“The work of historians in general, shows us that it’s up to us and that we have the power to lay the foundation for a different kind of future, a brighter future, a more just future. Learning history helps us understand these decisions and what we do and what we would need to build in order to end up with that outcome.”
—Dr. Ellen Wu
A specialist in twentieth century United States history, Dr. Ellen Wu is a nationally-recognized authority on Asian-Pacific America, migration, race, and the myth of the model minority. She is the Director of the Asian American Studies program at Indiana University, Bloomington, where she is also an Associate Professor of History.
Her first book, The Color of Success: Asian Americans and the Origins of the Model Minority, recounts the astonishing makeover of Asians in the United States from the “yellow peril” to “model minorities” in the middle decades of the twentieth century. Charting this transformation within the dual contexts of the United States’ global rise and the Black freedom movement, The Color of Success reveals that this far-reaching, politically charged process continues to have profound implications for how Americans understand race, opportunity, and nationhood. The Color of Success received the First Book Award, an Honorable Mention for the Theodore Saloutos Book Award from the Immigration and Ethnic History Society along with the History Book Award from the Association for Asian American Studies, and was recognized by the Obama Foundation as as part of its AANHPI Heritage Month reading list.
Wu is currently at work on Overrepresented: The Surprising History of Asian Americans and Racial Justice, a deep dive into the history of how “minority” rights have both strengthened and fractured ties between Asian Americans and other people of color since the 1960s—and divided the Asian American community itself. Pigeonholed as exceptional achievers, Asian Americans failed to secure widespread recognition as a “disadvantaged” racial group; they were seen as already “over-represented” in elite institutions, with no need for active interventions. Such dismissals glossed over the persistence of anti-Asian hostility as well as historical differences and socio-economic disparities among Asian American populations. In this unexpected account of racial justice, Wu demonstrates how much we miss when we see race as a fixed and predictable category, and illuminates the central role Asian Americans have played in the civil rights battles that have defined the nation.
Wu’s work has been recognized with fellowships from the Ford Foundation, National Endowment for the Humanities, the University of Texas at Austin’s Institute for Historical Studies, the University of Chicago’s Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture, and most recently New America where she is a 2022 Fellow. Her writing has been featured in a variety of academic and public-facing venues, including Modern American History, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, NPR’s Code Switch, TIME, Al-Jazeera English, Voice of America, C-SPAN’s American History TV, TruTV’s investigative comedy series Adam Ruins Everything, and the 2020 PBS documentary series Asian Americans.
Currently Wu serves on the Indiana Advisory Committee for the United States Commission on Civil Rights and is an elected member of the Society of American Historians. She is a founding member of the Indiana Chapter of National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum.
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