In case you have not refreshed your culture-to-month matching skillz, May is Asian Pacific American History month Much to debate around setting aside a month a year to particular ethnic groups, but as long as folks don’t see these interactions as ways to avoid dealing with deeper issues of race and culture throughout the rest of the year – “What, we can’t be racist, we celebrated Asian American History Month!” – then I’m cool with it.

A few years ago I offered up a movie list in honor of APA History month, and while I’ll need to update that list soon, I think it is still pretty good.  So this year I have decided to put together a list of books that I think give an interesting glimpse into Asian Pacific American culture.

Now before I get started, let me acknowledge that this is not intended to be a definitive list. These are books that I have actually read myself and are meant to be a readable TASTE of APA culture. These are also all books that you could take on vacation and read while curled up by the fire or lounging by the pool.  Yes, I was an Asian American Studies major in college, so I know there are PLENTY of other books out there that will touch people in different ways that I have never even heard of . . . so please feel free to add your own suggestions to the APAHM Reading List on and if you want more than books: movies, music, bloggers, etc. please see my hub post, Resources for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

Little Manila is in the Heart - Cover2014 UPDATE – Reading List for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

ADDITION: Little Manila Is in the Heart: The Making of the Filipina/o American Community in Stockton, California (2013) by  Dawn Bohulano Mabalon 

Dr. Mabalon is a friend of mine as we come from the same hometown. I was privy to help pre-read a chapter of this book during the editing process, and while not a book for the lazy reader, this will no doubt become a standard in Asian American Studies classes. That said, this is more than the telling of the history of a particular Filipino American community, it provides some keen insight into the immigrant experience, community organizing and the rhythms of a people building home in the United States.

HONORABLE MENTION: Making Paper Cranes: Toward an Asian American Feminist Theology (2012) by Mihee Kim-Kort

American Born Chinese Cover2012 UPDATE – Reading List for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

ADDITION: American Born Chinese (2008) by Gene Luen Yang

Now used as a textbook in many schools, this graphic novel gives an interested account of growing up Chinese. While I didn’t identify with everything, there was some good “inside the family” nuance presented, helpful social commentary on race and an overall joy to read.

HONORABLE MENTION: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (2011) by Amy Chua

2010 ORIGINAL POST – Reading List for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

Secret IdentitiesSecret Identities: The Asian American Superhero Anthology by Jeff Yang, Perry Shen, Keith Chow and Jerry Ma– I am not a big comic reader, but the content and tone of this REALLY got me. If you want to get into the heads of today’s Gen X Asian American – at least those who like comics – this is the place to be.

Honor Thy Children: One Family’s Journey to Wholeness by Molly Fumia – Fair warning, this true story is a tear-jerker as a Japanese American family deals with issues of raising sons in todays world.

InvAsian: Growing Up Asian and Female in the United States by Evelyn Rodrigues – Raw, powerful and honest words from young women as they express the complexities of their lives.

America Is in the Heart: A Personal History by Carlos Bulosan – This is THE book to read in terms of getting glimpse into Filipino immigrant experience. This is a lovely and honest autobiography of an iconic Filipino poet.

The Racial Middle: Latinos and Asian Americans Living Beyond the Racial Divide by Eileen O,Brien – I reviewed this book last month and this is the most academic of this list, but does a wonderful job at capturing the current racial realties of many Asian Americans.

The Sacred Willow: Four Generations in the Life of a Vietnamese Family by Duong Van Mai Elliott – This is one of those sweeping stories that helps you to get a little deeper into a culture and life experience.


Millicent Min, Girl Genius by Lisa Yee – This is a middle-school book that my eldest daughter read. The subtleties of Asian American life as seen through the eyes of this overachieving girl were well expressed well.

The Forbidden Book: The Philippine-American War in Political Cartoons by Abe Ignacio, Enrique de la Cruz, Jorge Emmanuel, Helen Toribio (pictured)  – This is a great collection of cartoons that were created during this conflict that many American know very little about.  If you can find it, get it.

The Barbarians are Coming by David Wong Louie – This is a delicious romp through the life of a Chinese American young man who comes of age in the 70’s.

The Namesake: A Novel by Jhumpa Lahiri – Recently made into a movie, this does a good job again, at telling a story that gets into some of the nuances of culture without being simple a book about culture.

Here are also other reads suggested by others.

Now I didn’t list Strangers from a Different Shore: A History of Asian Americans by Ronald Takaki but it has been the go-to Asian American studies book for a while now and could easily make the list.  But unlike others, it is not really “fun” reading if you ask me.  Combined with some of the other suggestions here, probably a wonderfully full picture.

Asian American Studies Now: A Critical Reader by Jean Yu-wen Shen Wu and Thomas C. Chen – This looks REALLY good and as a 2010 book obviously recent.
Grace Will Lead Me Home, Albert Cheng’s Story by Del Hayes – Couldn’t find a link for this, but will update it as soon as I do.
Silence by Shusaku Endo from @jadanzzy
Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White by Frank Wu or Asian American Dreams: The Emergence of an American People by Helen Zia from @miheekimkort
And lastly, here is a great post that was sent to me by @mitaliperkins Middle Grade Historical Fiction Set in Asia.
Field of Mirrors: An Anthology of Philippine American Writers – This looks REALLY good!

Once again, if you want more than movies: books, music, etc see my post, Resources for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month and if you have more reading suggestions please add them to the APAHM Reading List on

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