Still kicking two years in, COVID brought out the worst from the nation’s populace: racist brutality against marginalized communities. This year’s Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month commemorates the victims of the 2021 spa shootings as well as all other Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders lost to anti-Asian violence during the pandemic and throughout history. This violence is a form of erasure. As historian Catherine Ceniza Choy writes in her forthcoming volume in Beacon Press’s ReVisioning History series, “This positioning of Asians in opposition to American identity and experience is perhaps most powerfully expressed through the erasure of their long-standing presence in the United States and their contributions to its various industries.” And so, this year’s recommended reading list—by no means exhaustive—is a spotlight on our Asian American authors, the rich diversity of Asian American communities, and their contributions to US history. Because they, too, are America.
The ace world today has become broad enough to include many types of people. There are many types of aces, for one, who describe ourselves as sex-repulsed, sex-indifferent, or sex-favorable depending on how averse we are to sexual material and sexual activity. The ace world also includes people who identify as gray-asexual, or gray-A, a more catchall phrase that encompasses experiences like only occasionally experiencing sexual attraction or not experiencing it very strongly.
Asian American history begins in the here and now, as well as over 150 years ago in the mid-nineteenth century. It begins in Asian continental lands and waterways as well as in urban, suburban, and rural areas of the United States. The Asian American experience stretches back as well as forward in time and space. It crisscrosses over time periods and over lands, oceans, and waterways. Where and when we enter are complex questions.
—Catherine Ceniza Choy
In the rush of autumn wind, a student reads Chaucer on the banks of the Charles. Her morning
desk: a sunlit bench with notebooks, blue water bottle, a ziplock bag of Wheat Thins. An old
woman with a metal cane limps to the bench, scrunching amber leaves underfoot. She liberates
a surge of Ukrainian as if she never left her country: family, friends, war zones. The student
collects her things to one side, stretches a tiny smile—no eye contact—returns to ninety-five
pages due tomorrow. The woman continues her Slavic monologue, pulling a gray sweater from
her canvas bag. Surrendering to the disruption—now an armhole struggle—the student helps
the woman with gentle tugging and smoothing. An accented Thank you, a closed book on the
bench, they exhale with the wind and watch a crew team glide across the water.
—Aaron Caycedo-Kimura, “Common Grace”
When I think of shariah, I don’t think of something cruel and vicious. I think of justice, feminism, defense of the weak and defenseless, and a commitment to the rule of law. I’m well aware that these words might be taken by too many to be some sort of joke. But that’s because few non-Muslims possess even the most rudimentary understanding of shariah.
—Sumbul Ali Karamali
The violins in our home are emptied
of sound, strings stilled, missing
fingers. This one can bring a woman down
to her knees, just to hear again
its voice, thick as a callus
from the wooden belly. This one’s strings
are broken. And another, open,
is a mouth. I want to kiss
them as I hurt to be kissed, ruin
their brittle necks in the husk of my palm,
my fingers across the bridge, pressing
chord into chord, that delicate protest—:
my tongue rowing the frets, and our throats high
from the silences of keeping.
—Sasha Pimentel, “If I Die in Juárez”
Memes are the street art of the social web, and, like street art, they are varied, expressive, and complex, and they must contend with the existing politics of our public spaces. Sometimes this is silly, sure. And that’s pretty wonderful. Not so wonderful is that meme culture often reinforces the powerful, with sometimes terrifying efficiency. But sometimes, memes help make transformative, positive changes to society.
—An Xiao Mina
Prisons have proven again and again to be an ineffective intervention. First, we must remember that incarceration is a form of punishment and incapacitation that happens after harm has occurred, not before. We must also remember that incarceration addresses only certain types of harm. . . So when confronted with the statement that prisons provide safety, we should ask, Safety for whom? And from what?
This book describes what Islam has been and what it is, who its heroes are, what its big ideas are. Not only to tell you about the past or the present, but to create a future. This book prescribes outcomes. It advocates for a way of being Muslim in the world. It offers Muslim thoughts for coming generations, fashioning an interpretation of Islam of and for the years ahead, the kind of religion we deserve, with echoes of the confident faith we once had. For Islam was a religion of love and, more than anything, I want it to be (itself) again. I want that vulnerability, that longing, that bond of kinship, and that tug of romance to be at the very heart of my faith.
I had never known that a man could have two wives. I had never been to a second wedding or met a second wife. In the days after the revelation, the idea swirled in my head, expanding into a sensational epic of injustice. Every night, under the blue flowered quilt my grandmother had made just for me, I tried to imagine what a wedding would be like for a man who already had a wife. Frustrated by my limited experience, the mysterious “other” wife erupted dark and powerful and witchlike in my head. Bedecked in bridal finery and cunning, she cast a spell that sentenced Aunt Amina to a solitary chamber under a curse of silence. With his first wife gone, she tricked her new husband into believing that she was a better wife and that his old wife was dead, or disappeared.
The brand of social change I’ve always found more inspiring is the kind that seeks the best for everyone, including the people you consider your enemies. I think this is the great genius of Martin Luther King Jr. King realized that, in a democracy, you have to live with the people you defeat. They get to vote, to advocate for their views, to amass power, to do all the things that you get to do. If you say that the new world you are building has no place for them, why would they journey with you to that place? If you insist that they will never rise above their worst qualities, how will they ever know they have better ones, let alone aspire to embody those?