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So many different stories await discovery and exploration for Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month. The AAPI umbrella term encompasses cultures from all of Asia, as well as the Pacific Islands of Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia. The Penn Libraries’ recommendations for books and DVDs to celebrate AAPI heritage reflect the diversity of populations comprised in this group.  

For members of the Penn community who read Mandarin, Erica Lu, Chinese Library Specialist, has some great biography recommendations below about influential Chinese figures. She also selected some of the films that appear on this list. 

You can also kick off the summer break with a fun YA novel recommended by Amanpreet (Aman) Kaur, Community Health & Engineering Librarian. “I read Born Confused in high school and remember it being the first book I read in which the main character is a fellow South Asian American in New Jersey navigating her teen years,” Kaur says. “The book also explores the queer identity of one of the main character's family members.” Learn more about these recommendations and others below – and check out all the picks in person on the first floor of Van Pelt Library. 

Note: Most of the descriptions below are collected from publishers and edited for brevity and clarity. 


  • A Nail the Evening Hangs On
    In her debut poetry collection, Monica Sok illuminates the experiences of Cambodian diaspora and reflects on America’s role in escalating the genocide in Cambodia. Driven by myth-making and fables, and fueled by collective memories, the poems explore the liminal space, the in-betweenness of diaspora, in which younger generations must reconcile their history and create new rituals.  
  • Born Confused
    Teenager Dimple Lala is the protagonist of what’s described as “the first ever South Asian American coming-of-age/YA novel.” Dimple feels “not quite Indian, and not quite American” as she tries to forge her own identity, resisting the traditions of her parents and the peer pressure to fit in. Amanpreet (Aman) Kaur, Community Health & Engineering Librarian, recommends this book, which recently celebrated 20 years of publication. 
  • Ka Mooolelo Hawaii: The History of Hawaii
    The first Hawaiian history written and published in Hawaii, and the first from a Hawaiian viewpoint. It was originally published in 1838 as a cooperative effort among Lahainaluna students and their instructor. While the history itself is in the Hawaiian language, an English introduction explains the importance of the publication. 
  • Liang Sicheng yu Lin Huiyin (Liang Sicheng and Lin Huiyin)
    This biography tells the story of a famous Chinese couple, who were also Penn alumni. After studying architecture at Penn in the 1920s, they went on to become “the father of Chinese architecture” and the first female architect in modern China. Erica Lu, Chinese Library Specialist, notes, “They are a very well-known couple in China as scholars and architects. Their stories were adapted into popular novels and movies.” 
  • Su Shi Zhuan
    Su Shi is widely regarded as one of the most accomplished figures in classical Chinese literature. During the Song dynasty, he was active as a poet, essayist, calligrapher and painter. Many of his poems are still popularly cited in literature, movies, TV shows and Chinese people’s daily conversations. Lu recommends this biography, which is written in Mandarin. 
  • War Baby/Love Child: Mixed Race Asian American Art
    This collection explores changing Asian American cultures through a collection of essays, artworks, and interviews at the intersection of the scholarly fields of critical mixed race studies and contemporary art. Artwork and interviews touch on a variety of topics as Vietnamese Amerasians, Korean transracial adoptions, and multiethnic Hawaii, combining first-person perspectives and a wider scholarly context. 


  • Children of Invention
    After being evicted, hardworking single mom Elaine Cheng tries to maintain a normal life for her two young children. They squat in a Boston apartment as Elaine juggles a number of jobs, but the kids are left to fend for themselves when their mother gets embroiled in a pyramid scheme and disappears. 
  • Fruit Fly
    When a performance artist moves into an artists' commune in San Francisco to work on her latest show and search for her biological mother, she soon realizes she's surrounded by "family" in this musical from H.P. Mendoza.  
  • Island Soldier
    This feature documentary interweaves the personal stories of Micronesian soldiers serving in the US military — who die at an alarmingly high rate per capita — and the experiences of their families back home. The film captures a tightly knit island community which is a microcosm of economic, social and political change, as the high price for military service in a foreign nation’s wars cuts deep. 
  • More Than a Face in the Crowd: The Fifty-Year Career of Asian-American Actress Jane Chung
    A filmmaker explores the life of her 100-year-old great-aunt, Jane Chung, an actress who made a career for herself at a time when Asian Americans faced widespread racism in Hollywood. Jane has had parts in more than 50 films and TV shows including Chinatown, When Harry Met Sally, M.A.S.H. and I Love Lucy, yet most of her roles are uncredited. 
  • My Crasy Life
    Documentary and scripted drama meet in this intense, introspective, and expectation-shredding treatment of the lives of Samoan street gang members in Long Beach, California. This probing look at a closed community with its own rules, rituals, and language won a special jury prize at Sundance. 
  • Shan he gu ren (Mountains May Depart)
    At once an intimate drama and a decades-spanning epic that leaps from the recent past to the present to the speculative near-future, Jia's new film is an intensely moving study of how China's economic boom and the culture of materialism it has spawned has affected the bonds of family, tradition, and love. 
  • Spirited away
    A young girl, Chihiro, finds herself trapped in a strange new world of spirits. When her parents undergo a mysterious transformation, she must call on the courage she never knew she had to free herself and return her family to the outside world. An unforgettable story, brimming with creativity, this will take viewers on a journey beyond imagination.