what is forgotten.

Rina Benmayor, “For Every Story there is Another Story Which Stands Before it,” The Oral History Review, 16.2 (1988).

Benmayor analyzes the community of Salinas, California, uncovering conflicting oral histories surrounding its Chinatown. While viewed by some as a hotbed for violence, others see it as a community based around culture and the collective experience of immigrants.

Laurie R. Serikaku, “Oral History in Ethnic Communities: Widening the Focus,” The Oral History Review, 17.1 (1989).

In an effort to support ethnic minority communities which have experienced oppression, oral history can provide a platform to those that otherwise would have no way to be heard. Serikaku uses work from the University of Hawaii-Manoa’s Oral History Project to look at how oral historians can use the field to offset inequities in historical knowledge. 

Trangdai Tranguyen, “From Childhood Storytelling to Oral History Interviews,” The Oral History Review, 29.2 (2002).

By celebrating the theme of oral history, Tranguyen tells her own story as a Vietnamese American immigrant and historian. In her personal and professional lives, Tranguyen shows the ability of oral history to support historical knowledge and understanding, especially in coming to terms with her own ethnic background.

Book/media Reviews

Peta Stephenson, The Outsiders Within: Telling Australia’s Indigenous-Asian Story (University of NSW Press, 2007)

Peta Stephenson uses oral history to detail the story of the Indigenous-Asian community within Australia. The book looks at how during their centuries-long existence, members of these communities have faced dramatic forms of systemic racism and discrimination at the hands of the national government. Read Janis Wilton’s review at OHR.

Wayne Hung Wong, American Paper Son: A Chinese Immigrant In The Midwest (University of Illinois Press, 2006)

As a result of immigration laws targeting Chinese immigrants, many have used falsified legal documents to curb the effects of discrimination and enter the United States. Wayne Hung Wong details the story and oral history of one of these immigrants and their experiences with systemic racism and oppression. Read Colleen Fong’s review at OHR.

Cecelia M. Tsu, Garden of the World: Asian Immigrant and the Making of Agriculture in California’s Santa Clara Valley (Oxford University Press, 2013)

In this book, Cecilia M. Tsu looks at Asian American history through the stories of Asian farmers in California. She explores race relations and class dynamics in this industry in which white farm owners depended on Asian Americans workers, while still celebrating the idea being a self-sufficient family farm. Read Sue Fawn Chung’s review at OHR.

Suzanna Falgout, Lin Poyer, and Laurence M. Carucci, Memories of War: Micronesians in the Pacific War (University of Hawaii Press, 2008)

In order to flesh out a piece of history typically glossed over, Falgout, Poyer, and Carucci detail the cultural history of Micronesians in World War II. By examining personal and communal stories, oral history again allows the experiences of a frequently overlooked community to have voice. Read Cecilia Lizama Salvatore’s review at OHR.

Mary Goldensohn and David Steven Cohen, Coming From India (NJN Radio and the New Jersey Historical Commission, 1998)

This documentary analyzes the third wave of immigration to the United States, which has included mass numbers of Indians. While entering a multicultural American society and widely experiencing economic success, the Indian American community has faced obstacles of cultural and systemic racism. Read Steven Sheehan’s review at OHR.

Teresa Tamura, Minidoka: An American Concentration Camp (Caxton Press, 2013)

In the context of anti-Japanese hysteria during World War II, Teresa Tamura covers the history of the Minidoka War Relocation Center in Idaho. By using stories of the survivors, both before and after being uprooted, Tamura gives a critical look at the effects of systemic discrimination on these communities and individuals. Read Samuel J. Redman’s review at OHR.

Joanna C. Scott, Indochina’s Refugees: Oral Histories From Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam (McFarland and Company, 1989)

John Tenhula, Voices From Southeast Asia: The Refugee Experience in The United States (Holmes and Meier, 1991)

James M. Freeman, Hearts of Sorrow: Vietnamese-American Lives (Stanford University Press, 1989)

Robert Proudfoot, Even The Birds Don’t Sound The Same Here (Peter Land, 1990)

In an effort to offer a complete view of the relationship between the United States and Asians, Newman reviews four different books on distinct subjects. Each book takes a different approach to this issue, looking at how both domestic and foreign U.S. policy has marginalized Asians. The books are: Indochina’s Refugees: Oral Histories From Load, Cambodia, and Vietnam by Joanna C. Scott, Voices From Southeast Asia: The Refugee Experience in the United States by John Tenhula, Hearts of Sorrow: Vietnamese-American Lives by James M. Fredman, and Even The Birds Don’t Sound the Same Here by Robert Proudfoot. Read Robert S. Newman’s review at OHR.

Mark Vallaro is a history major at Kean University and is serving as intern for Oral History Review

Featured image by Flickr user Elvert Barnes, licensed with CC BY-SA 2.0. “STOP ANTI-ASIAN RACISM & CHINA BASHING RALLY at Chinatown Archway at 7th and H Street, NW, Washington DC on Saturday afternoon, 27 March 2021 by Elvert Barnes Photography.”