May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month — an opportunity to celebrate the many different types of cultures within the community. One of the best ways for people to learn more about the Asian American experience and amplify Asian voices is to sit down with a book, film, or podcast that teaches us new perspectives. Whether you’re an Asian American looking to resonate with someone’s story, or an ally seeking to fight against racism particularly in the light of recent violence against the AAPI community, consider this a place to start.
What to read
Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning by Cathy Park Hong
This series of essays was published last spring and won the 2021 National Book Critics Circle Award for autobiography. It explores Hong’s upbringing in L.A. and how white Americans perceived her Asian American experience. She uses the term “minor feelings” to describe gaslighting and racism against Asian Americans being diminished or unacknowledged.
The Chinese in America by Iris Chang
From the New York Times best-selling author of Rape of Nanking, this book tells the story of how Chinese immigrants struggled to establish themselves in America and finding acceptance. The author covers important historical elements from the first immigrants in the mid 19th century to the building of the Central Pacific Railroad to to the fall of mainland China to communism — and beyond. This book manages to deconstruct the diversity of the Chinese who ultimately share the same pursuit: to create a better life for their families.
The Myth of the Model Minority: Asian Americans Facing Racism by Rosalind S. Chou and Joe R. Feagin
In this book, two sociology professors dissect the characterization of Asian Americans as “model minorities,” which is a stereotype that Asians are all expected to be smart, polite, hard-working, and submissive. Through dozens of interviews, the authors highlight the racism, stereotyping, and discrimination that occurs from schools to workplaces and the damaging effect of how Asians feel these pressure to conform to cultural expectations in America.
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
It took nearly 30 years for the Korean author to complete this historical fiction book, which landed on the New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal best-seller lists — among others. This page-turning novel tracks four generations of a Korean family living in Japan through the 20th century and provides a moving plot around issues of prejudice, race, loyalty, and what immigrants have to sacrifice to find their place in the world.
What to watch
Asian Americans (PBS)
This five-episode film series provides the perspective of all different types of Asian American experiences — from China, India, Japan, the Philippines, and beyond — through a mix of historical events and personal stories. Weaving through topics like the first Asian immigrants to the current-day refugee crises, each of the hour-long episodes spotlight the diversity of the fastest-growing ethnic group in the U.S. The entire film series is currently available for free online and you can also explore an interactive gallery about some of the historical figures from the film series.
This poignant, fictional film, which earned six Academy Award nominations (with Youn Yuh-jung winning Best Supporting Actress for her performance — the first Korean to win an Oscar for acting), is about the familiar immigrant story, but through a Korean lens. The Yi family moves to an Arkansas farm in search of the American Dream. Minari takes its name from an Asian herb (similar to watercress) that can seemingly grow in any conditions. The film takes you through a journey to figure out if the Yi family is just as resilient as the minari.
The Joy Luck Club
Based on Amy Tan’s best-selling novel of the same name, this 1993 drama follows the lives of a group of Chinese women that fled China and raise four Americanized daughters. It’s the first movie to feature an all Asian-American cast (with Crazy Rich Asians following suit 25 years later). Though it got mixed reviews at the time of its release for its negative representation of Asian males, last year the film was recognized by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and was among the annual 25 influential films that were selected for preservation.
What to Listen to
If you find yourself wondering how you fit in in America as an Asian person, this podcast (which is also aired on KALW 91.7FM in San Francisco) brings you the experiences and stories of Asian Americans that help you tackle those questions. Each episode features an intensely reported story or intimate one-on-one with guests from Asian American communities around the U.S. to get into the heart of what people are thinking about — whether that’s the increase in anti-Asian violence or the limited representation of Asian in Hollywood. It’s hosted by Cathy Erway, a Taiwanese-American food writer and reporter who has won a James Beard Award for the Home Cooking journalism category.
Each week on this podcast from the LA Times, hosts Jen Yamato and Frank Shyong invite guests for frank and honest conversations that center around unpacking the nuances and complexities Asian American identities. One of the most recent episodes is with Ruby Ibarra (scientist by night; rapper by night) about writing her Filipina American experience into her lyrics and finding her voice. Previous episodes include interviews with Kamala Harris, Margaret Cho, and Padma Lakshmi with new episodes dropping every Tuesday until August.
Hosted by Sylvia Peng and Janrey Serapio, this podcast launched at the beginning of 2021 and tackles complex topics like racial justice, the long history of Asian American queer and trans activism, and COVID-19’s impact on marginalized communities. Though it’s a relatively new podcast, it’s already shown to be a meaningful space to celebrate AAPI stories and people who exist at the intersection of different identities.