Every year I look forward to May because it’s Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (also referred to as Asian American/Pacific Islander Heritage Month).
It puts a spotlight on my cultural background— one that can sometimes feel overlooked during the rest of the year. It allows me to commemorate my Japanese, Taiwanese, and Okinawan ancestry.
This May, however, felt different to me than every other May.
It’s hard to feel celebratory in the midst of a devastating global pandemic, especially one that has sparked a lot of unfounded racism and violence against my own communities.
And it’s also just logistically hard to celebrate anything when we are forced to be apart from the people we would usually celebrate with.
Events and holidays that are supposed to be filled with joy and togetherness can instead remind us of what we’re missing and what we’ve lost.
But in this weird, chaotic, stressful time, books can provide a bridge to the outside world.
Sometimes they help us feel close to communities we belong to. These books by Americans of Asian or Pacific Islander descent help me celebrate and commemorate our cultures, even if I have to do it alone in my own bedroom.
And sometimes books give us a window into communities we don’t belong to— to help us understand and empathize.
In America, when we think of “Asian” we often imagine East Asians, like me.
But Asia itself consists of 48 UN-recognized countries.
In addition to self-governing countries and territories it doesn’t recognize, like Taiwan), and the Pacific Islands include many more island regions in Micronesia, Melanesia, and Polynesia.
Thus, the term Asian/Pacific American can encompass Americans from countries and islands as diverse as Iran, Thailand, Pakistan, Guam, Easter Island, Myanmar, and Nepal.
I know little about a lot of these places. Books help me learn more.
Though Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month is coming to an end, you can read these books all year long.
All of them were published recently (within the last two years).
You can check them out on ebook, or place a hold on our physical copies.
Featured photo is of my ancestral home in Okinawa, which belonged to my great-great grandparents. My great-grandfather lived there before he emigrated to Hawaii in 1907. It still belongs to the family.
Exhalation by Ted Chiang
This collection of literary sci-fi short stories is a follow up to his hit book Stories of Your Life, which was the basis for the movie Arrival. They are exquisite, strange, and perfectly crafted. The collection also features the stunning novella “The Lifecycle of Software Objects” which tracks the relationship humans have with their digital animals over the course of decades. The story is a heartbreaking look into the poignancy and pain of virtual relationships as it asks us— What does it mean to be disposable? What does it mean to be real?
Little Gods by Meng Jin
The Farm by Joanne Ramos
In this bestselling book, the eponymous Farm is a fancy retreat space in the Hudson Valley, free for nine months. Sounds great, right? The downside: the women who stay there are "Hosts"--surrogate mothers to babies they will have to give up to wealthy parents. Once you enter, you can't leave. The book follows Jane, a Filipina immigrant Host, as she reckons with the choice she's made and decides what her future will look like.
Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls by T Kira Madden
This memoir from T Kira Madden, an essayist with Native Hawaiian, Japanese, and Jewish roots, was featured on many “best of 2019” lists.
“As a child, Madden lived a life of extravagance, from her exclusive private school to her equestrian trophies and designer shoe-brand name. But under the surface was a wild instability. The only child of parents continually battling drug and alcohol addictions, Madden confronted her environment alone. Facing a culture of assault and objectification, she found lifelines in the desperately loving friendships of fatherless girls.” -from Overdrive
As soon as I saw this book cover, I sent a photo of it to my Austen-loving mother. The title is a play on words— sansei refers to third-generation Japanese Americans, many of whom are in their fifties right now, like my mom.
While Austen remixes aren’t new, this book is the first one to rework her stories into contemporary Japanese American worlds.
If They Come For Us by Fatimah Asghar
The New York Public Library declared this poetry collection one of the top 10 books of 2019.
"From a co-creator of the Emmy-nominated web series Brown Girls comes an imaginative, soulful debut poetry that collection captures the experiences of being a young Pakistani Muslim woman in contemporary America." -from Overdrive