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Featured Books: Asian American & Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month

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Today, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are one of the most diverse demographic communities in the United States. According to the Pew Research Center, 20 million Americans trace their roots to more than 20 countries in East and Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent. Another 1.4 million people are of Pacific Islander ancestry, which includes descendants of Native Hawaiians, Samoans, Chamorros, Fijians, Palauans and Tongans. Each of these individual communities has their own unique histories, cultures, and languages.

What holds Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders together as a community? Individuals have a wide variety of opinions, but one way to think about it is to recognize that the phrase “Asian American” was born out of a radical political movement that began in Berkeley, California in 1968.  “'Asian American' — rather than describing our personally felt identities or describing our family histories — expresses an idea,” says Daryl Maeda, a professor of Asian American studies at the University of Colorado, Boulder and author of the book Rethinking the Asian American Movement.  “And that idea is that as Asian Americans, we have to work together to fight for social justice and equality, not only for ourselves, but for all of the people around us.”

This month’s Featured Books list was put together by Peter Van Do, director of Penn’s Pan-Asian American Community House, students, and our library staff. The following titles reflect the diversity of experiences among Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and tackle questions of what it means to be part of the wider AAPI community. In a moment when attacks on members of the AAPI community are on the rise, recognizing these unique and varied voices is more important than ever.


  • The Gangster We Are All Looking For by lê thị diễm thúy
    In this lyrical but restrained debut novel, a child bears witness to her Vietnamese parents’ struggle with the trauma of war, loss, and immigration. 
  • Minor Feelings by Cathy Park Hong
    These thought-provoking essays fuse the personal with the historical for an insightful view of the Asian American experience.
  • M. Butterfly by David Henry Hwang
    David Henry Hwang’s Tony-award winning play tells the moving story of the relationship between a French diplomat and a Chinese opera singer.
  • Good Girls Marry Doctors : South Asian American Daughters on Obedience and Rebellion edited by Piyali Bhattacharya
    This inspiring anthology of reflections by South Asian American women explores the challenges and dichotomies of fulfilling others’ expectations while staying true to oneself. It is edited by a current Artist-in-Residence at Penn’s Creative Writing Program. 
  • We Have Not Stopped Trembling Yet : Letters to My Filipino-Athabascan Family by E. J. R. David
    In a series of brutally honest letters, the author reflects on personal and generational trauma from the effects of colonialism and racism while offering guidance and hope to his children.
  • Still Life With Rice by Helie Lee
    Still Life with Rice chronicles the amazing life of the author’s courageous grandmother, from growing up in Korea during the Japanese occupation, her life during the war, and her eventual immigration to America.
  • The Making of Asian America by Erika Lee
    Using an array of sources across disciplines, historian Erika Lee explores the wide-ranging histories and experiences of Asian Americans.
  • From A Native Daughter by Haunani-Kay Trask
    This provocative essay collection delves into the history of Hawaiian culture and the ill effects of colonialism on the nation and its original inhabitants.
  • Racial Melancholia, Racial Dissociation: On the Social and Psychic Lives of Asian Americans by David L. Eng and Shinhee Han
    Co-written by Penn professor David L. Eng, this book analyzes the effects of immigration, assimilation and racialization on two generations of young adult Asian Americans from the 1990s to the present. 
  • They Called Us Enemy by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, and Steve Scott; illustrated by Harmony Becker
    George Takei’s compelling graphic memoir of his childhood centers on his family’s imprisonment in an American concentration camp during World War II.
  • Bengali Harlem and the Lost Histories of South Asian America by Vivek Bald
    This collection shares the untold stories of early South Asian immigrants in America and their influence on the neighborhoods they came to inhabit.
  • Red and Yellow, Black and Brown: Decentering Whiteness in Mixed Race Studies edited by Joanne L. Rondilla, Rudy P. Guevarra Jr., and Paul Spickard
    A compilation of essays on life as a mixed-race person, this book examines a variety of issues, including identity, marriage, parenting, and a sense of belonging.
  • Hmong musicians in America created by Amy Catlin and Nazir Jairazbhoy
    An entertaining and informative documentary about Laotian music, with demonstrations of and performances on native instruments. This program is also a wonderful reminder of the importance of maintaining and honoring our native traditions.

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