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Department of Ethnic Studies

James S. Lai

James S. Lai


James S. Lai is a Professor in the Ethnic Studies department with a courtesy appointment in the Department of Political Science.  Lai received his Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Southern California (2000) and his M.A. in Asian American Studies from the University of California at Los Angeles (1992).  Upon receiving his doctorate, he began teaching at Santa Clara University since Fall of 2000 and has been going strong since.

As an interdisciplinary-trained scholar who seeks to bridge the fields of Ethnic Studies and Political Science, his research interests and specialties include U.S. racial and ethnic politics, social media and civic engagement, urban politics, multi-racial coalitions, Asian American communities, California local politics, and Asian American politics. He is author of book Asian American Connective Action in the Age of Social Media (2022, Temple University Press), which examines how social media is changing the ways Asian Americans participate in politics.

Some of his past publications include the book Asian American Political Action: Suburban Transformations (2011 Lynne Rienner Publishers) that examines the rise of Asian American politics in small to medium size suburbs throughout the nation, and Asian American Politics: Law, Participation, and Policy (2002 Rowman & Littlefield).  In addition to these books, Lai has published peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters on U.S. racial politics and Asian American politics such as the following: “Revisiting Panethnicity: Emerging Political Contours in Asian Pacific American Politics" (PS: Political Science & Politics), "Shifting Political Terrains in the ‘City by the Bay:’ Mayor Ed Lee and the Two Convergences of San Francisco Politics” (Journal of Chinese Overseas),” "Transforming Ethnic Politics: A Comparative Analysis of Electoral Support for and Policy Priorities of Asian American and Latino Elected Officials" (Asian Law Journal), and "Asian Pacific American Campaigns, Elections, and Elected Officials” (PS: Political Science & Politics).


  • Ethnic Studies 40: Intro to Asian American Studies
  • Ethnic Studies 153: Minority Politics in the United States
  • Ethnic Studies 142: Asian American Communities
  • Ethnic Studies 185: Seminar in U.S. Racial and Ethnic Politics in American Cities

Lai, James S. 2011. Asian American Political Action: Suburban Transformations. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers.

Nakanishi, Don T. and James S. Lai, eds. 2003. Asian American Politics: Law, Participation, and Policy. Boulder, CO: Rowman & Littlefield.

Nakanishi, Don T. and James S. Lai, eds. National Asian Pacific American Political Almanac, Editions 6 to 14. Los Angeles, CA: UCLA Asian American Studies Center Press.

Lai, James S.; 2010. “Multiplexing Racial and Ethnic Planes: Chinese American Politics in Globalized Immigrant Suburbs,” Amerasia Journal 36:3, 83-105.

Lai, James S. and Kim Geron. 2006. “When Asian Americans Run: The Suburban and Urban Dimensions of Asian American Candidates in California Local Politics.” California Politics & Policy, Vol. 10, No. 1: 62-88.

Geron, Kim and James S. Lai. 2002. “Beyond Symbolic Representation: A Comparison of the Electoral Pathways and Policy Priorities of Asian American and Latino Elected Officials,” Asian Law Journal, Vol. 9, No. 1: 41-81.

Lai, James S., Thomas P. Kim, Wendy Cho, and Okiyoshi Takeda. 2001. "Asian Pacific American Campaigns, Elections, and Elected Officials,” PS: Political Science & Politics, Vol. 34, No. 3: 611-618.


In the News

May 15, 2023

James Lai is interviewed in the article, "How American Chinatowns Emerged Amid 19th-Century Racism," by

November 16, 2022

James Lai discusses anti-China bias in the South China Morning Post as Republican Michelle Steel, a Korean-American, runs against Democrat Jay Chen, a Taiwanese-American, in a heavily Vietnamese district in Orange County in the California Congressional Race. Also in Star (Malaysia).

November 16, 2022

James Lai discusses the importance of Asian American voters in the U.S. midterm elections on CGTN; they are expected to participate in record numbers.