This summer's unrest in Ferguson, Mo., was a reminder that the country's dominant racial narrative has been about blacks and whites.
As with the larger Hispanic population, this color scheme doesn't leave much room for Asian-Americans, who now comprise 5.3 percent of the U.S. population and are expected to be 10 percent by 2050. Within this population, the largest subset, representing more than a quarter of the whole, is also the group that has been here the longest: Chinese-Americans. The first few hundred arrived in 1820, according to U.S. government records.
You can bet that within this community, there is a treasure of priceless stories. Yet extracting them will take wisdom, skill and sensitivity. Luckily for Americans, they have a native son who possesses all three.
Eric Liu is a 46-year-old Chinese-American writer who also happens to be one of the most important and most influential Asian-American intellectuals in the country.
As he reads those words, I picture Liu wincing. In a recent conversation, he noted that he comes from a culture that frowns on bragging about one's accomplishments.
So I'll brag for him. After graduating from Yale University and Harvard Law School, he wrote speeches for President Bill Clinton and worked in the White House as deputy domestic policy adviser. Then he launched a career in the arena of ideas.
Liu has been on my radar for about 15 years, since he published his first book, "The Accidental Asian," an engaging collection of personal essays about race and ethnic identity -- issues that I've written about as well.
"I speak Chinese," he told me. "I'm fairly knowledgeable about China and Chinese culture, but there is no question that I'm American, in my mind or in the minds of those encountering me. I feel it very proudly."
More books followed. He recently founded Citizen University, which Liu describes as "a nonprofit that teaches the art and practice of powerful citizenship." He is also the host of "Seattle Voices," a public affairs show in the Pacific coastal city that the Poughkeepsie, N.Y., native calls home.
The Emerald City is a good perch to look to the west and watch China rising. That's what Liu, a second-generation "ABC" (American-born Chinese), has been doing quite a bit of lately as he contemplates something bigger than himself: family.
"America makes Chinese Americans," he notes. "But China doesn't make American Chinese. It's not in their operating system."
Liu is the father of a 15-year-old daughter, whom he describes as "Jewish, Scots-Irish and Chinese" and who he says comes to her identity "effortlessly." He is also the son of immigrant parents who were born in China but grew up in Taiwan and came to the United States in the 1950s.
This is about 100 years after the first significant contingent of Chinese immigrants arrived here during the California Gold Rush to do dirty and dangerous jobs. They handled dynamite to clear passages through mountains and, later, helped build the transcontinental railroad. Many Chinese immigrants died in the process. And, thus, a saying was born -- one that Liu's father took a liking to, reclaimed as his own, and later shared with his son. To say that someone has no chance at all is to say that he doesn't have "a Chinaman's chance."
That is the irresistible title of Liu's new book, "A Chinaman's Chance: One Family's Journey and the Chinese American Dream." The story is about the past, present and future of one family, but it also illuminates much about the Chinese-American experience.
On his book tour, the title caused a ruckus. Some people consider it a slur, while others think it captures what is -- for a population that is more complex than, as Liu puts it, "test-taking machines raised by tiger parents" -- the elusive nature of the one thing that has always lured the Chinese to these shores: opportunity. These public events have left Liu convinced that there is more that unites Americans than separates us.
"For all the ways that America is divided, people still want to connect the dots," he said. "And if we keep nurturing that desire, we've got a chance."
One with good odds: An American's chance.