Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, Part Two 

Two weeks ago, we kicked off Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month with a post covering a brief history of the month and some historical and recent struggles within the AAPI community. These struggles show us that as a country, we could be doing more to learn about, support, celebrate, and uplift our Asian American and Pacific Islander populations. One of the best ways we as readers can do this is by sharing and listening to the experiences and stories of these communities, both to celebrate and honor their creativity and joy, and to hear firsthand accounts of their experiences and build empathy.  

One of the ways we can counter stereotypes and narratives about any marginalized community is to read fiction that breaks the mold of those stereotypes and shows the creativity and joy in these communities. For Asian American and Pacific Islander populations, we can read fiction and poetry, watch movies and listen to music, and seek out fun, exciting genres by these authors that show positive representation without focusing solely on marginalization and discrimination. This includes books like Warcross or The Young Elites by Marie Lu, a young adult author who writes Asian heroes in fantastical and dystopian worlds, or like The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo, a historical fiction novel that delves into Malaysian folklore about the afterlife. Books that provide representation and show Asians and Pacific Islanders as heroes and love interests and much more can remind us that everyone, whether they look like us or are very different, can be capable, creative, and heroic in their own right. We often conceptually know this, but reading books with these characters reinforces these truths and makes it easier to see the real people in our communities the same way. 

Similar to how we can read about these marginalized groups being the heroes in their own stories, we can also read fiction this Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in order to build empathy. Some studies have found that reading fiction, and particularly literary fiction, builds empathy for marginalized groups, whether you are already part of that group or not. Literary fiction is especially powerful, as it is much more likely to focus on relationship development and introspective dialogues, which prompts the readers to imagine how characters feel and consider the consequences of events that take place throughout the story. And furthermore, this empathy doesn’t just happen while you’re reading, it can last for weeks or even months after finishing a book! For great literary fiction to pull you in and build empathy, consider books like On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong, or Marriage of a Thousand Lies by SJ Sindu, both novels that overflow with hope, heartbreak, and explorations of what it means to be Asian in America.  

But as much as reading is both a fun pastime and an excellent tool for learning and empathy, we cannot stop there. Building a more empathetic society only goes so far if we don’t use that empathy to improve our treatment of others and work towards a more equitable future. As someone who is not Asian American or Pacific Islander, I can’t intimately understand the unique struggles that the AAPI community faces, but I can learn about and listen to those in this community. Listening can help those of us without that personal understanding start to empathize with our AAPI friends and neighbors who might be facing discrimination or isolation, recognize the pain that they might feel after being the victim of a microaggression, and intervene or disrupt those instances wherever we see them.  

Recognition and empathy aren’t the only solutions, but they’re a great first step.  

Check out a few other great fiction books that celebrate creativity and foster empathy here