Painful, scary, worrisome and difficult. These are a few of the many words that come to mind when I think about some of the recent events in this country. This has been a time of challenges for all people, but it has been especially hard for our Asian American and Pacific Islander brothers, sisters, friends and family. This year, the AAPI community has endured increased violence and hatred stemming from a profound lack of understanding, something that is felt by many of our nation’s immigrants.
Diversity is embedded in the fabric of our nation, and it is something to be embraced and celebrated. As a citizen who was born in the United States to parents who were also born here, the plight of immigrants is something that I empathize with but can never fully understand. One way I try to learn about and appreciate other cultures is through books.
I recently read a piece in The New York Times by acclaimed author Min Jin Lee called “A Lifetime of Reading Taught Min Jin Lee How to Write About Her Immigrant World.” Lee and her family immigrated to Queens from Korea when she was 7 years old. Not only did her local library, and the books and librarians that occupied it, help her to learn English, but the books themselves taught her a great deal about the menagerie of lives led. When discussing her writing struggles, Lee explains “It occurred to me that I had to write about the disgraced, the poor and the earnest strivers of Queens, and I would be able to tell their stories not because I was a writer but because I was a reader.”
Books are powerful tools; they can help us develop empathy and understanding as they transport us into worlds we never knew existed. Next month is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and I encourage us all to follow in Min Jin Lee’s footsteps and, as she puts it, “read promiscuously” by trying something new. Check out these memoir and essay, fiction, and poetry lists to find your next great read, and learn more about Asian American Pacific Islander experiences and culture.