May is Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month! To celebrate, we’ve put together a selection of books written by and about women of Asian and Pacific Islander heritages in the United States. Learn about the lives of women coming from these ethnic backgrounds – in their own words.
What does “Asian/Pacific” mean? This is a term used for people with ancestral origins in any of the following areas: the Far East, Southeast Asia, Indian subcontinent or Pacific Islands (ex. Korea, China, India, Japan, the Philippine Islands and Samoa).
Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston (b. 1934) wrote the classic autobiographical novel Farewell to Manzanar, a true story of Japanese American experience during and after the World War II internment (1973). Houston was born in the United States, and she is a “Nisei,” which refers to a child of a Japanese immigrant. Written with her husband James D. Houston, Farewell to Manzanar details her personal and family experiences with the Manzanar concentration camp during the United States government’s imprisonment of Japanese Americans during World War II.
“Writing [my story] has been a way of coming to terms with the impact those years have had on my entire life. … [This] is not a political history. This is a story, or a web of stories – my own, my father’s, my family’s – tracing a few paths, out of the multitude of paths that led up to and away from the experience of the internment.” (From Farewell to Manzanar)
Maxine Hong Kingston (b. 1940) is a Chinese-American writer and academic. She was born in Stockton, California to Chinese immigrant parents. She has written many books inspired by her experiences, including The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood among Ghosts (1976), praised for its discussions of womanhood, ethnicity, and social oppression. Her works have strongly contributed to feminist movements both locally in the U.S. and globally.
“In a time of destruction, create something: a poem, a parade, a community, a school, a vow, a moral principle; one peaceful moment.” – Maxine Hong Kingston
Jhumpa Lahiri (b. 1967) was born in London to Bengali Indian emigrants from West Bengal; she later moved to the United States for her undergraduate education at Barnard College. In 2000, she won the Pulitzer Prize for her short story collection, Interpreter of Maladies, which threads together stories with the theme of Indians and Indian Americans conflicted between their heritage and their lives in the ‘New World.’ She also wrote The Namesake, which was adapted into a movie of the same name in 2007. You can even check out Interpreter of Maladies and The Namesake in one combined book through BCLS!
“It is a magical thing for a handful of words, artfully arranged, to stop time. To conjure a place, a person, a situation, in all its specificity and dimensions. To affect us and alter us, as profoundly as real people and things do.” – Jhumpa Lahari
Amy Tan (b. 1952) was born in Oakland, California to Chinese immigrant parents who left China during the Chinese Civil War (1936–1950). Author of the bestselling novel Joy Luck Club (1989), Tan writes about her experiences as a Chinese-American woman, as well as various topics such as mother-daughter relationships. She has written many other novels (such as The Kitchen God's Wife and The Bonesetter's Daughter), as well as nonfiction essays (The Opposite of Fate: A Book of Musings) and two children’s books (The Moon Lady and Sagwa, the Chinese Siamese Cat).
“Writing is an extreme privilege but it's also a gift. It's a gift to yourself and it's a gift of giving a story to someone” – Amy Tan
Loung Ung is a Cambodian-American human rights activist and author of several bestselling memoirs chronicling her childhood in Cambodia. In her first memoir, First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers, Ung details her perspective during the Cambodian genocide (1975–1979) carried out by the nationalist group Khmer Rouge. The Cambodian genocide resulted in between 1.5 and 3 million deaths, and ended in 1979 by Vietnamese invasion. Ung covers her life growing up in this era throughout her coming-of-age and emigration from Cambodia to the United States.
“Memoirs bring the numbers of casualties to a human face. We often hear of about how many hundreds of thousands, the millions killed in Darfur, Bosnia, Rwanda, etc… These are big numbers. A memoir brings it to a face, a story, a father, a mother, a daughter, a family. A memoir connects the humanity in us, which is a great way to promote peace in our world.”
– Loung Ung
Explore the lists below for other great items for Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month, including many movies and children’s books! Stop by any BCLS location, check out a few items and learn more about Asian/Pacific heritages and ethnic diversity throughout history – or, herstory. Celebrate Asian/Pacific American history at your library!