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5 books to prepare you for an important AAPI Heritage Month

AAPI Heritage Month is around the corner. And it’s always a good time to read about some amazing books by writers from the AAPI community.

These selected books will surely bring you new perspectives on the AAPI community. Come join their discussions about immigration, cultural identity, racism, and living as minorities in America; you might find out something new.

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, Ocean Vuong

aapi heritage month
PHOTO CRED: Penguin Press.

A début novel by the Vietnamese American poet Ocean Vuong, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is an epistolary auto-fiction that tells a story of surviving in America.

The novel, written in the form of a letter, presents the powerful words of a son to his illiterate mother. This is a story that mirrors the life of Ocean Vuong.

Through the perspective of Little Dog, Ocean Vuong talks about what life is like as the son of an immigrant and also as a gay man surviving the violence of America.

He explores his contradictory cultural identity – being the product of  war and colonialism – in poetic, beautiful yet somehow melancholic language and emotion. A life that is already divided into two: one back in Vietnam, one here in America.

He could let go of neither of them. This is a book about what it means to become an American and how much it takes to be one. Just as Little Dog asks, “What is a country but a borderless sentence, a life?

I Was Their American Dream, Malaka Gharib

aapi books for heritage month
PHOTO CRED: Penguin Random House

What is it like growing up as half Filipino, practicing Egyptian tradition, and yet being 100 percent American? Malaka Gharib’s graphic memoir is a tribute to immigrant families and their descendants pursuing the American dream.

There will be few books more apropos of today’s timeline and during AAPI Heritage Month than this one.

Gharib’s memoir circles around the question that she has faced since she was young – ‘What are you?’ As she thoughtfully explores the gradation of racial diversity through her illustrations, she also learns over the course that it is culture that matters, not color.

The beliefs, values, food, and music and experiences are things that make up her unique identity.

It doesn’t matter whether she is in her mostly white college or the mixed-race communities back home. Gharib’s personal experience is a kind of melting pot mix journey of cross-cultural understanding, connection, unlearning, and relearning.

Through her skillful depictions, we are introduced to thoughtful insights of the diverse lives of modern immigrants in America.

How Much of These Hills is Gold, C Pam Zhang

how much of these hills is gold
PHOTO CRED: Riverhead Books

“This land is not your land,” a cruel message to Lucy and Sam, children of Chinese laborers, from the other children, the miners, and the laws.

Their father is gone. They have to find a proper place to bury his body. In the Chinese culture, the body ought to be brought back and buried in his or her homeland when a person dies.

“Burial is one of the ways we mark land as ours, that we claim ancestry and belonging.”

Annalisa Quinn

It’s in the middle of the Gold Rush. Two young kids carry a decomposing corpse across the California hills and search for a literal ‘fatherland’. California is their home;  it is where they belong, where their father’s body should be buried.

Yet, despite the fact that their ancestors have built a civilization upon their scarred and dead bodies, nothing about them is ever credited and honored in the history book. Their contribution and sacrifice are still unwritten.

Zhang is not trying to defend for the gold men or to reclaim their rights to own on the American soil. She is a self-conscious writer who actively questions the ideas about land, ownership, rootedness and history in a much larger anthropological landscape.

How Much of These Hills is Gold is about longing and disappointment and what makes a piece of land home. Most importantly, will the amount you invest in it the same as you take out of it?

American Born Chinese, Gene Yuen Yang

aapi heritage month
PHOTO CRED: First Second Books

The story of American Born Chinese is divided into three tales; it is a powerful visual interpretation of racial struggles and stereotypes, transformation, and cultural identity in the U.S. A legendary Monkey King, a first-generation child of immigrant called Jin Wang, and a White American boy named Danny. Three characters who seem to be unrelated, but their fates are in fact tightly intertwined.

Yang’s creative storyline is impressive. Through depicting his characters in startling caricature of negative Chinese stereotypes, he ironically reflects the cultural images that the American society expects on the minority race.

Chin-kee (sounding like ethic insult “chinky”) is Danny’s embarrassing Chinese cousin. In Yang’s portrayal, Chin-kee wears antiquated Chinese clothing, grows queue traditional hairstyle, and had yellow skin and buck teeth.

However, he is the Monkey King in disguise who has come to free Jin Wang from his imaginative self-image as the White American Danny. The Monkey King helps Jin Wang explore and also embrace his Chinese identity and heritage.

This is a fun and thought-provoking graphic novel to read. While the book shows how racist stereotypes are formed and presented out of ignorance and prejudice in America, it also passes on a moral that people shouldn’t make fun of others due to their ethnicities or feel ashamed of their own cultures.

The Making of Asian America, Erika Lee

the making of asian america
PHOTO CRED: Simon & Schuster

“Asian American community … uniquely captures the story of America..Theirs is a history of immigrant dreams, American realities, and global connections that has helped to make the United States what it is today.”

Erika Lee, The Making of Asian America.

Little is known about the history of Asian Americans, despite the fact that they are the fastest growing minority population in the U.S. The country does not mention their contributions and often simplifies their cultures.

America visualizes them as the quiet, hardworking people who are no troublemakers, yet at the same time, checks them in the extremely racist term “Yellow Peril.”

Erika Lee’s book is a relearning process of the Asian American history and struggles. Besides the national dimension, Lee also focuses on Asian American experiences in the transnational contexts.

She discusses how racist treatment of Asian American is manifested through exclusion laws, internment camps, hate crimes and racial profiling.

However, such racial injustice has also inspired Asian American activists to empower and speak up for each other. A truly sweeping, fascinating narrative that sheds light on Asian immigrant history, citizenship, and Americanness.

Pages to follow for AAPI Heritage Month

There are a lot more books out there concerning AAPI issues for us to discover and read! Support AAPI art always, not just during AAPI Heritage Month.

Here are some book lovers and authors that you can check out and diversify your feed for the upcoming AAPI Heritage Month.

Owl’s Little Library | Insta: @owlslittlelibrary

Electric Literature | Insta: @electricliterature

Stacey Lee | Insta: @staceyleeauthor

Sabrina | Insta: @travelling.the.pages

Kat | Insta: @booknerdkat