Skip to main content

Alien Neighbors, Foreign Friends

Asian Americans, Housing, and the Transformation of Urban California

Between the early 1900s and the late 1950s, the attitudes of white Californians toward their Asian American neighbors evolved from outright hostility to relative acceptance. Charlotte Brooks examines this transformation through the lens of California’s urban housing markets, arguing that the perceived foreignness of Asian Americans, which initially stranded them in segregated areas, eventually facilitated their integration into neighborhoods that rejected other minorities.

Against the backdrop of cold war efforts to win Asian hearts and minds, whites who saw little difference between Asians and Asian Americans increasingly advocated the latter group’s access to middle-class life and the residential areas that went with it. But as they transformed Asian Americans into a “model minority,” whites purposefully ignored the long backstory of Chinese and Japanese Americans’ early and largely failed attempts to participate in public and private housing programs. As Brooks tells this multifaceted story, she draws on a broad range of sources in multiple languages, giving voice to an array of community leaders, journalists, activists, and homeowners—and insightfully conveying the complexity of racialized housing in a multiracial society.

352 pages | 8 halftones, 9 line drawings, 1 table | 6 x 9 | © 2009

Historical Studies of Urban America

Asian Studies: General Asian Studies

History: American History, Urban History

Political Science: Urban Politics


“A nuanced exploration of multiracial race relations and the complexities attending Asian Americans’ shifting social status in California’s cities, this book is an important contribution to urban and Asian American history. Charlotte Brooks’s discussions about  the exclusion of Asian Americans from New Deal programs and the undoing of racial covenants in the cold war era are original, well researched, and subtly argued. She compellingly illuminates the limits of postwar racial liberalism.”

Mae Ngai, Columbia University

Table of Contents


List of Abbreviations


Part I. Alien Neighbors

Chapter 1

Chinatown, San Francisco: America’s First Segregated Neighborhood

Chapter 2

Los Angeles: America’s “White Spot”

Chapter 3

The New Deal’s Third Track: Asian American Citizenship and Public Housing in Depression-Era Los Angeles

Chapter 4

“Housing Seems to Be the Problem”: Asian Americans and New Deal Housing Programs in San Francisco

Chapter 5

The Subdivision and the War: From Jefferson Park to Internment

Part II. Foreign Friends

Chapter 6

“Glorified and Mounted on a Pedestal”: San Francisco Chinatown at War

Chapter 7

Equally Unequal: Asian Americans and the Fight for Housing Rights in Postwar California

Chapter 8

“The Orientals Whose Friendship Is So Important”: Asian Americans and the Values of Property in Cold War California





Organization of American Historians: Frederick Jackson Turner Award
Honorable Mention

Be the first to know

Get the latest updates on new releases, special offers, and media highlights when you subscribe to our email lists!

Sign up here for updates about the Press