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Davis, California

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Books and TV shows that celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) heritage

Members of the AAPI community share their recommendations of media that share AAPI stories

In a continued effort to celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) culture, community members have compiled their recommendations of books and TV shows created by and about AAPI individuals.

“The Making of Asian America” by Erika Lee

Trisha Talla, a second-year biochemistry and molecular biology double major and the community service coordinator for the Filipinx Association for Health Careers (FAHC), recommended this account of Asian American history. It details how generations of Asian immigrants and their descendants have impacted Asian American life, from the arrival of the first Asians in the U.S. to the present.

“I highly recommend reading this book, as Lee examines the diverse backgrounds of a bunch of Asian Americans, including Chinese, Japanese, Korean and other  ancestral families,” Talla said. “She also talks about the different experiences, obstacles and types of oppression that they face in the United States.”

“The Ocean in the School: Pacific Islander Students Transforming Their University” by Rick Bonus

According to Katherine Parpana, the interim director of the API Retention Initiative, this book is a collection of stories about the experiences of Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander students attending university.

“This is an important record of stories if we are to understand the resources our scholars need in order to thrive in school,” Parpana said.

“The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down” by Anne Fadiman

This true story takes a look at Western medicine through the lens of Hmong culture as it relates to childbirth and postpartum care. A family’s daughter, Lia Lee, is diagnosed with epilepsy, and the Hmong and American cultures handle this part of her identity differently.

“I think this is so relevant to many of our experiences, as we grapple with both our Asian [or] Pasifika cultures and identities in addition to our American ones, especially in times of great difficulty,” Parpana said.

“The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down” was also one of the UC Davis Campus Community Book Project (CCBP) books. The author, Lee’s sister and Lee’s former doctors came to speak at a CCBP event. Karpana noted that this book is also significant because of its setting in Merced, which is one of few ethnic enclaves of Hmong folks.

“Dear America, Notes of an Undocumented Citizen” by Jose Antonio Vargas

This memoir details Antonio Vargas’s experience as an undocumented immigrant who came to the U.S. from the Philippines at the age of 12. Parpana noted the relevance of this story, as the Asian undocumented population is 1.7 million, according to a 2015 Center for Migration Studies survey, with California having the largest population.

“At its core, this is a story about keeping a family together,” Parpana said. “I believe so many of us strive to do this in so many ways and sometimes we must grapple with barriers like government paperwork in order to simply get by.”

“Joy Luck Club” by Amy Tan

This novel focuses on four Chinese immigrant mothers and their four American-born daughters in San Francisco. The mothers meet to play Mahjong and form a group called the Joy Luck Club. Structured similar to a mahjong game, the book has four parts divided into four sections.

Parpana stated that “Joy Luck Club” is one of the only books centering around Asian Americans that was offered in K-12 education. It was also the first major film centering around Asian Americans, released in 1993, since the 1960s and not again until 2020 with “Minari.” 

“This book is important in understanding the lack of diversity in film and media in general and our ability to tell our own stories,” Parpana said. “In this case, stories about pain, what it means to heal and how we pass those lessons down to our children as a form of cultural wealth.”

“This Bridge Called My Back: Writings” by Radical Women of Color 

“This Bridge Called My Back” is a collection of poems, essays, art and other written works by women of color. It features AAPI women artists, educators, poets and practitioners. The book emphasizes the way multiple identities intersect and impact the experiences of women of color.

“I selected this book because of its intersectional and feminist approach to deconstructing the inequities women face, including Pacific Islander and Asian women.” Parpana said.

“Gameboys” (2020), dir. Ivan Andrew Payawal

Elijah Punzal, an intern for the Bulosan Center for Filipino Studies, recommended the web series “Gameboys,” which is available on both YouTube and Netflix. The series takes place in the Philippines during the COVID-19 pandemic and follows the growing relationship of two gamer boys, Cairo and Gavreel.

“I have never had the opportunity to really watch queer work that is from the Philippines,” Punzal said. “I think once I was able to find it, remove my sense of cultural displacement and shame and fully enjoy it, I found it super meaningful.”

“Gaya Sa Pelikula” (2020), dir. Jaime Habac Jr. 

This web series follows the story of Karl who is forced to live on his own and struggles to become financially independent. He seeks help from his neighbor to move in with him to pay his monthly rent, and the two develop feelings for each other.

“I think these shows are very beautiful in the way that they both address the social-political climate of queerness in the Philippines but never use queerness as a weapon,” Punzal said. “The conversations that they have are very authentic, in my opinion, compared to older incarnations of media from the Philippines that tried to accomplish a similar thing.”

Written by: Liana Mae Atizado— features@theaggie.org


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