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Reads for Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month 2023

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Reads for Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month 2023

aapi month reads

May is Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, which celebrates the inspirational lives and considerable contributions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.  Join in the celebration by reading a few of the many writings by and about Asian and Pacific Americans and their heritage and cultures.

The list includes recently published fiction, memoirs and nonfiction works by or about Asian American/Pacific Islanders that touch on the themes of identity and culture, immigration and what it means to belong, as well as stories that explore familial bonds and romantic love.  All are available to borrow with your Livingston Library card.

Memoirs and Nonfiction

asian american histories of the us

Asian American Histories of the United States by Catherine Ceniza Choy

Original and expansive, this is a nearly 200-year history of Asian migration, labor, and community formation in the US.  The book features the lived experiences and diverse voices of immigrants, refugees, US-born Asian Americans, multiracial Americans, and workers from industries spanning agriculture to healthcare.

Be The Refuge : Raising The Voices Of Asian American Buddhists by Chenxing Han

Despite the fact that two thirds of U.S. Buddhists identify as Asian American, mainstream perceptions about what it means to be Buddhist in America often whitewash and invisibilize the diverse, inclusive, and intersectional communities that lie at the heart of American Buddhism. Drawn from in-depth interviews with a pan-ethnic, pan-Buddhist group, this is the first book to center young Asian American Buddhists’ own voices. With insights from multi-generational, second-generation, convert, and socially engaged Asian American Buddhists, it includes the stories of trailblazers, bridge-builders, integrators, and refuge-makers who hail from a wide range of cultural and religious backgrounds.

Biting The Hand : Growing Up Asian In Black And White America by Julia Sun-Joo Lee

A passionate, no-holds-barred memoir about the Asian American experience in a nation defined by racial stratification.  Lee, the daughter of Korean immigrants to California, grapples with this inheritance as a member of the so-called model minority in this clear-sighted memoir humming with justified anger. Lee recounts milestones on her journey to reject the insidious exclusionary culture of white supremacy in modern American society, from her childhood audition for the role of a Vietnamese boat child on Designing Women, to her experience as a teenager of the racial uprisings in L.A. after the Rodney King verdict, to the overt racism she encountered at Princeton. She untangles the complexities of existing outside the Black/white racial binary that has long defined American society, powerfully calling on anyone who has felt invisible to aid in the dismantling of the existing power structure.

Did You Eat Yet? : Craveable Recipes From An All-American Asian Chef by Ronnie Woo

Features 100 of Woo’s surprisingly achievable, effortlessly stylish, and beloved recipes celebrating an All American Asian pantry. With chapters spanning from breakfast to dinner, with everything in between, you can start your day with Chicken Congee with Pork Floss & X.O. Sauce or a Big Ass Buttermilk Cinnamon Roll, snack on Blistered Miso Butter Green Beans, have a healthy lunch of Hawaiian Inspired Chicken Vermicelli Bun Bowl, feast on Gochujang Grilled Skirt Steak, and end on a nostalgic note with Mandarin Orange Creamsicle Cake with Crunchy Almonds.

here to stay

Here To Stay : Uncovering South Asian American History by Geetika Rudra

There are 3.4 million South Asian-Americans in the U.S. They are creating an identity in a nation accustomed to binary racial choices, where the common understanding is that you are either black or white. Rudra argues that this typical pattern doesn’t and can’t apply to South Asian immigrants to the U.S. They are remarkably successful and well-educated residents, so they enjoy the privileges of whiteness without actually being white, while they continue to suffer discrimination (South Asian Muslims have a particularly difficult path toward acceptance). To explore South Asian identities, Rudra follows the influence of domestic immigration policies and international affairs for over a century. She also addresses the problem that there is not a single South Asian identity, since immigrants from the large geographical area that we call South Asia often have little in common.

Like Water : A Cultural History Of Bruce Lee by Daryl J. Maeda

Bruce Lee embodies the intermixture of cultures that results from transnational flows of people, ideas, and capital. Born in San Francisco and raised in Hong Kong, his life was one of constant shuttling across the Pacific. Rather than being a product of California or China, he was produced by transpacific currents impelled by colonialism, capitalism, and militarism. In his life, career, and films he faced and addressed racism and colonialism. He shattered national, racial, and cultural boundaries in his martial arts practice, personal life, and films. He defied US discrimination against interracial marriage by marrying a white woman and embraced cultural hybridity in raising their children. In Hollywood, he broke ground as an Asian American on television and when racism stymied his career, he revolutionized filmmaking by combining aesthetics and influences drawn from both Hong Kong and Hollywood.

A Living Remedy : A Memoir by Nicole Chung

An adopted daughter finds herself robbed of the chance to give back to beloved parents. Chung grew up in rural Oregon, the Korean daughter of White parents and one of the only Asians in her area. After living “paycheck to paycheck” throughout her youth, her parents were out of work and without health insurance when her father’s sudden, serious illness began.  Memoirs such as this one provide an important record of the emotional cost of the pandemic. It underlines the strength of her connection to both her adoptive parents and the birth-family relatives she found.

Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning by Cathy Park Hong

A collection of essays reflecting on her experiences as an American woman of Korean descent.  Part memoir and part cultural criticism, this collection is vulnerable, humorous, and provocative and its relentless and riveting pursuit of vital questions around family and friendship, art and politics, identity and individuality, will change the way you think about our world.

permission to come home

Permission To Come Home : Reclaiming Mental Health As Asian Americans by Jenny T. Wang

A crucial resource for the rapidly growing community of Asian Americans, immigrants, and other minorities and marginalized people to practice mental and emotional self-care. This book helps readers work on their mental health while understanding and honoring the richness of their heritage and embodying a new, complete, and whole identity. Throughout, Dr. Wang weaves together personal stories of strength, pain, and resilience with incisive analysis of Asian American and immigrant identities and how they affect our individual and collective mental health.

Year Of The Tiger: An Activist’s Life by Alice Wong

In Chinese culture, the tiger is deeply revered for its confidence, passion, ambition, and ferocity. That same fighting spirit resides in Alice Wong.  Drawing on a collection of original essays, previously published work, conversations, graphics, photos, commissioned art by disabled and Asian American artists, and more, Alice uses her unique talent to share an impressionistic scrapbook of her life as an Asian American disabled activist, community organizer, media maker, and dreamer. From her love of food and pop culture to her unwavering commitment to dismantling systemic ableism, Alice shares her thoughts on creativity, access, power, care, the pandemic, mortality, and the future.

Fiction

The Bandit Queens by Parini Shroff

A young Indian woman finds the false rumors that she killed her husband surprisingly useful—until other women in the village start asking for her help getting rid of their own husbands—in this razor-sharp debut.

Bliss Montage by Ling Ma

Ma proves her biting sense of humor and gift for subtlety in a collection of eight short stories, all surreal and jarring in the most sensational way. Playful and melancholic, Ma masterfully takes on heavy topics such as abuse and loneliness with sprawling, spinning plotlines. All the while, she interweaves the experience of Chinese American women, touching on visibility, assimilation, and the expectations of immigrant mothers. 

chinese groove

The Chinese Groove by Kathryn Ma

Anne Tyler meets Jade Chang in this buoyant, good-hearted, and sharply written novel about a blithely optimistic immigrant with big dreams, dire prospects, and a fractured extended family in need of his help—even if they don’t know it yet.  Eighteen-year-old Shelley, born into a much-despised branch of the Zheng family in Yunnan Province and living in the shadow of his widowed father’s grief, dreams of bigger things. Buoyed by an exuberant heart and his cousin Deng’s tall tales about the United States, Shelley heads to San Francisco to claim his destiny, confident that any hurdles will be easily overcome by the awesome powers of the “Chinese groove,” a belief in the unspoken bonds between countrymen that transcend time and borders. Upon arrival, Shelley is dismayed to find that his “rich uncle” is in fact his unemployed second cousin once removed and that the grand guest room he’d envisioned is but a scratchy sofa. Even worse, the loving family he hoped would embrace him is in shambles, shattered by a senseless tragedy that has cleaved the family in two. They want nothing to do with this youthful bounder who’s barged into their lives. Ever the optimist, Shelley concocts a plan to resuscitate his American dream by insinuating himself into the family. And, who knows, maybe he’ll even manage to bring them back together in the process.

Counterfeit by Kirsten Chen

Chen’s third novel is sly and subversive, an examination of motherhood and an incisive look at culture and class.  When Ava Wong reconnects with her college roommate, she doesn’t expect to get caught up in an international crime ring. Winnie Fang—who left Stanford in disgrace after a cheating scandal—is back in San Francisco and making money hand over fist. Winnie purchases high-end bags: Prada, Balenciaga, Louis Vuitton. She sells them on eBay and then returns her purchases, swapping them with quality replicas from China. Ava gets involved while on a trip to China with her young son. Winnie wants her to run an errand, and Ava’s credit cards are frozen after a fight with her husband. Eventually, Ava uses her newfound fortune on medical treatments and preschool for her son. Now, Ava can’t get out of Winnie’s clutches—or can she? Ava tells this story to a detective through her first-person perspective, explaining the whirlwind of events that led her into the mess. The handbags are status symbols, but no one truly knows what’s going on behind the persona.

The Decoy Girlfriend by Lillie Vale

Author Freya Lal’s deadline for her second book is getting close, and she has nothing written. She escapes this stress by pretending to be the actress Mandi Roy, who looks just like her, and going to clubs. Mandi’s supposed boyfriend on and off screen, Taft Bamber, sees Freya as Mandi in a club, and having met her in a bookstore, is intrigued. Mandi offers Freya a deal to impersonate her for a few weeks, but no one expects Freya and Taft to fall in love. The fake dating and celebrity tropes are fun and believable in Vale’s entertaining romantic comedy.

The Do-Over by Suzanne Park

Bestselling author Lily Lee is on a short deadline to deliver her new career guide How to Land the Perfect Job, and she’s been interviewing at all the top companies around town. But when she’s offered a coveted position at her dream company, the employer’s background check reveals she never actually finished her college degree. Unbelievably, her worst nightmare has come true. Lily returns to her alma mater to relive her senior year of college, after walking across the stage at graduation a decade earlier. Just as she starts getting used to the idea of being a student again, things get even more weird and chaotic when she discovers her computer science TA is her old college boyfriend, Jake Cho. As Lily and Jake reconnect, she sees that her late-blooming ex has done well for himself: the handsome, charming grad student appears to have his life together, while Lily’s on the brink of losing her reputation and her book deal.

our missing hearts

Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng

In this timely and heart-wrenching novel, author Ng takes listeners to a time in the near future when the United States is ruled by fear and compliance with PACT—the dictatorial Preserving American Culture and Traditions Act. Passed during a time known as the Crisis, PACT harnessed fear and suspicion to legalize horrific acts, including rehoming children of dissidents (often Asian Americans) and purging libraries of books that are deemed unpatriotic. The main character, Bird Gardner, lost his mother because a line from a poem she wrote became the rallying cry of the opposition movement. His journey to find her is the heart of this story. Along the way, Ng reveals both the power and the limitations of art to bring about change, and the importance of trying, no matter the end result.

Roses, In The Mouth Of A Lion by Bushra Rehman

Razia Mirza grows up amid the wild grape vines and backyard sunflowers of Corona, Queens, with her best friend, Saima, by her side. When a family rift drives the girls apart, Razia’s heart is broken. She finds solace in Taslima, a new girl in her close-knit Pakistani-American community. They embark on a series of small rebellions: listening to scandalous music, wearing miniskirts, and cutting school to explore the city. When Razia is accepted to Stuyvesant, a prestigious high school in Manhattan, the gulf between the person she is and the daughter her parents want her to be, widens. At Stuyvesant, Razia meets Angela and is attracted to her in a way that blossoms into a new understanding. When their relationship is discovered by an Aunty in the community, Razia must choose between her family and her own future.

The School For Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan

 In this taut and explosive debut novel, one lapse in judgment lands a young mother in a government reform program where custody of her child hangs in the balance. Frida Liu is struggling. She doesn’t have a career worthy of her Chinese immigrant parents’ sacrifices. She can’t persuade her husband, Gust, to give up his wellness-obsessed younger mistress. Only with Harriet, their cherubic daughter, does Frida finally attain the perfection expected of her. Harriet may be all she has, but she is just enough. Until Frida has a very bad day. The state has its eyes on mothers like Frida. The ones who check their phones, letting their children get injured on the playground; who let their children walk home alone. Because of one moment of poor judgment, a host of government officials will now determine if Frida is a candidate for a Big Brother-like institution that measures the success or failure of a mother’s devotion. Faced with the possibility of losing Harriet, Frida must prove that a bad mother can be redeemed. That she can learn to be good.

The Sense Of Wonder by Matthew Salesses

When Won Lee, the first Asian American in the NBA, stuns the world in a seven-game winning streak, the global media audience dubs it “The Wonder”–much to Won’s chagrin. Meanwhile, Won struggles to get attention from his coach, his peers, his fans, and most importantly, his hero, Powerball!, who also happens to be Won’s teammate and the captain. Covering it all is sportswriter Robert Sung, who writes about Won’s stardom while grappling with his own missed hoops opportunities as well as his place as an Asian American in media. And to witness it all is Carrie Kang, a big studio producer, who juggles a newfound relationship with Won while attempting to bring K-drama to an industry not known to embrace anything new or different.

sophie go

Sophie Go’s Lonely Hearts Club by Roselle Lim

Newly minted professional matchmaker Sophie Go has returned to Toronto, her hometown, after spending three years in Shanghai. Her job is made quite difficult, however, when she is revealed as a fraud—she never actually graduated from matchmaking school. In a competitive market like Toronto, no one wants to take a chance on an inexperienced and unaccredited matchmaker, and soon Sophie becomes an outcast. In dire search of clients, Sophie stumbles upon a secret club within her condo complex: the Old Ducks, seven septuagenarian Chinese bachelors who never found love. Somehow, she convinces them to hire her, but her matchmaking skills are put to the test as she learns the depths of loneliness, heartbreak, and love by attempting to make the hardest matches of her life.

Vera Wong’s Unsolicited Advice for Murderers by Jesse Q Sutanto

Vera Wong is a lonely little old lady—ah, lady of a certain age—who lives above her forgotten tea shop in the middle of San Francisco’s Chinatown. Despite living alone, Vera is not needy, oh no. She likes nothing more than sipping on a good cup of Wulong and doing some healthy detective work on the Internet about what her Gen-Z son is up to. Then one morning, Vera trudges downstairs to find a curious thing—a dead man in the middle of her tea shop. In his outstretched hand, a flash drive. Vera doesn’t know what comes over her, but after calling the cops like any good citizen would, she sort of . . . swipes the flash drive from the body and tucks it safely into the pocket of her apron. Why? Because Vera is sure she would do a better job than the police possibly could, because nobody sniffs out a wrongdoing quite like a suspicious Chinese mother with time on her hands. Vera knows the killer will be back for the flash drive; all she has to do is watch the increasing number of customers at her shop and figure out which one among them is the killer. What Vera does not expect is to form friendships with her customers and start to care for each and every one of them. As a protective mother hen, will she end up having to give one of her newfound chicks to the police.

Welcome Me To The Kingdom : Stories by Mai Nardone

The great migration from the country to the city unfolds the world over. In Nardone’s vibrant first book, these global changes play out in greater Bangkok. Opening in 1980, this set of interconnected stories follows the fortunes of Nam and Pea; Vitat, a Thai Elvis impersonator; and Ping, a Chinese Thai woman who returns to Bangkok from America after her father’s death only to find that she can’t easily shake his long shadow. The beauty here lies in the granular gradations of class and religious discrimination Nardone illuminates, such as when orphans Tintin and Benz are told that they must learn from a policeman who has risen from the slums and know the price they’ll have to pay for his protection. Nardone expertly and realistically dramatizes the effects of poverty’s vice-like grip.

Archana Chiplunkar, Adult Services & Acquisitions Librarian

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