For those of you who don’t know, May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. And, fun fact, I didn’t realize until very recently that included me. I’m half Palestinian (second-generation American). And I’ve always said I’m “Middle Eastern” – which is technically still true – I just didn’t realize the majority of the Middle East is technically in Western Asia. Somehow it didn’t click when my 23andMe came back 49.7% Western Asian & North African (only 0.3% of that is African – Sudanese – the rest is Levantine). Probably because I am so pale I have a hard time finding makeup that is light enough for my skin.
So that was a fun thing to discover, even though I feel a little weird describing myself as Asian because I feel my experience has been so different from that culturally. I have definitely not had to deal with anti-Asian racism (though I recognize this is a massive issue and it makes me really sad and angry on behalf of the people who are discriminated against – violently or otherwise). But I do think it was important to realize that the definition of Asian or Asian American is a lot broader than I thought it was, and I think it’s important to explore all cultures a little more deeply.
So today, I thought I’d share some recommendations if you’re looking to read some books by Asian American or Pacific Islander authors this month
Know My Name by Chanel Miller
Chanel Miller is the daughter of an American father and Chinese mother. She is known for being the (then) anonymous victim of a sexual assault on Stanford’s campus and her subsequent Jane Doe letter in which she describes her experience. In this memoir, she reclaims her story and her name. It is one of the best – if not the best – memoirs I have read and it left a huge impact on me. I don’t think this story is particularly about the Asian American experience, but it is extremely insightful into the female experience in America.
How Much of These Hills is Gold by C. Pam Zhang
I did not think I was going to like this book. At all. Solely on the basis that westerns are not my thing. At least I thought they weren’t until I read this (and then watched News of the World, which definitely helped sell me on westerns). This is by a Chinese American author, and is about two children of Chinese immigrants orphaned during the Gold Rush and then become outlaws. Which is awesome. But one of them is also trans, which just made it so much more interesting. I was so impressed by how much diversity the author fit into a historical story without making it seem like it was out of place. It felt so natural. I loved this story. I really need to read more from C. Pam Zhang.
The Impossible Girl by Lydia King
I had to share another diverse historical fiction (because they make me really happy), this one by a Korean American author. This one is about Cora Lee, the daughter of a Chinese immigrant who, in 1850 is working as a resurrectionist – she digs up dead bodies to sell them to medical schools. But what’s will bring in more money to support her family are the bodies with anomalies, the bodies that people like P.T. Barnum want to put on display. And everyone is looking for the legendary girl with two hearts, and they’re willing to kill. None of them have any idea that girl is the ressurrectionist known as Jacob Lee, or that he’s actually Cora in men’s clothing.
A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum
I just had to throw in a book by a Palestinian American author, and I loved this one. My experience has been pretty Americanized, but I recognized so many cultural things in this book and that was really cool. If you couldn’t tell by the title, this book has very strong feminist themes. It is a multigenerational story about women finding their place in the world, both as Palestinians and Americans. It was kind of heartbreaking, but really beautiful. I really loved it. And it made me want some zaa’tar pies and maamoul cookies (which, contrary to what is featured in this book, are made with dates, not figs).
The Bone People by Keri Hulme
I couldn’t go this whole post without also including one book by a Pacific Islander author. I read this a while ago for some sort of reading challenge where the prompt was to read a book set in Oceana. I picked this one because it was a Booker winner, and the cover was kind of cool. That was my criteria. But I’m so glad I gave this a chance, because I loved it. It’s about a mysterious young boy who washes up from a shipwreck, and his adoptive father. It also features a character who is asexual and aromantic, which is really cool since this book is nearly forty years old, and I don’t think that was really mainstream in the 80s. If you’re looking for a really unique read, check this one out.
Next up on my TBR
If you want to know what I am planning on reading this month, check out my Asian Readathon 2021 TBR. But here are a few others I have recently added to my reading list:
Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning by Kathy Park Hong
I realized recently that while I do read a lot of books by Asian authors, not many of them address the Asian American experience. Which is something I do want to read more of. And what better way to do that than with a memoir. I’ve heard great things about this. It sounds like something I might love, even though it is slightly out of my comfort zone.
Crying in H Mart: A Memoir by Michelle Zauner
I know almost nothing about this, other than that it is an Asian American memoir and it’s been getting incredible reviews. I think I’m just in the mood for memoirs right now, but either way I’m excited to read more by Asian American authors.
Are you reading anything in particular for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month? Do you have any books to add to this list?