I’ve been fairly open about my personal journey to be antiracist. And it is a journey. I was not raised that way by any means (I was actually raised to be pretty judgmental and close-minded), and it is something I intend on working on consistently throughout my life. Because no form of racism against any group is ever okay. Period.
I grew up around a lot of racism against Asian people. It was extremely prevalent in my community, which has a large Asian population. So anti-Asian racism is not a new issue to me. I have also noticed that anti-Asian sentiments have been growing increasingly toxic over the past year following some pretty racist rhetoric regarding Covid-19. After all we’ve experienced in the past four years, the increased violence against Asian Americans, while heartbreaking and terrible, wasn’t all that surprising, unfortunately.
I have actually stepped up my antiracist game from simply feeling uncomfortable as a child to actually stopping people mid-sentence to correct them when they perpetuate racist stereotypes. But then I realized there is something else I can do. And it’s to encourage other people to do what I did and read.
I’m planning on doing a more extensive post about how books made me a better person, but the short version is that once I started reading more diversely, I also started to feel better about myself and more open and accepting of other people. There’s a lot that has gone into my personal journey in life that led me here, but becoming a more accepting person is a huge part of it.
Today, I wanted to share some of my favorite books by Asian American authors. If you would like to support members of that community, here’s a good place to start. I am also including some additional resources that I’ve personally found helpful. But, first, the books!
Know My Name by Chanel Miller
I feel like I talk about this book a lot, but it’s worth it, I promise. Chanel Miller is a Chinese American woman who is probably most well known for the Jane Doe letter she wrote (that was published by Buzzfeed) in response to her sexual assault on Stanford’s campus. In this memoir, she takes back her story and gives a name to the woman who was formerly anonymous.
I read this about a year ago, and it has stuck with me. This is a really powerful memoir that also happens to be beautifully written. It is easily one of the best memoirs I’ve ever read, and I think it’s an important read.
The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo
Yangsze Choo is a Malaysian author of Chinese descent who came to America to attend Harvard. She’s written two books, The Ghost Bride and The Night Tiger, both of which I’ve read. And while I did enjoy The Ghost Bride, it’s The Night Tiger that truly blew me away. This is a historical fiction novel following a pair of step-siblings, a few mysterious deaths, and rumors of a “weretiger”.
It is just a really magical book. But I also loved it because it introduced me to Malaysian culture and legends. I can only really think of a handful of books set in Malaysia, so I was glad to have the opportunity to learn more (which is true of both of Choo’s books). I just really loved this one.
How Much of These Hills is Gold by C. Pam Zhang
This is the book on this list that I’ve most recently read. And honestly, I went into it kind of expecting to not like it. It’s a western, which is really not my thing. But it is so much more than just a western. It’s about the children of Chinese immigrants who, after being orphaned during the Gold Rush, become outlaws. This novel follows them through their pre-teen outlaw days to early adulthood. And I don’t really know how to explain why I loved this without spoiling anything, but just know that this book is about a lot more than two kids walking through the desert.
For a book I wasn’t sold on when I started, I managed to finish this in one day. I couldn’t put it down, I just needed to know what was going to happen. I also think this might be a great transition into adult literature for anyone who reads mostly YA. It’s definitely an adult novel, but the characters seemed like more mature versions of a lot of YA characters I’ve read. It was also surprisingly timely for a historical fiction novel. I loved it, you should go read it.
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
Now this one, I can’t say I recommend for you to read. Because while it was one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read, it was also the most depressing book I have ever encountered. And I don’t say that lightly. I sobbed for eight hours and was in a funk for three months after reading this. It is SAD. So if you need a good cry – we all do sometimes – this is definitely the book for you. But if you’re on the verge of a meltdown, this is maybe not the best book to pick up right now.
That said, Hanya Yanagihara’s writing is definitely worth exploring. I haven’t read her other book, The People in the Trees, yet, but it’s high on my list of books to check out in the future. I just haven’t been in the mood for it yet.
The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X. R. Pan
I’ve talked before about how I tend to stay away from books that center on mother-child relationships. I have a very toxic relationship with my mother, so books like that are hard to identify with at best and kind of hurtful at worst. But I picked this up last year for that one post where I let Buzzfeed decide what I read, and I ended up being really glad I did. I enjoyed this so much I listened to the entire twelve-hour audiobook in one sitting.
It’s about a teenage girl struggling to come to terms with her mother’s suicide and becomes convinced that her mother is a bird. There are definitely some magical realism elements here, which I loved. But it’s also a really good story, and mostly set in Taiwan. So if you enjoy YA and haven’t read this one yet, definitely give it a try.
Other resources to check out:
Jae-Yeon Yoo and Stefani Kuo at Electric Lit put together a pretty comprehensive literary guide to combat anti-Asian racism in America
Definitely check out these links, because there is definitely a bigger discussion to be had about anti-Asian racism and there are so many other voices out there that can provide more valuable insight than I can. So I encourage you to read, do your research, do the work to become a better ally and anti-racist.
I hope you all found this post at least somewhat helpful. Again, please don’t end your reading with my post, seek out more information, particularly from Asian and Asian American voices. And if any of you would like to contribute, or share your experiences, please leave them in the comments. I encourage you to have a discussion, and if you would like to, help people like me do better going forward. (You don’t have to, and that’s not your job, but if you’d like to, please feel free.) If you have any other posts you think I should add to my list of resources, please let me know.
Thanks for reading!