Observation Post: The People Who Come and Ask a Lot of Questions and Then Go Away — Angola
Observation Post: The People Who Come and Ask a Lot of Questions and Then Go Away — Sierra Leone

Bridging Histories and Shaping Our Future with AAPI Voices: A Reading List

By Christian Coleman

From Asians for Abolition, WSP Vigil for Asian Americans, Berkeley, CA, 20 March 2021
From Asians for Abolition, WSP Vigil for Asian Americans, Berkeley, CA, 20 March 2021. Photo credit: Andrew Ratto

“How do you teach a kindergartener about the histories and contemporary legacies of race and racism in a way that affirms her humanity and agency?” Dr. OiYan Poon poses herself this question in the introduction of Asian American Is Not a Color: Conversations on Race, Affirmative Action, and Family after her three-year-old daughter Té Té broaches the topic of race. An answer to her question could be found by turning to this year’s theme for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Appropriately, it’s “Bridging Histories, Shaping the Future,” which is all about embracing the interconnectedness of our stories and honoring the ancestors who came before us. This handful of titles from Beacon Press’s catalog aims to do just that. With these books, we can pass down the myriad histories of Asian American communities, trace the commonalities among them, and picture the future that affirms our humanity and agency.


Asian American Histories of the United States

Asian American Histories of the United States

“The contemporary general definition of ‘Asian Americans’ signifies Americans of Asian ancestry. However, the name ‘Asian American’ hasn’t always been with us. It was born of defiance and a radical imagination in the late 1960s. In 1968, UC Berkeley graduate students Emma Gee and Yuji Ichioka coined the term ‘Asian American’ when they founded the Asian American Political Alliance in Berkeley. An anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist, Third World political organization, the Asian American Political Alliance fought for self-determination and liberation for Asian Americans. The name ‘Asian American’ was a rejection of externally imposed categories of identity, such as the popular usage of ‘Oriental.’”
—Catherine Ceniza Choy 


Asian American Is Not a Color

Asian American Is Not a Color: Conversations on Race, Affirmative Action, and Family

“Racism cannot be narrowly determined and defined by access to college degrees or household income. In the years after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, alarming reports raised public concern over a rise of anti-Asian violence. This new self-reported data on racial harassment and violence adds to the continuing Islamophobic violence targeting Muslim and South Asian Americans following September 11, 2001. Still, there are differences and conflicts between Asian Americans and how we understand racism and what to do about it.”
—Dr. OiYan Poon 


Coming Out as Dalit

Coming Out as Dalit: A Memoir of Surviving India’s Caste System

“Indian society doesn’t create spaces for Dalits to flourish. Constitutional reservation allows Dalits to enter and survive in a system that tries to keep them on the periphery. The system is designed to keep Dalits confined to undesirable professions. Dalits who use the reservation policy to advance are accused of being ‘opportunistic’ for using their only option for progress. Thousands of years of religious and social policies that denied education to Dalits are discounted and they are regularly challenged to prove their talent without using the “crutch” of reservation. Reservation allows Dalits entry into the upper-caste system, but only their drive, talent, and ability create genuine, viable opportunities for them to get ahead.”
—Yashica Dutt 


Don't Wait

Don’t Wait: Three Girls Who Fought for Change and Won

“All Sonia knew so far was that Amir was a big-shot ACLU lawyer working on getting access to arts funding for California youth. Four days after she sent the email, Amir responded—‘I was so excited, it was like hearing from a celebrity’—and they scheduled a phone call. Sonia showed up with a pink sticky note covered in questions, expecting him to refer her to some articles to read. Instead, Amir asked Sonia all about her life, her work, her passions and what she wanted. He told her about the zine that arts justice fellows with the ACLU of Southern California had made. She seemed passionate and talented, he said, and our last arts justice fellow just left. Would you be interested in taking their spot?”
—Sonali Kohli 



For Want of Water: and Other Poems

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”


How to Be a Muslim

How to Be a Muslim: An American Story

“Representing the Islamic Center became my life. I perceived my place in the community, and the crisis in our country, as fate working its ways; because I was relatively well read in Islamic history and because, in no small part thanks to my upbringing, I could hold my own at many of the events I was called to, I felt called. I did not give out, give in, or seek to absolve myself of the burdens of the moment. But don’t misunderstand me. I was no rabbi, priest, pastor, professor. I was a kid in way over his head. Reporters I’d never met stuck microphones in my face and rattled off listicles before the Internet invented them: Islam, jihad, Shari’ah, suicide bombing, polygamy, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Taliban, terrorism, Palestine, explain, explain, explain! Now! Now! Now! You had eight seconds and, oh yeah, if you fuck it up, you might give added momentum to the hawks eager to use 9/11 as a global casus belli.”
—Haroon Moghul 


Humanizing Immigration

Humanizing Immigration: How to Transform Our Racist and Unjust System

“‘Abolish ICE’ is more than a catchy phrase—it represents a political movement whose most fervent adherents seek to put an end to the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency. Support for the movement grew in 2018 after Ocasio-Cortez, in her election campaign, advocated abolishing ICE, and when then president Donald Trump separated children from their parents at the border. The movement has developed into a kaleidoscope of different advocacy efforts. . . . In essence, by reviewing critical aspects of the current system, I make the case for dismantling ICE. I call for continued disruption until transformation of the system is accomplished.”
—Bill Ong Hing 


No Study Without Struggle

No Study Without Struggle: Confronting Settler Colonialism in Higher Education

“how has colonialism limited our very idea of achievement and what it means to study in formal education spaces? It has, in essence, told us the lie that the information taught in various disciplines contains objective facts, impermeable and without context. That lie has provided opportunity and access for a precious few. Settler colonialism has attempted to commodify knowledge itself, anointing it as property, convertible into careers and well-being.”
—Leigh Patel 


On Gold Hill

On Gold Hill: A Personal History of Wheat, Farming, and Family, from Punjab to California

“I didn’t tell her I was Punjabi. In fact, I don’t think I’d ever said those words—I’m Punjabi—to anyone. Though the statement was true—my mother was born in Punjab, as were both her parents, and their ancestors as far back as anyone knew—it seemed equally false. At the time, I’d never been to India, knew little about Punjabi customs or traditions, didn’t speak the language. I knew only that my mother had left that place and come to America with her family when she was fifteen, and at some point thereafter lost her Punjabi accent. To me, her voice had always sounded just as Californian as my own, with one exception: the v and w sounds had gotten irrevocably switched in her mind, so that windshield wiper often came out vinshield viper; wisteria, visteria. It was the one remnant of India my mother had failed to shed.”
—Jaclyn Moyer 


The Racism of People Who Love You

The Racism of People Who Love You: Essays on Mixed Race Belonging

“It is worth noting that many an Indian person, certainly my relatives (whether or not they share the name), but also various aunties and uncles whom I am only meeting for the first time, have felt free both in my childhood and in my adulthood to correct me on the pronunciation of my own name. My name is a shibboleth, letting any member of the Indian community, or honestly, any non–South Asian person who has put serious time and effort into learning South Asian languages, know that I am, in the end, not authentic. All I have to do, in order to fail the most basic authenticity test, is introduce myself. I have failed before I have even begun.”—Samira K. Mehta 

From Asians for Abolition, WSP Vigil for Asian Americans, Berkeley, CA, 20 March 2021


About the Author 

Christian Coleman is the digital marketing manager at Beacon Press and editor of Beacon Broadside. Before joining Beacon, he worked in writing, copy editing, and marketing positions at Sustainable Silicon Valley and Trikone. He graduated from Boston College and the Clarion Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers’ Workshop. Follow him on Twitter at @coleman_II and on Bluesky at @colemanthe2nd.bsky.social.