Reasons to Read Nonfiction: AAPI Stories

A selection of books on Asian and Asian/Pacific Islander American experiences, in celebration of AAPI Heritage Month.

As part of OPL's celebration of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, this week's Advice for Readers blog presents a selection of books showcasing the complexity and diversity of the AAPI story. In March of this year, OPL published a statement in support of the Asian and Asian/Pacific Islander American community, which provided an expansive list of both children's and adult books on the subject of Asian American experiences and history, as well as resources for Asian Americans and their allies. Below, you will find books ranging from broad compelling histories, to intimate personal memoirs and graphic novels, each revealing a different facet of the AAPI experience. 

 

Recommended Reading

The collective term "Asian American" comprises more than twenty distinct nationalities and ethnic groups, and today there are more than 12 million Asian Pacific Americans living in the United States. In this all-new collection of fascinating interviews with students, lawyers, engineers, politicians, stay-at-home moms, and activists, Joann Faung Jean Lee again draws upon her great skill and sensitivity as a journalist to reveal a rich mosaic of Asian American identities. Candid and compelling, the interviews reveal intimate and often conflicting thoughts about Asian American identities, immigration, family, relationships, and educational and professional achievement. --From the publisher 

 

 

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. Be the Refuge is both critique and celebration, calling out the erasure of Asian American Buddhists while uplifting the complexity and nuance of their authentic stories and vital, thriving communities. Drawn from in-depth interviews with a pan-ethnic, pan-Buddhist group, Be the Refuge 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, Be the Refuge includes the stories of trailblazers, bridge-builders, integrators, and refuge-makers who hail from a wide range of cultural and religious backgrounds. Championing nuanced representation over stale stereotypes, Han and the 89 interviewees in Be the Refuge push back against false narratives like the Oriental monk, the superstitious immigrant, and the banana Buddhist--typecasting that collapses the multivocality of Asian American Buddhists into tired, essentialized tropes. Encouraging frank conversations about race, representation, and inclusivity among Buddhists of all backgrounds, Be the Refuge embodies the spirit of interconnection that glows at the heart of American Buddhism.-- Provided by publisher. 

 

 

Nation Within : The History Of The American Occupation Of Hawai'i   by Tom Coffman 

In 1893 a small group of white planters and missionary descendants backed by the United States overthrew the Kingdom of Hawai‘i and established a government modeled on the Jim Crow South. In Nation Within Tom Coffman tells the complex history of the unsuccessful efforts of deposed Hawaiian queen Lili‘uokalani and her subjects to resist annexation, which eventually came in 1898. Coffman describes native Hawaiian political activism, the queen's visits to Washington, D.C., to lobby for independence, and her imprisonment, along with hundreds of others, after their aborted armed insurrection. Exposing the myths that fueled the narrative that native Hawaiians willingly relinquished their nation, Coffman shows how Americans such as Theodore Roosevelt conspired to extinguish Hawai‘i's sovereignty in the service of expanding the United States' growing empire.--From the Publisher 

 

 

Growing Up Brown : Memoirs Of A Filipino American   by Peter Jamero 

Peter Jamero's story of hardship and success illuminates the experience of what he calls the "bridge generation" ― the American-born children of the Filipinos recruited as farm workers in the 1920s and 30s. Their experiences span the gap between these early immigrants and those Filipinos who owe their U.S. residency to the liberalization of immigration laws in 1965. His book is a sequel of sorts to Carlos Bulosan's America Is in the Heart, with themes of heartbreaking struggle against racism and poverty and eventual triumph. Jamero describes his early life in a farm-labor camp in Livingston, California, and the path that took him, through naval service and graduate school, far beyond Livingston. A longtime community activist and civic leader, Jamero describes decades of toil and progress before the Filipino community entered the sociopolitical mainstream. He shares a wealth of anecdotes and reflections from his career as an executive of health and human service programs in Sacramento, Washington, D.C., Seattle, and San Francisco. --From the publisher 

 

 

Restoried Selves : Autobiographies Of Queer Asian-Pacific-American Activists   edited by Kevin K. Kumashiro 

Restoried Selves: Autobiographies of Queer Asian / Pacific American Activists presents the first-person accounts of 20 activists—life stories that work against common stereotypes, shattering misconceptions and dispelling misinformation. These autobiographies challenge familial and cultural expectations and values that have traditionally forced queer Asian / Pacific Americans into silent shame because of their sexual orientation and/or ethnicity. Authors share not only their experiences growing up but also how those experiences led them to become social activists, speaking out against oppression.--From the publisher 

 

 

Citizen 13660    by Mine Okubo 

Mine Okubo was one of over one hundred thousand people of Japanese descent - nearly two-thirds of whom were American citizens - who were forced into "protective custody" shortly after Pearl Harbor. Citizen 13660, Okubo's graphic memoir of life in relocation centers in California and Utah, illuminates this experience with poignant illustrations and witty, candid text. Now available with a new introduction by Christine Hong and in a wide-format artist edition, this graphic novel can reach a new generation of readers and scholars.--From the publisher 

 

 

All You Can Ever Know : A Memoir   by Nicole Chung 

What does it mean to lose your roots―within your culture, within your family―and what happens when you find them? Nicole Chung was born severely premature, placed for adoption by her Korean parents, and raised by a white family in a sheltered Oregon town. From childhood, she heard the story of her adoption as a comforting, prepackaged myth. She believed that her biological parents had made the ultimate sacrifice in the hope of giving her a better life, that forever feeling slightly out of place was her fate as a transracial adoptee. But as Nicole grew up―facing prejudice her adoptive family couldn’t see, finding her identity as an Asian American and as a writer, becoming ever more curious about where she came from―she wondered if the story she’d been told was the whole truth. With warmth, candor, and startling insight, Nicole Chung tells of her search for the people who gave her up, which coincided with the birth of her own child. All You Can Ever Know is a profound, moving chronicle of surprising connections and the repercussions of unearthing painful family secrets―vital reading for anyone who has ever struggled to figure out where they belong. --From the publisher 

 

 

The Best We Could Do : An Illustrated Memoir    by Thi Bui 

This beautifully illustrated and emotional story is an evocative memoir about the search for a better future and a longing for the past. Exploring the anguish of immigration and the lasting effects that displacement has on a child and her family, Bui documents the story of her family’s daring escape after the fall of South Vietnam in the 1970s, and the difficulties they faced building new lives for themselves. In what Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist Viet Thanh Nguyen calls “a book to break your heart and heal it,” The Best We Could Do brings to life Thi Bui’s journey of understanding, and provides inspiration to all of those who search for a better future while longing for a simpler past.--From the publisher 

 

 

Eloquently written essays about aspects of Asian American life comprise this collection that looks at how Asian-Americans view themselves in light of America's insensitivities, stereotypes, and expectations. My Chinese-America speaks on masculinity, identity, and topics ranging from Jeremy Lin and immigration to profiling and Asian silences. This essays have an intimacy that transcends cultural boundaries, and casts light on a vital part of American culture that surrounds and influences all of us.-- Provided by publisher. 

 

 

A first-generation immigrant's "intimate, passionate look at race in America" (Viet Thanh Nguyen), an American's journey into the heart of not-whiteness. At the age of 12, Sharmila Sen emigrated from India to the U.S. The year was 1982, and everywhere she turned, she was asked to self-report her race - on INS forms, at the doctor's office, in middle school. Never identifying with a race in the India of her childhood, she rejects her new "not quite" designation - not quite white, not quite black, not quite Asian -- and spends much of her life attempting to blend into American whiteness. But after her teen years trying to assimilate--watching shows like General Hospital and The Jeffersons, dancing to Duran Duran and Prince, and perfecting the art of Jell-O no-bake desserts--she is forced to reckon with the hard questions: What does it mean to be white, why does whiteness retain the magic cloak of invisibility while other colors are made hypervisible, and how much does whiteness figure into Americanness? Part memoir, part manifesto, Not Quite Not White is a searing appraisal of race and a path forward for the next not quite not white generation --a witty and sharply honest story of discovering that not-whiteness can be the very thing that makes us American. --From the publisher 

 

 

In an extraordinary blend of narrative history, personal recollection, and oral testimony, the author presents a sweeping history of Asian Americans. He writes of the Chinese who laid tracks for the transcontinental railroad, of plantation laborers in the canefields of Hawaii, of "picture brides" marrying strangers in the hope of becoming part of the American dream. He tells stories of Japanese Americans behind the barbed wire of U.S. internment camps during World War II, Hmong refugees tragically unable to adjust to Wisconsin's alien climate and culture, and Asian American students stigmatized by the stereotype of the "model minority." This is a powerful and moving work that will resonate for all Americans, who together make up a nation of immigrants from other shores.--From the publisher