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Book Review


Reed Ueda, Crosscurrents: Atlantic and Pacific Migration in the Making of a Global America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016. Pp. xvi + 229. Index. $29.95 (paper).


     Reed Ueda offers a concise overview of how regional histories of the Atlantic and Pacific worlds intersect and converge through the interactions of migrants and settlers. He identifies the west coast of the United States (especially California) and Hawai'i as the primary zones in which these "mutual encounters" and "close exchanges" have taken place. There, Ueda contends, Asian, Pacific Islander, and European migrants primarily, but also people from other western hemispheric regions, Africa, and the Indian Ocean world forged a "global America" characterized by cosmopolitanism and hybrid cultural identities over the long twentieth century. This regional focus, while not provincial or narrow in any sense, does come as a bit of a surprise given the book's title. At times the national implications are not fully articulated. But by focusing on the experiences, choices, worldviews, economic enterprises, and community-building practices of migrants themselves, Ueda seeks to avoid mischaracterizing the United States as naturally inclined to acceptance and diversity. Instead, he argues, migrants developed global networks within the bounded space of the United States and its territories. Over time, he argues, these networks undermined the political power of racism and xenophobia.

     After establishing briefly examining the role of imperial Spain in forging trans-Pacific and trans-Atlantic ties in the Americas and of a westward-looking American republic in generating hostility to coexistence with indigenous Americans, Ueda demonstrates how U.S. commercial interest in the Pacific facilitated the flow of Asians and Pacific Islanders to North America. Biographical accounts of Hawaiian-born Opukahai'a, Japanese-born fisherman Nakahama "John" Manjiro and Chinese immigrant and Civil War veteran Joseph Pierce reveal how outward projections of U.S. commercial growth created channels through which those of Asian and Pacific origin might find themselves in New Bedford, Connecticut or at the Battle of Gettysburg.

     But processes even more powerful than U.S. oceanic commercial enterprise were afoot, Ueda contends. As the aforementioned sojourners made their way into the Atlantic world, Britain's abolition of African slavery combined with the industrialization of capitalist production to yield unprecedented flows of migrants throughout the Indian, Atlantic, and Pacific regions. Millions of settlers and laborers of both Atlantic and Pacific origin poured into the U.S. West while rapid urban growth coupled with the intensification of industrial capitalism affected dramatic rises in economic and social inequality, often along lines of race and ethnicity. These changes occurred alongside, indeed clashed with, ideas about the universal extension of republican institutions and values that at least left open the possibility of multiracialism and inclusion as guiding organizational principles for American life.

     Ueda offers Hawai'i as the strongest case for robust programs of migrant and labor activism against the forces of capitalist exploitation and white supremacy. Chapter two includes a convincing comparison between the ways in which the struggles between cosmopolitanism and anti-Asian politics played out in the island territory and in the continental west. In states like California, smaller numbers of Chinese and Japanese relative to the white settler and European immigrant populations constrained Asian political agency, even if small and often separate communities developed all of the trappings of modern global life. But in Hawai'i, try as it might, the white minority was ultimately unable to check the political and economic mobility of the steadily increasing Japanese population (80,000 by 1910). While the 1909 cane strike, for example, did not give immediate rise to inter-racialism, it did portend significant shifts in political power by mid-century.

     Critical to such agency among Asian settlers was their persistent demand that education serve as a vehicle for social and economic mobility. Rather than falsely assume that schooling automatically bestowed equality, the Nisei generation in Hawai'i mobilized in sufficient numbers to assert their American citizenship and identity. A discussion of how Asian families utilized both public and private language schools anchors arguably Ueda's strongest and richest chapter (three), "Transplantation and Transculturation," which recounts the ways in which immigrants not only developed their own cultural spaces and institutions, but also how individuals and communities served as conduits through which a new and distinctly global American civic life characterized by hybrid linguistic, literary, religious, and culinary traditions took shape and form.

     Rather than characterize immigration restriction as a defining feature of U.S. historical development, particularly from 1880 to 1950, Ueda chooses a different and longer view of American social history—one that involves not nebulous, linear "progress," but the processes of intersection, adoption, and reconstitution. He regards racially restrictive statutes as pauses or interruptions in an otherwise dynamic and continuous flow of migration into the United States. Yet scholars of U.S. racism may be skeptical of Ueda's contention that in fact multicultural life has trumped the harsh undercurrents of racially restrictive immigration laws, economic discrimination, and violence. Ueda grounds this assertion in demographics, but does not always address the significance of these numbers. For example, 25 million migrants to the U.S. between 1871 and 1914 was far more than Canada's 4.6 million, the next highest total for a western hemispheric country during the same period. The diversity of home countries of immigrants to the U.S. has been staggering, and the individual stories Ueda weaves do suggest that even amidst draconian restriction laws, some non-white and "new" European immigrants and their children flourished culturally, maintained ties to homelands, and created cracks in the façade of the U.S.'s racialized social order.

     But while total numbers are telling, they do not prove a general or widespread acceptance of newcomers on the part of native-born whites. If the biographies of nineteenth-century migrants like Pierce or Manjiro and twentieth-century Jewish entrepreneurs who built entertainment empires in Southern California suggest fundamental fractures in racialized social institutions and economic practices, readers relatively new to the history of race and immigration in the U.S. may fall into the trap of assuming that what immigration has produced over the long twentieth century is a well-assimilated post-racial America. While this is not what Ueda is arguing, it nevertheless takes a close analytical read and sufficient historiographic exposure to avoid such pitfalls.

     This is especially true later in the volume. At the end of a chapter two, Ueda articulates more clearly just how politically salient Anglo-Saxonism and racial ordering could be in the American west. But by chapters four and five, readers find long lists of positive and no doubt admirable cultural adaptations, fusions, and integrations produced by a "rejuvenated" mass migration after World War II. There is however little room for analysis of just how virulent white opposition remained or how U.S. military and economic expansion made such migrations necessary in the first place. For example, chapter four presents NAFTA as a solution to the problems of unemployment in Mexico and mass immigration to the United States (both legal and undocumented) without treatment of how or why free trade agreements like NAFTA undermine local agricultural markets in poorer nations and in fact generate new reasons to migrate abroad (or to cities) for livable wages. Likewise, in reference to U.S. Cold War refugee policy, Ueda states that the U.S. "became the leader in refugee resettlement of displaced people from Southeast Asia" (150) with no attention to the central role that U.S. military and political strategies – including rural "pacification," massive bombing campaigns, narco-partnerships, and coup d'états - played in creating Vietnamese, Laotian, Indonesian, and Cambodian refugees, among others. In these two examples and others, immigrants come untethered from the forces of a postwar U.S.-led global capitalism that directly shaped their decisions to migrate.

     Chapter five largely explores how national and international transplants have generated "human capital" that has propelled California's diversity and offered the state's politics as a model of multi-cultural compromise and minority empowerment. There, Ueda offers only a brief concluding paragraph on how the reactionary politics of race, the surge of neoliberal flows of capital (and corresponding limitations on human mobility within the U.S.), environmental degradation, and suburban and ex-urban sprawl were also part of the post-war narrative of globalization on the U.S. west coast. A reduction in the large number of figures offered throughout the volume might have made sufficient room for such analysis in chapters four and five.

     Scholars of immigration and the American West will find much to like about Ueda's ambitious and sweeping account of how immigration has remained arguably the most dynamic force for social and cultural change over the long twentieth century. And because the book is primarily focused on the experiences and contributions of migrants themselves, it may well find positive reception in specialized world history courses focused on immigration. The early chapters are particularly strong and illustrative. But teachers considering Crosscurrents as assigned reading in secondary or undergraduate classrooms will want to take care to flesh out more fully the imperial and racial dimensions of post-World War II America in order to present the cultural innovation produced by migration not simply as likely outcomes of a benign and liberal immigration policy or a generally open and inclusive republican political order but as a contested process enmeshed in outward projections of U.S. power and the internal politics of race.

Clif Stratton is Assistant Clinical Professor of History and Assistant Director of the Roots of Contemporary Issues Program at Washington State University. He is the author of Education for Empire: American Schools, Race, and the Paths of Good Citizenship (forthcoming, University of California Press) and the 2014 winner of the Eugene Asher Distinguished Teaching award from the American Historical Association. He can be reached at


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