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The ReadDown

Books to Understand the Asian American Experience

While there is no singular Asian American experience, these books scratch the surface of the varied stories of Americans across the country. Learn about the long history of anti-Asian racism in the US and read and support the stories of Asian American authors.

  1. 1
    America Is in the Heart Book Cover Picture
    America Is in the Heart Book Cover Picture

    America Is in the Heart

    by Carlos Bulosan

    Poet, essayist, novelist, fiction writer and labor organizer, Carlos Bulosan (1911-1956) wrote one of the most influential working class literary classics about the U.S. pre-World War II. Bulosan’s semi-autobiographical novel America is in the Heart begins with the narrator’s rural childhood in the Philippines and the struggles of land-poor peasant families affected by US imperialism after the Spanish American War of the late 1890s. Carlos’s experiences with other Filipino migrant laborers, who endured intense racial abuse in the fields, orchards, towns, cities and canneries of California and the Pacific Northwest in the 1930s, reexamine the ideals of the American dream. Bulosan was one of the most important 20th century social critics with his deeply moving account of what it was like to be criminalized in the U.S. as a Filipino migrant drawn to the ideals of what America symbolized and committed to social justice for all marginalized groups.
    America Is in the Heart Book Cover Picture
    America Is in the Heart Book Cover Picture

    Paperback
    $18.00

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  2. 2
    Minor Feelings Book Cover Picture
    Minor Feelings Book Cover Picture

    Minor Feelings

    by Cathy Park Hong

    Poet and essayist Cathy Park Hong fearlessly and provocatively blends memoir, cultural criticism, and history to expose fresh truths about racialized consciousness in America. Part memoir and part cultural criticism, this collection is vulnerable, humorous, and provocative—and its relentless and riveting pursuit of vital questions around family and friendship, art and politics, identity and individuality, will change the way you think about our world.
    Minor Feelings Book Cover Picture
    Minor Feelings Book Cover Picture

    Paperback
    $18.00

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  3. 3
    Interior Chinatown Book Cover Picture
    Interior Chinatown Book Cover Picture

    Interior Chinatown

    by Charles Yu

    Willis Wu doesn’t perceive himself as the protagonist in his own life: he’s merely Generic Asian Man. Sometimes he gets to be Background Oriental Making a Weird Face or even Disgraced Son, but always he is relegated to a prop. Yet every day, he leaves his tiny room in a Chinatown SRO and enters the Golden Palace restaurant, where Black and White, a procedural cop show, is in perpetual production. He’s a bit player here, too, but he dreams of being Kung Fu Guy—the most respected role that anyone who looks like him can attain. Or is it? After stumbling into the spotlight, Willis finds himself launched into a wider world than he’s ever known, discovering not only the secret history of Chinatown, but the buried legacy of his own family. Infinitely inventive and deeply personal, exploring the themes of pop culture, assimilation, and immigration—Interior Chinatown is Charles Yu’s most moving, daring, and masterful novel yet.
    Interior Chinatown Book Cover Picture
    Interior Chinatown Book Cover Picture

    Paperback
    $16.00

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  4. 4
    Good Talk Book Cover Picture
    Good Talk Book Cover Picture

    Good Talk

    by Mira Jacob

    Like many six-year-olds, Mira Jacob’s half-Jewish, half-Indian son, Z, has questions about everything. At first they are innocuous enough, but as tensions from the 2016 election spread from the media into his own family, they become much, much more complicated. Trying to answer him honestly, Mira has to think back to where she’s gotten her own answers: her most formative conversations about race, color, sexuality, and, of course, love.  Written with humor and vulnerability, this deeply relatable graphic memoir is a love letter to the art of conversation—and to the hope that hovers in our most difficult questions.
    Good Talk Book Cover Picture
    Good Talk Book Cover Picture

    Paperback
    $20.00

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  5. 5
    Disability Visibility Book Cover Picture
    Disability Visibility Book Cover Picture

    Disability Visibility

    by Various Authors

    One in five people in the United States lives with a disability. Some disabilities are visible, others less apparent—but all are underrepresented in media and popular culture. Activist Alice Wong brings together this urgent, galvanizing collection of contemporary essays by disabled people. This anthology gives a glimpse into the rich complexity of the disabled experience, highlighting the passions, talents, and everyday lives of this community. It invites readers to question their own understandings. It celebrates and documents disability culture in the now.
    Disability Visibility Book Cover Picture
    Disability Visibility Book Cover Picture

    Paperback
    $16.95

    Also available from:

  6. 6
    The Chinese in America Book Cover Picture
    The Chinese in America Book Cover Picture

    The Chinese in America

    by Iris Chang

    In an epic story that spans 150 years and continues to the present day, Iris Chang tells of a people’s search for a better life—the determination of the Chinese to forge an identity and a destiny in a strange land and, often against great obstacles, to find success. She chronicles the many accomplishments in America of Chinese immigrants and their descendents: building the infrastructure of their adopted country, fighting racist and exclusionary laws, walking the racial tightrope between black and white, contributing to major scientific and technological advances, expanding the literary canon, and influencing the way we think about racial and ethnic groups. Interweaving political, social, economic, and cultural history, as well as the stories of individuals, Chang offers a bracing view not only of what it means to be Chinese American, but also of what it is to be American.
    The Chinese in America Book Cover Picture
    The Chinese in America Book Cover Picture

    Paperback
    $20.00

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  7. 7
    If They Come for Us Book Cover Picture
    If They Come for Us Book Cover Picture

    If They Come for Us

    by Fatimah Asghar

    From a co-creator of the Emmy-nominated web series Brown Girls comes an imaginative, soulful debut poetry that collection captures the experiences of being a young Pakistani Muslim woman in contemporary America. Orphaned as a child, Fatimah Asghar grapples with coming of age and navigating questions of sexuality and race without the guidance of a mother or father. These poems at once bear anguish, joy, vulnerability, and compassion, while also exploring the many facets of violence: how it persists within us, how it is inherited across generations, and how it manifests itself in our relationships. In experimental forms and language both lyrical and raw, Asghar seamlessly braids together marginalized people’s histories with her own understanding of identity, place, and belonging.
    If They Come for Us Book Cover Picture
    If They Come for Us Book Cover Picture

    Paperback
    $16.00

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  8. 8
    See No Stranger Book Cover Picture
    See No Stranger Book Cover Picture

    See No Stranger

    by Valarie Kaur

    Valarie Kaur takes readers through her own riveting journey—as a brown girl growing up in California farmland finding her place in the world; as a young adult galvanized by the murders of Sikhs after 9/11; as a law student fighting injustices in American prisons and on Guantánamo Bay; as an activist working with communities recovering from xenophobic attacks; and as a woman trying to heal from her own experiences with police violence and sexual assault. Drawing from the wisdom of sages, scientists, and activists, Kaur reclaims love as an active, public, and revolutionary force that creates new possibilities for ourselves, our communities, and our world. See No Stranger helps us imagine new ways of being with each other—and with ourselves—so that together we can begin to build the world we want to see.
    See No Stranger Book Cover Picture
    See No Stranger Book Cover Picture

    Hardcover
    $28.00

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  9. 9
    Heart of Fire Book Cover Picture
    Heart of Fire Book Cover Picture

    Heart of Fire

    by Mazie K. Hirono

    Learn about the intimate and inspiring life story of Mazie Hirono, the first Asian-American woman and the only immigrant serving in the U.S. Senate. Mazie Hirono is one of the most fiercely outspoken Democrats in Congress, but her journey to the U.S. Senate was far from likely. Raised on a rice farm in rural Japan, she was seven years old when her mother, Laura, left her abusive husband and sailed with her two elder children to Hawaii, crossing the Pacific in steerage in search of a better life. Though the girl then known as “Keiko” did not speak or read English when she entered first grade, she would go on to serve as a state representative and as Hawaii’s lieutenant governor before winning election to Congress in 2006.
    Heart of Fire Book Cover Picture
    Heart of Fire Book Cover Picture

    Hardcover
    $28.00

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  10. 10
    Fairest Book Cover Picture
    Fairest Book Cover Picture

    Fairest

    by Meredith Talusan

    A singular, beautifully written coming-of-age memoir of a Filipino boy with albinism whose story travels from an immigrant childhood to Harvard to a gender transition and illuminates the illusions of race, disability, and gender. Throughout her journey, Talusan shares poignant and powerful episodes of desirability and love. Her evocative reflections will shift our own perceptions of love, identity, gender, and the fairness of life.
    Fairest Book Cover Picture
    Fairest Book Cover Picture

    Paperback
    $17.00

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  11. 11
    The Woman Warrior Book Cover Picture
    The Woman Warrior Book Cover Picture

    The Woman Warrior

    by Maxine Hong Kingston

    In her award-winning book The Woman Warrior, Maxine Hong Kingston created an entirely new form—an exhilarating blend of autobiography and mythology, of world and self, of hot rage and cool analysis. First published in 1976, it has become a classic in its innovative portrayal of multiple and intersecting identities—immigrant, female, Chinese, American.  As a girl, Kingston lives in two confounding worlds: the California to which her parents have immigrated and the China of her mother’s “talk stories.” The fierce and wily women warriors of her mother’s tales clash jarringly with the harsh reality of female oppression out of which they come. Kingston’s sense of self emerges in the mystifying gaps in these stories, which she learns to fill with stories of her own. A warrior of words, she forges fractured myths and memories into an incandescent whole, achieving a new understanding of her family’s past and her present.
    The Woman Warrior Book Cover Picture
    The Woman Warrior Book Cover Picture

    Paperback
    $15.95

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  12. 12
    Speak, Okinawa Book Cover Picture
    Speak, Okinawa Book Cover Picture

    Speak, Okinawa

    by Elizabeth Miki Brina

    Elizabeth’s mother was working as a nightclub hostess on U.S.-occupied Okinawa when she met the American soldier who would become her husband. The language barrier and power imbalance that defined their early relationship followed them to the predominantly white, upstate New York suburb where they moved to raise their only daughter. There, Elizabeth grew up with the trappings of a typical American childhood and adolescence. Yet even though she felt almost no connection to her mother’s distant home, she also felt out of place among her peers. Decades later, Elizabeth comes to recognize the shame and self-loathing that haunt both her and her mother, and attempts a form of reconciliation, not only to come to terms with the embattled dynamics of her family but also to reckon with the injustices that reverberate throughout the history of Okinawa and its people.
    Speak, Okinawa Book Cover Picture
    Speak, Okinawa Book Cover Picture

    Hardcover
    $26.95

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  13. 13
    Family in Six Tones Book Cover Picture
    Family in Six Tones Book Cover Picture

    Family in Six Tones

    by Lan Cao and Harlan Margaret Van Cao

    In 1975, thirteen-year-old Lan Cao boarded an airplane in Saigon and got off in a world where she faced hosts she had not met before, a language she didn’t speak, and food she didn’t recognize, with the faint hope that she would be able to go home soon. Lan fought her way through confusion, and racism, to become a successful lawyer and novelist. Four decades later, she faced the biggest challenge in her life: raising her daughter Harlan–half Vietnamese by birth and 100 percent American teenager by inclination. In their lyrical joint memoir, told in alternating voices, mother and daughter cross ages and ethnicities to tackle the hardest questions about assimilation, aspiration, and family.
    Family in Six Tones Book Cover Picture
    Family in Six Tones Book Cover Picture

    Hardcover
    $28.00

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  14. 14
    Futureface Book Cover Picture
    Futureface Book Cover Picture

    Futureface

    by Alex Wagner

    The daughter of a Burmese mother and a white American father, Alex Wagner grew up thinking of herself as a “futureface”—an avatar of a mixed-race future when all races would merge into a brown singularity. But when one family mystery leads to another, Wagner’s post-racial ideals fray as she becomes obsessed with the specifics of her own family’s racial and ethnic history. Drawn into the wild world of ancestry, she embarks upon a quest around the world—and into her own DNA—to answer the ultimate questions of who she really is and where she belongs. The journey takes her from Burma to Luxembourg, from ruined colonial capitals with records written on banana leaves to Mormon databases, genetic labs, and the rest of the twenty-first-century genealogy complex. But soon she begins to grapple with a deeper question: Does it matter? Is our enduring obsession with blood and land, race and identity, worth all the trouble it’s caused us? Wagner weaves together fascinating history, genetic science, and sociology but is really after deeper stuff than her own ancestry: in a time of conflict over who we are as a country, she tries to find the story where we all belong.
    Futureface Book Cover Picture
    Futureface Book Cover Picture

    Paperback
    $18.00

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  15. 15
    On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous Book Cover Picture
    On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous Book Cover Picture

    On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous

    by Ocean Vuong

    On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is a letter from a son to a mother who cannot read. Written when the speaker, Little Dog, is in his late twenties, the letter unearths a family’s history that began before he was born — a history whose epicenter is rooted in Vietnam — and serves as a doorway into parts of his life his mother has never known, all of it leading to an unforgettable revelation. At once a witness to the fraught yet undeniable love between a single mother and her son, it is also a brutally honest exploration of race, class, and masculinity. Asking questions central to our American moment, immersed as we are in addiction, violence, and trauma, but undergirded by compassion and tenderness, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is as much about the power of telling one’s own story as it is about the obliterating silence of not being heard.
    On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous Book Cover Picture
    On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous Book Cover Picture

    Paperback
    $17.00

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  16. 16
    Marriage of a Thousand Lies Book Cover Picture
    Marriage of a Thousand Lies Book Cover Picture

    Marriage of a Thousand Lies

    by SJ Sindu

    Lucky and her husband, Krishna, are gay. They present an illusion of marital bliss to their conservative Sri Lankan–American families, while each dates on the side. It’s not ideal, but for Lucky, it seems to be working. But when Lucky’s grandmother has a nasty fall, Lucky returns to her childhood home and unexpectedly reconnects with her former best friend and first lover, Nisha, who is preparing for her own arranged wedding with a man she’s never met. As the connection between the two women is rekindled, Lucky tries to save Nisha from entering a marriage based on a lie. But does Nisha really want to be saved? And after a decade’s worth of lying, can Lucky break free of her own circumstances and build a new life?
    Marriage of a Thousand Lies Book Cover Picture
    Marriage of a Thousand Lies Book Cover Picture

    Paperback
    $15.00

    Also available from:

  17. 17
    Native Speaker Book Cover Picture
    Native Speaker Book Cover Picture

    Native Speaker

    by Chang-rae Lee

    Korean American Henry Park is “surreptitious, B+ student of life, illegal alien, emotional alien, Yellow peril: neo-American, stranger, follower, traitor, spy…” or so says his wife, in the list she writes upon leaving him. Henry is forever uncertain of his place, a perpetual outsider looking at American culture from a distance. And now, a man of two worlds, he is beginning to fear that he has betrayed both and belongs to neither. Chang-Rae Lee’s first novel Native Speaker is a raw and lyrical evocation of the immigrant experience and of the question of identity itself.
    Native Speaker Book Cover Picture
    Native Speaker Book Cover Picture

    Hardcover
    $23.00

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  18. 18
    America Is Not the Heart Book Cover Picture
    America Is Not the Heart Book Cover Picture

    America Is Not the Heart

    by Elaine Castillo

    When Hero De Vera arrives in America–haunted by the political upheaval in the Philippines and disowned by her parents–she’s already on her third. Her uncle gives her a fresh start in the Bay Area, and he doesn’t ask about her past. His younger wife knows enough about the might and secrecy of the De Vera family to keep her head down. But their daughter–the first American-born daughter in the family–can’t resist asking Hero about her damaged hands. An increasingly relevant story told with startling lucidity, humor, and an uncanny ear for the intimacies and shorthand of family ritual, America Is Not the Heart is a sprawling, soulful debut about three generations of women in one family struggling to balance the promise of the American dream and the unshakeable grip of history.
    America Is Not the Heart Book Cover Picture
    America Is Not the Heart Book Cover Picture

    Paperback
    $18.00

    Also available from:

  19. 19
    What We Carry Book Cover Picture
    What We Carry Book Cover Picture

    What We Carry

    by Maya Shanbhag Lang

    Maya Shanbhag Lang grew up idolizing her brilliant mother, an accomplished physician who immigrated to the United States from India and completed her residency all while raising her children and keeping a traditional Indian home. Maya’s mother had always been a source of support—until Maya became a mother herself. Then the parent who had once been so capable and attentive became suddenly and inexplicably unavailable. Struggling to understand this abrupt change while raising her own young child, Maya searches for answers and soon learns that her mother is living with Alzheimer’s. Unable to remember or keep track of the stories she once told her daughter—stories about her life in India, why she immigrated, and her experience of motherhood—Maya’s mother divulges secrets about her past that force Maya to reexamine their relationship.
    What We Carry Book Cover Picture
    What We Carry Book Cover Picture

    Paperback
    $17.00

    Also available from:

  20. 20
    Sour Heart Book Cover Picture
    Sour Heart Book Cover Picture

    Sour Heart

    by Jenny Zhang

    A fresh new voice emerges with the arrival of Sour Heart, establishing Jenny Zhang as a frank and subversive interpreter of the immigrant experience in America. Her stories cut across generations and continents, moving from the fraught halls of a public school in Flushing, Queens, to the tumultuous streets of Shanghai, China, during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s. Narrated by the daughters of Chinese immigrants who fled imperiled lives as artists back home only to struggle to stay afloat—dumpster diving for food and scamming Atlantic City casino buses to make a buck—these seven stories showcase Zhang’s compassion, moral courage, and a perverse sense of humor reminiscent of Portnoy’s Complaint. A darkly funny and intimate rendering of girlhood, Sour Heart examines what it means to belong to a family, to find your home, leave it, reject it, and return again.
    Sour Heart Book Cover Picture
    Sour Heart Book Cover Picture

    Paperback
    $17.00

    Also available from:

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