In honor of Women’s History Month and International Working Women’s Day, I have a really special kids booklist for you: 12 titles about badass Asian women! I am so excited about this list. When I was growing up I never read books about girls or women like me. Ever. At home or at school. Almost everything was about white folks and sometimes about non-Asian people of color. Words can barely describe what a difference a roundup like this would have made; how seen I would have felt; how many more possibilities I could have dreamed for myself.
Asian and Asian American girls and women are still pretty invisible in US society. Some progress has been made but we have a long way to go. It’s telling, for instance, that there aren’t many English-language kids books on Asian women. I wasn’t sure I could even find enough titles to create this roundup. I couldn’t find any kids books, for instance, about Grace Lee Boggs or Yuri Kochiyama (please comment below if you know of something). I’ve been working on this post for months wondering if it would ever happen. But I did. And they’re here.
Making this list was such an affirming experience for me. Please read these books to/with the Asian and Asian American girls in your lives. Support us by reading these books in your families, asking your schools and local libraries to purchase, or by purchasing yourself (remember to buy from independent sellers and try to avoid Amazon). I hope you enjoy this list as much as I enjoyed making it.
The Chinatown-International District (CID) Coalition, along with Hirabayashi Place tenants and community partners, protested development of KODA Condos in Seattle’s Chinatown-International District this morning. Protestors disrupted KODA’s groundbreaking ceremony, held at 450 S Main St, 10:00AM-12:00PM, by surrounding the fenced-in lot where the event was being held. Elders, organizers and allies chanted, booed, and held up resistance signs. From the CID (aka Humbows Not Hotels) call to action:
The following was a workshop submission to the 2019 National Conference On Race and Identity. The proposal was not accepted.
When the University of Maryland founded their Multiracial and Biracial Student Association (M.B.S.A.) in 2002, shortly after the 2000 census became the first in U.S. history to allow more than one race identification—the group saw instantaneous interest and membership. Nine years later M.B.S.A. was still going strong and landed a feature in The New York Times. “The crop of students moving through college right now,” emphasized the Times, “includes the largest group of mixed-race people ever to come of age in the United States.”
Over the last two decades, the multiracial population has expanded at lightning speed. From 2000 to 2010, those who reported they were multiple races grew by 32 percent (compared with those who reported they were a single race, which grew by 9.2 percent). On the 2010 census, 9 million people reported they were more than one race. A recent Brookings Institute projection estimated that mixed-race population will grow 176 percent over the next four decades, more than any group by far. And the multiracial demographic is strikingly young. In 2015, almost half (46 percent) of multiracial-identifying Americans were younger than 18 years old. Meaning we are seeing a growth of this group particularly in our schools, colleges and universities . . .
I used to collect Asian/American and Mixed children’s book titles at my former blog Multiracial Asian Families. Once I stopped posting at that blog, however, I stopped updating the book lists. Years later, I suddenly find myself needing to collect again. A couple things have lead me back to this point.
Professionally, I’ve been giving more talks at schools and in family-oriented settings. Parents frequently ask, “Do you have a book list?” I used to suggest a simple web search, but parents would get discouraged. Because web searching isn’t simple, and it takes time to sift through results. For parents who don’t have a lot of time this isn’t a helpful suggestion. Also, I realized, parents wanted my recommendations, not the recommendations of a stranger.
Personally, since my son started chapter books, I noticed it’s become even harder to find things that mirror his experience than when he was younger. Even if I can find something Asian, there seem to be more books about Asians in Asia than about Asian Americans. There’s not enough ethnic diversity and I’ve never once found a book on Taiwan, where my family is from. Then, add to that, there’s still so few books about Mixed kids.
Kids books cover my kitchen table everywhere. Stories about Asians and Asian Americans, Mixed Race youth and adults. Books piled so high they slip to the side, slide across the smooth wood, create a sheathe like a tablecloth. Hands scoot the mounds back together. It’s hard to find a place to eat between all these covers wrapped in protective plastic. When the family sits down at last, we gaze at words, titles, stacked spines labeled with numbers and letters. We end up reading over dinner.
I’ve decided to spend more time with diverse children’s and youth literature. Specifically, with Asian, Asian American, and Mixed Race kids lit. For many reasons. One, parents at school talks have been asking me for recommendations. Two, I adore picture books and think some of the best artists come together to make them. Three, it takes special writing to tackle tough topics for young people. Four, I noticed my 9-year-old was not getting enough exposure to literature reflecting his experience. In white-dominated society, children of color easily experience invisibility when adults around them don’t invest the time to counter-narrate. I held myself accountable.
To that end, I have been researching Asian, Asian American, and Mixed Race youth titles since the beginning of the year. I’ve been curating from my old lists, combing other new lists, checking out books through my city’s public library system. It’s been fun to get my finger back on the pulse of this sector of publishing. The good news? It’s been far easier to find books about Asians and Asian Americans than it was a half decade ago (Mixed Race is another story for another post). The bad news? Of the many books about Asians stacked on my dining table at the moment the majority are written by white people…
I had a great 2018. It was busy. Twelve months filled with all the things I love to do: photography, writing, creative community-building, artivism. I’m humbled, also grateful and proud. As I’ve said before (and as many of you know) it’s not easy sustaining this work. Spiritually or financially. Artivism is inspiring and fulfilling, at the time it is fraught, emotional, and often not lucrative. Sometimes it’s hard to see the big picture. There were many moments in 2018 when I wanted to give up. I was in low spirits this holiday season. But pulling out my calendar and looking at the roads I’d traveled, left me with a positively different feeling.
I have to commend the way mixed-race is being talked about in the UK right now. I also need to give a nod where it’s due—to Meghan Markle, Black Mixed American, former actress, now Prince Harry’s wife and Duchess of Sussex. Markle’s highly visible presence in the United Kingdom and openness about being Mixed has shifted a lot of narratives. I know the conversation about Markle is complex and multi-faceted, at times fraught and triggering. I recognize as a non-Black womxn, there is much I can’t speak to regarding Blackness, colorism, colonialism, intergenerational trauma, etc. Before I continue, I highly encourage you to seek writings by Black and Black Mixed womxn on these critical, necessary topics.
What I wanted to add here is that seeing ourselves in national leadership matters a lot for mixed-race people too. In equity work we always reiterate this phrase: Representation Matters. I confess it gets tiring repeating it. Especially, as in the case of multiracial representation, when you’re not sure if anyone else is listening, or, they are listening but pushing back. Then, something will happen that returns me like a slingshot to the ongoing importance of these two words for multiracial folks. At the moment, it’s been watching how Markle marrying into the Royal Family, and becoming pregnant with a Mixed child, has opened the door for more representation of Mixed people in the UK. Check out this media round-up since May . . .
It’s been three months since Hapa Tales and Other Lies came out. I’ve done seven events in five cities. Hands down, the best thing about touring has been convening with Mixed folks all over the US; sharing our experiences and art, and building together. At the moment I’m just back from the Bay Area where we held a Hapa Tales event at the Oakland Asian Cultural Center (OACC), co-hosted by Eastwind Books.
Based on Jenny Han’s novel of the same name, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is a high school rom-com about three Asian Mixed sisters growing up in the Pacific Northwest. Released this summer by Netflix (the same week as Crazy Rich Asians) the movie made huge waves for representing an Asian American story and casting Vietnamese American actress Lana Condor in the lead role. Critics and viewers adored it. The film quickly became one of Netflix’s biggest hits and a notable player in the rom-com renaissance.
The Covey girls, who are Korean and white, live with their single white father Dr. Covey (John Corbett) in a Portland suburb. Their Korean mother passed away when they were younger. Condor plays middle child Lara, a dreamy, introverted teen who likes to stay home with her sisters, bury herself in romantic novels, and write love letters to crushes that she never mails. But when oldest sister Margot (Jannel Parish) leaves for college and Lara becomes even more withdrawn, youngest sister Kitty (Anna Cathcart) decides to mail five of Lara’s love letters. As a mortified Lara is forced to step into the world to deal with being outed, she discovers new friendship, social confidence, and real-life romance.
To All the Boys is endearing in ways. I love rom-coms and this one satisfies superficially, seeped in pop culture, with its charming but conflicted lead characters and quirky supporting cast. Condor is such a compelling actress and her take on Lara Jean as a self-reliant but cautious Snapchat Gen teen, is refreshingly sincere. The movie also portrays three Asian biracial girls living in the Pacific Northwest, a theme I have an obvious stake in being an Asian biracial woman who has lived in Seattle for seventeen years. I wanted to adore this movie as much as its many rave reviewers. But I have to confess; I had a pretty tough time watching it…
I should be sleeping. After days of work travel I’m surprised to find myself awake after only five hours. But, I can’t sleep. My mind is buzzing, spinning, winding out. Because I just spent the weekend at Facing Race 2018 in Detroit. Let me throw a few names out there and you should get a sense why my brain is swirling the way it is: Bree Newsome, Hari Kondabolu, Tarana Burke, Linda Sarsour. Starting to get the magnificent picture?