Jay Caspian Kang: The Loneliest Americans
Join us for a conversation with Jay Caspian Kang, who draws on a combination of family history and original reporting to explore—and reimagine—Asian American identity in a Black and white world.
In 1965, a new immigration law lifted a century of restrictions against Asian immigrants to the United States. Nobody, including the lawmakers who passed the bill, expected it to transform the country’s demographics. But over the next four decades, millions arrived, including Jay Caspian Kang’s parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles.
The Loneliest Americans is the unforgettable story of Kang and his family as they move from a housing project in Cambridge to an idyllic college town in the South and eventually to the West Coast. Their story unfolds against the backdrop of a rapidly expanding Asian America, as millions more immigrants, many of them working-class or undocumented, stream into the country. At the same time, upwardly mobile urban professionals have struggled to reconcile their parents’ assimilationist goals with membership in a multicultural elite—all while trying to carve out a new kind of belonging for their own children.
Kang recognizes this existential loneliness in himself and in other Asian Americans who try to locate themselves in what he calls the country’s racial binary. There are the businessmen turning Flushing into a center of immigrant wealth; the casualties of the Los Angeles riots; the impoverished parents in New York City who believe that admission to the city’s exam schools is the only way out; the men’s right’s activists on Reddit ranting about intermarriage; and the handful of protesters who show up at Black Lives Matter rallies holding “Yellow Peril Supports Black Power” signs. Kang ties these various strands together amid a wave of anti-Asian violence and he adds his call for a new form of immigrant solidarity—one rooted not in bubble tea and elite college admissions but in the struggles of refugees and the working class.
About the Speaker
Jay Caspian Kang is a writer-at-large for The New York Times Magazine. His other work has appeared in The New York Review of Books and The New Yorker, and on "This American Life" and "Vice," where he worked as an Emmy-nominated correspondent. He is the author of the novel The Dead Do Not Improve, which The Boston Globe called “an extremely smart, funny debut, with moments of haunting beauty.”
This program is part of our Good Lit series, underwritten by the Bernard Osher Foundation.