May is Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month. It’s a time to celebrate the diversity, rich cultures, and strong history of the Asian and Pacific Island diaspora. Each of the books this week showcases different aspects and diverse experiences of people of Asian and Pacific Island decent living in America.
Crying in H Mart, by Micelle Zauner – Growing up in Eugene, Michelle Zauner was one of the only Asian kids in her school. In her memoir, she relates how this felt, and also talks about the enormous pressure she felt from her mother to do well. She talks about bonding with her mother while visiting her grandmother in Korea every summer. After moving to New York for college, Michelle felt herself losing touch with her “Koreaness,” and didn’t find it again until her mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer. This is an honest look at her individuality, being comfortable with her culture while growing up in a predominantly white American town, and how family brought it all together.
Interior Chinatown, by Charles Yu – Willis Wu has cast himself as “Generic Asian Man” in his own life. Every day he goes to his job at a restaurant in Chinatown where he has a bit part in a cop show. Sometimes he plays “Background Oriental Making a Weird Face,” or “Disgraced Son,” but what he really wants to be is “Kung Fu Man.” When he is suddenly thrust into the spotlight, he discovers the secret history of Chinatown, and learns about his own family’s legacy. Written in the format of a screenplay, this one is original and funny. It says a lot about Asian stereotypes in Hollywood and pop culture, while also dealing with immigration, cultural identity, and family.
America is Not the Heart, by Elaine Castillo – Hero de Vera has recently arrived in America after leaving the Philippines during a time of political upheaval. Her parents have disowned her, but her Uncle sets her up with a new life in the Bay Area. He knows enough to respect her, and not ask about her past, as does his wife. Their American born daughter, however, can’t resist asking about her cousin’s damaged hands. This is a powerful, sweeping family saga, that deals with immigration, cultural identity, and the American Dream. It’s about the struggle between the desire to leave the past behind, and the fact that it continues to haunt us no matter what. This one is beautifully written, with lifelike characters, and fascinating history.
To find a list with these three books, and more by Asian American & Pacific Islander authors, click here.