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An APIDA Reading Guide

Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

May is Asian Pacific Islander Desi American (APIDA) Heritage Month. To celebrate, Culturas will be spotlighting the community’s culture and stories. To further explore Asian American voices and storytelling, here’s a list of five great books by APIDA authors: 

  • Freshwater

Freshwater is the autobiographical debut novel by Igbo Tamil writer and video artist Akwaeke Emezi. The book tells the story of Ada, a strange, but brilliant child born to a southern Nigerian family. Ada develops separate selves within her as she grows up and eventually when she heads to America for college, a traumatic event leads Ada’s alters to take over. Narrated by multiple perspectives, Emezi speaks of pain, joy, and coming into one’s own. All in all, the sentences in Freshwater are poetry that comes together to tell a story about Emezi’s complicated, yet graceful construction of identity.

  • On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is the debut, semi-autobiographical novel by Vietnamese American poet Ocean Vuong. The book is written in the form of a letter from a Vietnamese American son to his illiterate mother and in this intimate work, Vuong outlines a heart-wrenching portrait of a family. When the book’s speaker, Little Dog, learns of his family’s hidden history, it leads him to more and more self-discovery as he finds stories of his mom’s life, explores his sexuality, and goes through periods of intense reflection. Vuong tells the visceral story of searching for one’s own story through immense love tenderness, making for an unforgettable read.

  • We Have Always Been Here: A Queer Memoir

We Have Always Been Here: A Queer Memoir is a memoir by Pakistani Canadian photographer, writer, and activist Samra Habib. In the book, Habib details the arranged marriage she was expected to have and refused. That refusal then launches her into a search of the person she was meant to be. With admirable honesty and short, but impactful sentences, Habib has given readers a map to self-love with this bravely personal book, as it takes readers on her journey through queerness, art, faith, forgiveness and eventually, her safe space in the queer Muslim community she’s able to find in Toronto.

  • Pachinko

Pachinko is the second novel by Korean American author Min Jin Lee. The book is a work of historical fiction following a Korean family first in Japanese-occupied Korea and then Japan itself. Lee details the family’s lives and struggles through four generations, as she details the ways that they–and all Koreans–were discriminated against in Japanese society and made to work non-traditional jobs, go into a life of crime or, in the case of this family, take up pachinko, a form of gambling, and all that comes with it. Overall, Lee tells a story of sacrifice, love, and all the ways that a family survives through Pachinko’s strong, complex characters and moving writing. 

  • Pidgin Eye

Pidgin Eye is a collection of 35 years’ worth of poetry by poet and visual artist Joe Balaz, who is of Hawai’ian, Slovakian and Irish ancestry. Writing in Pidgin (Hawai’i Creole English), Balaz’s writing serves as a tribute to Hawai’ian culture and history with its dynamic lyricism, humor, and vulnerability. Through Pidgin Eye, Balaz challenges colonial myths, honors the culture’s strength and spirituality, and reclaims Pidgin–a language often dismissed as “improper English” and is widely stigmatized–for the important and beautiful language it has always been.

Aarohi Sheth
Aarohi Sheth
Aarohi Sheth is a writer + artist originally from Houston, TX, currently pursuing a degree in journalism at the University of Southern California. She hopes to keep creating interdisciplinary work that pushes boundaries, empowers underrepresented communities and generates empathy in others.
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