Mae Ngai

Mae Ngai

Research Interest


Ph.D. — Columbia University, 1998 (with distinction)
M.A. — Columbia University, 1993
B.A. — SUNY Empire State, 1992

Interests and Research

Mae M. Ngai is Lung Family Professor of Asian American Studies and Professor of History, and Co-Director of the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race. She  is a U.S. legal and political historian interested in the histories of immigration, citizenship, nationalism, and the Chinese diaspora.  She is author of the award winning Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America (2004); The Lucky Ones: One Family and the Extraordinary Invention of Chinese America (2010); and The Chinese Question: The Gold Rushes and Global Politics (2021).  Ngai has written on immigration history and policy for the Washington Post, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, the Atlantic, the Nation, and Dissent. Before becoming a historian she was a labor-union organizer and educator in New York City, working for District 65-UAW and the Consortium for Worker Education. She is now writing Nation of Immigrants: A Short History of an Idea (under contract with Princeton University Press). 


  • Immigrants in American History and Life (lecture)
  • Colonization/Decolonization (undergraduate seminar)
  • Transnational Migration and Citizenship (graduate/undergraduate seminar) 
  • Historiography for PhD students



Fellowships and Grants

  • Russell Sage Foundation (2020)
  • Lawrence Stone Lectures, Princeton University (2018)
  • Shelby Collum Davis for Historical Studies, Princeton University (Spring 2018)
  • Kluge Chair in Countries and Cultures of the North, Library of Congress (Fall 2017)
  • Huntington Library (Spring 2017)
  • University Lecture, Columbia (2015)
  • Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (2013)
  • OAH-AHRAC China Residency Program (2013)
  • Chiang Ching-Kuo Foundation for International Scholarly Exchange (2012)
  • Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers, New York Public Library (2012)
  • Institute for Advanced Study (2009)
  • John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation (2009)
  • Huntington Library (2006)
  • Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard (2003)
  • NYU Law School (2000)
  • Social Science Research Council (1999)



  • Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race, Columbia
  • Editorial Board, International Labor and Working Class History
  • Editorial Board, Journal of American Ethnic History



Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America (Princeton 2004). Winner of six book awards including Frederick Jackson Turner prize (OAH), Littleton Griswold prize (AHA), Lora Romero prize (ASA), Theodore Salutos prize (Immigration and Ethnic History Society).

The Lucky Ones: One Family and the Extraordinary Invention of Chinese America (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2010; paperback edition, Princeton University Press, 2012; in Chinese translation (幸运之家) from Commercial Press, Beijing (2015) and (幸運寵兒) from University Press of National Taiwan Normal University, Taipei (2014).

Editor (with Jon Gjerde), Major Problems in American Immigration History, second ed. (Cengage 2011).

The Chinese Question: The Gold Rushes and Global Politics (WW Norton 2021). Forthcoming in Chinese translation (China Times, Taipei) and Korean translation (Cum Libro, Seoul).

Interview on The Chinese Question: The Gold Rushes and Global Politics, with Mae Ngai.

Recent Articles and Opinions

“Racism has Always Been Part of the Asian American Experience,”  The Atlantic, April 21, 2021.

“Vilifying China Puts a Bull’s Eye on the Backs of Chinese Americans,” The Nation, March 23, 2021.

“Now the Trump Administration is trying to Punish Legal Immigrants for Being Poor,” Washington Post, August 9, 2018 (co-authored with Torrie Hester, Mary E. Mendoza and Deirdre Moloney)

“The Immigration Border Enforcement Myth,” New York Times, Jan. 29, 2018

“The Dark History of Defining ‘Family’,” New York Times, July 19, 2017.