THE ETHNIC STUDIES LIBRARY contains one of the most comprehensive and unique Asian American Studies Collections in the United States, including materials on the cultural, political, and socio-economic life of Asian Americans and Asian Overseas. Aside from developing a core collection on most identified Asian American groups—Asian Indian, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean and Southeast Asian Americans (Cambodian, Lao, Lao Hmong, Lao Mien, Thai and Vietnamese Americans), the Asian American Collections contain the largest Chinese American archival collection in the world. The mission of the Asian American Studies Collections is to support the curriculum program of the undergraduate and graduate students and the research of the faculty in the Ethnic Studies Department at the University of California, Berkeley; and to provide support in this area to other University of California campuses.

According to the 2000 census report of the United States, Chinese is the largest percentage (23.7%) of the total Asian American population. In fall 2000 at the University of California at Berkeley, Asian Pacific Americans (APA) numbered 9,119 (42%) of the undergraduate and 1,276 (14%) of the graduate student population. Among this student population, most APA are Chinese American. Former Vice-Chancellor John L. Heilbron wrote a preface to the book The Chinese Diaspora: Selected Essays (1998). In that preface, titled "In Diaspora, " he asserts that "the study of the wide experience of the Chinese in diaspora is already established within the vigorous programme in Asian American Studies at Berkeley."

Historically, the San Francisco Bay Area was the center of settlement for the earliest Chinese immigrants. Countless rich and rare materials relating to this population are scattered among Chinese organizations. Often their historical value goes unrecognized. The establishment of the former Asian American Studies Library in 1979 provided the infrastructure to collect these archives. In 1992, the Asian American Studies Library, the Chicano Studies Library and the Native American Studies Library merged as one administrative unit. The new Ethnic Studies Library was opened to the public on July 14, 1997.

The Chinese American Archives is the most extensive collection of its kind, containing manuscripts, diaries, correspondence, newsletters and other primary source materials, including the largest collection of biographies of people prominent in different fields and in community activism. They also contain newspaper collections in Chinese and English dating from 1880 to present; an extensive slide collection on Chinese American history; hundreds of photographs on historic events; and numerous historical posters by Asian American artists announcing community events. There are over a hundred unique collections, including the collection of the Chinese Historical Society of America Archives of the Chinese World newspaper, which was the first Chinese-owned bilingual Chinese and English daily newspaper in the United States. It was published in San Francisco from 1909 to 1969 under the leadership of Li Da-ming. Another important collection is the University of California at Berkeley Alumni Collection, which includes several distinguished Berkeley alumni. Among these are Mr. Yuk Ow, Mr. Him Mark Lai, and Professor Judy Yung. They are all noted Chinese American historians who have received many awards for their research and publications in Chinese American studies.

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