The last couple years have been especially difficult for the Asian community. While all of us have been affected by the pandemic, those in the Asian community have not only had to live with that constant uncertainty, but they have also had to fear for their lives, safety, and livelihoods. For many Asian-Americans, this fear isn’t new as our country’s islamophobia is rampant, but for those who are Chinese-presenting (this includes those who are actually of Thai, Japanese, Korean and other non-Chinese backgrounds), there is a new fear.
Before we dig into the book recommendations, I want to tell you about an experience one of my friends had. I tell you this because I want to remind everyone that even though Asian hate crimes are not presently front-facing in the media, they are still happening. My friend is a runner as a hobby – she loves to be outdoors and hikes nearly every weekend and participates in triathlons. One of her favorite things to do on her lunch break is to go for a quick jog. A few months ago while out running, she was followed by a strange man she’s never seen before. As a woman, this is terrifying enough. She increased her speed, adjusted her path, but the man kept following. Once he was absolutely sure she could hear him, he began shouting slurs at her, blaming her for the pandemic, and threatening to kill her and her family. She’s a first generation Chinese-American.
She ran back to the locked building where she works, stepped back for the rest of the day, and sought support. She and her family are safe, but she no longer feels able to run the route she’s been running for the last six years.
If you haven’t experienced something like this yourself or known someone who has, it may seem like a scare-story. This woman is one of the kindest, strongest, most capable people I know. She didn’t deserve to be attacked like this. As we enter Asian-American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, please remember not only to support Asian-American creators and business-owners, but to extended compassion to those in the AAPI community.
If you haven’t stopped in yet, I have a whole page dedicated to diverse reading lists compiled by the community, including a decent collection of books by AAPI authors! If you’re looking for some good books now, here are some of my favorites!
Some of these books may be more familiar to you than others – at this point, I’m pretty sure the book community has tired of hearing about To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before but I contend that it’s a delightful love journey with nuggets of Korean-American culture and was certainly groundbreaking for mainstream books. Similarly, The Poppy War has grown in popularity after it’s subsequent books have been released, but I maintain it’s excellent.
A couple of my recent reads made their way on to this list in the form of Pachinko and Before the Coffee Gets Cold. While these aren’t my usually YA reads, there were really enjoyable and engrossing in their way. If you don’t mind a more serious book, they’re both good choices.
I’m also including a few books with protagonists on a fuzzier line – areas like Israel or Pakistan where one could argue the country to either be Eastern Europe or Western Asia. Either way, I see no reasons to not celebrate these books and authors. The Red Tent – historical fiction following the biblical Dinah – is one of my favorite books of all time. Both The Night Diary and City of the Plague God have characters who can trace their heritage closer to the European line than those in the first set of eight, but are still worth a read!
My experience talking about Asian cultures has been that the word “Asian” is so often limited to the expectation of eastern Asian cultures… but it’s important to remember India and other western Asian cultures as well as we discuss and celebrate this month! I hope you make time in your reading list for the month to add a book like Saints and Misfits or Ayesha at Last that focus on those cultures.
And – don’t worry! If your reading list for Asian-American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month is already full, it’s still important to read diverse books all year long. 🙂
Happy AAPI Heritage Month, my friends!