With roots in more than 20 countries, Asian Americans make up one of the most diverse groups in the United States. Yet, pop culture depictions sometimes fail to reflect the depth of the Asian American experience, often neglecting smaller communities and ethnicities within the diaspora to focus instead on larger, more established populations. This Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, we're spotlighting books by acclaimed Asian American authors such as Christina Soontornvat and Sheba Karim as well as a few others. These books speak to the often overlooked parts of Asian America and the importance of being seen in the books we read.
The Bad Muslim Discount by Syed M Masood
The book begins in the mid-1990s when Anvar Faris’ parents — disturbed by increasing fundamentalism around them — decide to immigrate to the United States from Pakistan. At the same time, thousands of miles away in Iraq, an adolescent girl named Faqwa is also getting ready to move to the United States with her father under much more tragic and complicated circumstances. Following both characters over the course of 25 years, the two unexpectedly meet as adults in California.
A Good True Thai by Sunisa Manning
Sunisa Manning’s “A Good True Thai” gives readers an in-depth look at the intensity of the student movement of the 1970s in Thailand through the eyes of three twenty-somethings with very different backgrounds and life experiences. The sumptuous details immerse you in life in Bangkok in the tumultuous ‘70s. This story of friendship and betrayal is startlingly relevant to both the current political situation in Thailand, and the fight for democracy and voting rights that is happening right now in the United States.
Afterparties: Stories by Anthony Veasna So
The literary world was stunned by the news in December that Cambodian American writer Anthony Veasna So had died unexpectedly at the age of 28, just months before the highly anticipated debut of his first book. Over the course of his short career, So had developed a reputation for creating sharply observed stories about the Cambodian American experience, many of which drew from his family’s own history as Vietnam War-era refugees. In August, Ecco will release “Afterparties,” a collection of short stories by So that wrestles with the immigrant and queer experiences in touching and unexpected ways.
Adobo and Arsenic by Mia P. Manansala
Lila Macapagal, the lead character in Mia P. Mansala’s funny new mystery is going through a rough patch. She’s recently had to move back to her hometown after a bad breakup left her reeling and she’s also been tasked with helping to save her Tita Rosie’s Filipino restaurant. Things go from bad to worse when Lila’s high school boyfriend — now a food critic with a grudge against Tita Rosie— suddenly drops dead while dining. It’s now up to Lila to clear her own name and to find out what really happened. As an added bonus for readers, Manansala includes recipes for classic Filipino dishes like chicken adobo so that they can recreate Tita Rosie’s cuisine at home.
Every Day Is A Gift by Tammy Duckworth
The new memoir by Senator Tammy Duckworth takes readers from the Illinois Democrat’s childhood in Southeast Asia as the child of a Thai Chinese mother and white American father to the devastating injury she experienced as a helicopter pilot during the Iraq War and her present position in the Senate. This memoir doesn’t hold back while showing us how resilient and strong the human spirit is. Senator Duckworth is unquestionably a hero, but it’s the beautiful tributes to the other unsung heroes in her life that will leave you in tears.
Olive Witch by Abeer Hoque
One of the most memorable memoirs Karim has read in recent years is “Olive Witch” by the Bangladeshi American writer and photographer Abeer Hoque. Born in Nigeria to Bangladeshi parents, Hoque moved to Pittsburgh with her family as a teenager. Karim said she was particularly struck by the book’s openness. It talks about moving to America as a teenager and also talks in a very honest way about mental health issues and other experiences.
Eyes That Kiss in the Corner by Joanna Ho with illustrations by Dung Ho
The book is about a young Asian girl who, upon realizing that her eyes look different from everyone in her class, learns how to embrace her eyes and those of her mother, grandmother and other family members.
Amrita Sher-Gil: Rebel with a Paintbrush by Anita Vachharajani
A new picture book about the Indian and Hungarian painter Amrita Sher-Gil, who was renowned for her portraits in the 1930s.
Finding Junie Kim by Ellen Oh
The latest book by We Need Diverse Books co-founder Ellen Oh was inspired by the author’s mother’s experiences as a child growing up in wartorn Korea. Main character Junie Kim is a modern-day middle schooler who is struggling to process things after she encounters racism at school. After learning about her grandparents' experiences growing up during the Korean War, Junie learns how to draw on her inner resilience and speak up.
Amina’s Song by Hena Khan
Shortly before the release of her popular 2017 middle grade novel “Amina’s Voice,” author Hena Khan told NBC News that she hoped “girls from all backgrounds find a friend in Amina, especially those who may not have met a Muslim before.” Khan’s latest release “Amina’s Song” is a follow up to Amina’s story and was released earlier this spring.
A Thousand Questions by Saadia Faruqi
Two girls from two very different worlds strike up an unlikely friendship in “A Thousand Questions” by Saadia Faruqi. When Mimi is sent to Karachi to stay with her grandparents for the summer, she isn’t happy. The Pakistani American middle schooler is more interested in finding the father she hasn’t seen in years, even though she is not quite sure how to do so. But it’s at her grandparents' home that Mimi meets Sakina, the daughter of her family’s cook who has a secret of her own. The two girls decide to team up and help each other throughout a summer of discovery.
Source: NBC News by Lakshmi Ghandi, Shop TODAY May 18, 2021.
Cinco de Mayo is a traditional Mexican holiday with a fascinating history—but perhaps even more interesting is the fact that it's now become more popular in the United States than in Mexico. The holiday commemorates the Mexican army's victory over France at the Battle of Puebla in 1862, but it's primarily celebrated in Puebla, which is just one of Mexico's 31 states. So how did the holiday come to be such a large celebration in America?
After the Mexican Civil War in 1915, many Mexican people came to the United States and settled in the southern states. When they came to America, they brought with them their customs, traditions, and holidays—including Cinco de Mayo.
So the American people began celebrating Cinco de Mayo alongside their Mexican neighbors, but oftentimes they didn't really understand what they were celebrating; to them it was just a fun celebration of Mexican culture. Over the last hundred or so years, the holiday has taken off in America, with many people using it as an excuse to eat tacos and drink margaritas, rather than celebrating what the holiday actually stands for.
If you've celebrated this way in the past, don't sweat it: Take this as an opportunity to learn more about the history of the holiday and plan a more appropriate celebration this year.
1. Share the Real Story
Many Americans are quick to celebrate with tacos and margaritas without understanding the cultural significance of the holiday. Before partaking in any celebrations, take a few minutes to learn about the holiday and educate others you're celebrating with. "Changing stereotypes is something that we need help with, and if you do your part, we can share how awesome the truth behind Cinco de Mayo is," Sandoval says.
2. Support Mexican Businesses
While there are plenty of chain restaurants that offer Cinco de Mayo deals, Sandoval suggests supporting locally instead: Skip the Taco Bell drive-thru and order carry-out from a local Mexican-owned business in your area. "Whether it's your local Mexican Restaurant, or a local Mexican pottery store, supporting small business owners helps not just your local economy but it helps to support the Mexicans who's culture you enjoy celebrating," she says.
3. Support Mexican Arts and Museums
This holiday isn't just about the food! "So often we dismiss the value of true Mexican artesanías," Sandoval says. "If you have a local art gallery, museum, or artist, show up and support those artists and museums that are honoring Mexican history and culture." If you're not familiar with any in your area, a quick internet search can help you find local venues.
4. Eat the Food!
It's important to make sure you're celebrating Mexican heritage and not treating the day as just an excuse to go out for margaritas—but food is such a large part of the Mexican culture, that it can be one of the best (and tastiest!) ways to celebrate. Order carry-out at a local restaurant, or try making your own at home. Sandoval recommends Mole Poblano, a spicy and delicious traditional Mexican dish that originates from the city of Puebla, or Enchiladas Poblanas that are made with poblano chiles.
5. Create A Cinco De Mayo Playlist
Tune into the hottest Mexican musical artists using Amazon Music Unlimited or Spotify. Find a playlist that already exists or create your own. This is a great way to have some seriously fun music in the background while also supporting Mexican musicians at the same time!
6. Set Out Some Festive Decor
Hang some papel picado, set up streamers, go crazy! There are plenty of ways to decorate your home for Cinco de Mayo while still respecting Mexican culture—Just think or do some research before you toss sombreros everywhere. If you’re looking for generally cheerful, colorful decorations, the Auihiay 32-Piece Fiesta Party Decorations Kit is a great option.
7. Cook Your Own Mexican-Inspired Recipe
If you’d rather create your own fiesta dishes, try out some classic Mexican-inspired recipes. This is a fun way to get in the kitchen and make a delicious meal that also celebrates Mexican culture. Try researching some authentic recipes, too, if you want to really lean into the day. You might be surprised just how much you love traditional Mexican cuisine.
8. Learn Some Traditional Mexican Dance Moves
Take some time—maybe while listening to that Cinco de Mayo playlist you just made—to learn some traditional Mexican dance moves. Jarabe Tapatío (the Mexican Hat Dance) or La Conquista (which narrates the story of the Spanish conquest) are good places to start. Or, if you’d rather just sit on your couch, you can always watch videos of the dances as well. We reccomend the Los Voladores de Papantla dance, where participants scale a 30-foot pole. (!!!)
9. Make A Margarita Bar
Break out the margarita glasses, some margarita mix, your fruits of choice and (of course) some tequila. Set out all the ingredients and let everyone in your household design their own ideal margarita. From strawberry and mango to pineapple and blueberry, there’s no limit to the fun combinations you can create for a night filled with margaritas. BTW, if you’re low on supplies, the Thoughtfully Skinny Margarita Set is the perfect all-in-one buy.
10. Have A Zoom Fiesta
If you don’t have people to celebrate with at home—or even if you do—gather your friends on a group Zoom call, set some fun Zoom backgrounds and have a margarita toast. You can play some fun music, create a Mexican-themed drinking game or just chat while eating Mexican food. Cinco de Mayo is better celebrated with others—even if it’s virtually.
11. DIY A Piñata
If you’re feeling a little crafty, why not try making your own piñata? You just need cardboard, poster board, tissue paper, glue and tape for this easy and fun DIY. Plus, once it’s created, you can fill it with candy and let everyone in your home take a stab at breaking it.
12. Learn About The History Of Cinco De Mayo
Take some time this Cinco de Mayo to learn about why it’s celebrated. Sure, this might not sound like a fun party activity, but it totally can be. You can create a trivia drinking game out of it or watch videos that explain the history in an entertaining way. Knowing the history behind Cinco de Mayo can help you celebrate the holiday in a thoughtful and educated way (that definitely still includes tequila).
Sources: Better Homes & Gardens by Emily VanSchmus March 4, 2021 and StyleCaster by Maggie Griswold April 30, 2020.