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Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month: Book Talk

Social Science, Philosophy and Religion Department, Central Library,
Four books about Asian Pacific American experience in America

In May, we celebrate one of the fastest-growing racial and ethnic groups in the United States. Asian Pacific American Heritage Month pays tribute to the generations of Asians and Pacific Islanders who have contributed to the success of this country. We are recommending books from the Social Science, Philosophy & Religion department collection which share the voices and stories of this community.

Book cover for Concepcion: An Immigrant Family's Fortunes
Concepcion: An Immigrant Family's Fortunes
Samaha, Albert

In this finalist for a 2021 National Book Critics Circle award, Samaha skillfully blends together multiple storylines into an engrossing narrative: his formative years in America; his mother’s journey to America; tracing his family’s ancestors in the Philippines to an era prior to Spanish rule; the effects of Spanish, and later, American colonialism on his ancestors and the Philippines as a nation; and an examination of the American Dream.

His mother’s family (she was one of eight children in the Concepcion family), were well-to-do in the Philippines but as conditions worsened under Ferdinand Marcos’ rule, the various family members moved to America lured by dreams of stability and opportunity. Samaha relates the sacrifices his mother and relatives made in being the first generation to come to America and the reality that met them when they arrived: his mother worked multiple jobs to support her son; one of his uncles gave up a lucrative singing career in the Philippines to become a baggage handler at San Francisco airport, while another gave up a promising basketball career to become a server at a Sacramento retirement home. Samaha also delves into his upbringing as a Filipino-American and how his “second generation” worldview differs from those of his Filipino elders who immigrated to the United States, and his relatives who still live in the Philippines. Concepcion is an impressive literary contribution to Filipino history and the experiences of the Filipino diaspora in the United States.

Book cover for House of Sticks: A Memoir
House of Sticks: A Memoir
Tran, Ly

In her extraordinary debut memoir, Ly Tran traces her family’s story from war-torn Vietnam to Queens, New York in the 1990s. Spanning her toddler years through college, Tran shares her memories in short, captivating chapters. She vividly describes her family’s harsh immigration experience alongside her own developing American identity. Poverty, unpredictable violence dealt out by her father (a traumatized former South Vietnamese POW), and her own bout with mental health issues are conveyed with nuance and honesty. Tran’s struggle between filial piety and a growing sense of independence is reminiscent of many first generation-American stories. However, Tran’s moving yet unsentimental account, with subtle humor interspersed, is one that won’t be easily forgotten.

Book cover for The Loneliest Americans
The Loneliest Americans
Kang, Jay Caspian

In this insightful, thought-provoking, and poignant work, New York Times staff writer Jay Caspian King explores the roots of the Asian experience in America. Kang doles out the bare facts of the immigration policies in play as artfully as he ties in the experiences of his family. Kang explores the way in which Asian Americans have been excluded or marginalized from the conversations about race and equality in the United States in the past, while also looking at contemporary platforms like Reddit to dissect the narrative about Asian American identity happening in the online communities of today.

In October of 1965, President Lyndon Johnson passed The Hart-Celler Immigration Act, which would remove decades of discriminatory immigration policies which had previously obstructed those immigrating from Asia, Africa, southern and eastern Europe. Johnson assured the public that the bill was not revolutionary and that “It does not affect the lives of millions.” He was wrong. The legislation would open the way for tens of millions to come to America and change the demographics in ways policymakers could never have imagined.

Book cover for Made in China: A Memoir of Love and Labor
Made in China: A Memoir of Love and Labor
Qu, Anna

At 7 years old, Anna Qu was brought from her grandmother's home in rural Wenzhou, China to join her remarried birth mother in Queens, New York. Anna did not speak Mandarin as her step-family did. Only her mother conversed with Qu in Wenzhounese, and then she did so coldly and without the maternal care that Qu wished for. Qu was left to learn English in school on her own and to build a new life within her mother's business, a clothing factory where the "rules at the factory weren't much different from the rules at home."

With little to no guidance, Qu "didn't even understand the frameworks within which [American] people lived, the limits of what they owned." After a disgraceful rebellious act against her mother, Qu was first banished to sleep on an apartment level different from the rest of the family and then was sent back to Wenzhou. Six months later, Qu returned to Queens only to become a worker in her mother's factory. She soon defied her parents again and reported them to child protective services. The mother-daughter relationship continued to deteriorate even as Qu made her way into young womanhood, ultimately earning a master's degree.

This book is written in a propulsive tone, leading the reader into the urgency every young person is fed by—but especially so with Qu, spirited and but with very little family love to gently channel her life force. As Qu establishes herself in the professional world, she also finally finds emotional grounding with her grandmother now immigrated to Queens, there to comfort Anna, big and little.

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