Essays

The AAPI Reading Challenge for May and Beyond

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I had no idea. I looked up from reading Days of Distraction (Alexandra Chang) and stared up at the ceiling. In some ways, the character in this novel was just like me: a writer and daughter of Chinese immigrants who became disillusioned with her first career choice out of college. But that’s where our similarities ended. My life — everything from my family dynamics to my lack of Chinese-speaking skills — looks extremely different from hers. As I frequently do when reading AAPI stories, I was bouncing back and forth between recognizing myself — Yes, that’s exactly what it’s like — and getting completely caught off guard — Wait? That’s what it’s like? This kind of emotional yo-yoing is mostly exciting, sometimes heartbreaking, but always enlightening — and every time, I can’t wait to read another one.

Although I regularly read AAPI authors and stories, I haven’t yet explored stories from all of the many, many AAPI communities out there — even all of the ones within my own Chinese American one. So this year, starting in May — AAPI Heritage Month — I decided to give myself an AAPI reading challenge, and to invite all the other curious readers out there to join me.

a photo of a stack of books in a bookstore

Here’s how the AAPI Reading Challenge works:

Who Is It For?

Everyone. At first glance, the AAPI Reading Challenge might seem like one created for readers who are not AAPI themselves. After all, the goal is to be introduced to the AAPI perspective. But because there are so many AAPI communities out there, it’s impossible to do that through a single story. Even AAPI readers like myself always have more to discover.

What Is the Aapi Reading Challenge?

During the month of May, let’s commit to reading at least two books written from AAPI perspectives we’ve never considered before. It can be tempting to read one story about any underrepresented community and believe we’ve completely explored that particular experience. But once we’ve read more than one, it quickly becomes clear that we’ve only scratched the surface. So, whether we decide to read two books from the Nepali American perspective or one book from the Nepali American perspective and one from the Vietnamese American experience, we’ll be broadening our understanding of the greater AAPI community.

Which Communities Are AAPI?

AAPI stands for Asian American Pacific Islander, which means it encompasses an extremely vast number of communities. It’s difficult to find an official definition of the term, but one that’s often cited for “Asian and Pacific Islander,” provided by the Asian Pacific Institute is “all people of Asian, Asian American, or Pacific Islander ancestry who trace their origins to the countries, states, jurisdictions, and/or the diasporic communities of these geographic regions.” There are too many specific AAPI ethnicities to include here, but the Asian Pacific Institute site provides a pretty comprehensive listing.

What Should You Read for the Aapi Reading Challenge?

One of the most exciting parts of the AAPI Reading Challenge is embarking on the search for books. Because the community is so broad and because there are so many literary genres out there, I won’t list any specific recommendations here, but when it feels overwhelming, Book Riot’s AAPI archives is a great place to start.

Consider purchasing titles from an AAPI-owned bookstore. The owners will happily provide recommendations, too.

What Are the Rewards?

Digging into a new book is always exhilarating, but the AAPI Reading Challenge also rewards us in ways that only come with engaging in stories from underrepresented communities:

  • For a little while, we’ll get swept up into a world we’ve never visited — something curious readers value, even when it’s painful. After all, expanding our awareness of the human experience — the beautiful, the ugly, and everything in between — makes us better people.
  • Because we’ll be reading two titles, we’ll begin to appreciate not only how AAPI communities are different from our own, but also how they are different from each other.
  • Along with differences, we’ll recognize unexpected similarities between the characters’ lives and our lives — a good reminder that all of us have more in common than we may realize.
  • We’ll support AAPI authors and stories.

What Happens After the AAPI Reading Challenge?

After we’ve read the two — or more — books for the AAPI Reading Challenge, we should take some time to think about how they affected us. We should discuss them with other people — and recommend the titles we especially enjoyed.

Once we realize how rich and varied the greater AAPI community is, we’ll probably be inspired to read more stories from them. Of course, we won’t want to limit our reading to only AAPI books — there are too many compelling perspectives from other underrepresented groups to discover. That said, just because AAPI Heritage month is over, we don’t have to wait until next May to read more. We can continue the adventure all year long and in the years to come.

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