10 books to keep the spirit of AAPI Heritage Month alive

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For a long time I carried with me the memory of a picture book from my childhood. With a vague memory of the title, I recently found a used copy of Welcome is a wonderful word by Gyo Fujikawa. As a child with shelves full of characters unlike me, a biracial Korean and white girl, this book about a child named Meisu stuck in my mind.

Educator Emily Style has written that “windows and mirrors” are integral to learning. We need windows into experiences different from our own to expand our understanding of the world, but we also need mirrors that reflect and validate our own history.

Growing up surrounded by windows, I struggled to find a sense of belonging and belonging. No one also told me about the need for mirrors. When I found Fujikawa’s simple picture book, it illuminated my own personal journey and changed the way I engaged with the world. I felt seen. For those who live the opposite – a life with mostly mirrors and few windows – the result is also imbalance; this time, the danger of an over-inflated ego. When only your own history is taken into account, it is difficult to sympathize with and serve a diverse world.

As Catholics, we are part of a universal church. We are made up of people of ethnicities from all over the world, all united as a family around our faith in Jesus. Paul uses the image of the physical body to describe how the body of Christ should function. Paul urges “that there be no division in the body, but that the parts have the same concern for one another” (1 Corinthians 12:25). A healthy functioning body is a body where each part fully functions in its unique design and role.

In the United States, we come to the end of Asian American Pacific Islander, or AAPI, Heritage Month, a time when we honor and celebrate how AAPI communities have enriched American history. The following list of books by Asian and Asian American authors covers childhood through adulthood. For some, these books will be mirrors of your experiences. For others, it may be windows into stories different from yours. For all, these books can provide balance and perspective to advance your own personal journey and, ultimately, your Catholic faith.

The Road to Hope: A Prison Gospel, by Venerable Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan. Imprisoned for his faith in Vietnam for 13 years, this reflective book is a compilation of messages he smuggled out of prison on small slips of paper to Vietnamese Catholics. (Vietnamese)

More than serving tea: Asian American women on expectations, relationships, leadership and faith, edited by Nikki A. Toyama-Szeto and Tracey Gee. This collection of reflections by Asian American Protestant women explores the intersection of Asian identity and faith. (Various Asian Americans)

Eyes that kiss in the corners by Joanna Ho. This is the book I needed as a young girl. In the absence of Asian beauty reflected in American media, Ho’s empowering words exuberantly celebrate Asian traits. The phrase “kissing eyes in the corners” is a cover of a lovely feature that, unfortunately, has been intimidating to many. (American Chinese)

The silence by Shusaku Endō. This theological and historical fiction novel tells the story of a Jesuit priest who travels to Japan to support the local church in the early 17th century. Similar to China, the history of the Japanese Catholic Church has involved an enormous amount of persecution. (Japanese)

It all started with a page by Kyo Maclear. Picture book biographies are a fantastic way to learn the history of Asian Americans. This one tells the story of Gyo Fujikawa, the pioneering woman who was one of the first to include people of color in her work. Fujikawa is the author of Welcome is a wonderful word, the book that made a deep impression on me when I was a child. (Japanese American)

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. An epic story that follows the trajectories of four generations of a Korean immigrant family in Japan, this is the first novel I’ve read as an adult that felt like a mirror of my family and my home. . (Korean American)

A wish in the dark by Christina Soontornvat. Fantasy novel set in Thailand, this story is a rereading of Victor Hugo Wretched. One of the most meaningful parts of the story is the friendship between Pong and Somkit, two young boys who grew up in a prison and yearn for freedom and connection. (American Thai)

Chinese Martyrs Diaries, edited by Gerolamo Fazzini. These autobiographical accounts of Chinese Catholics imprisoned for their faith in the mid-1900s are inspirational. (Chinese)

Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang. Yang’s companion graphic novels tell the story of the Boxer Rebellion in China from two different angles. The Boxer Rebellion was a violent uprising in China against foreigners from 1899 to 1901, and many of our Chinese saints were killed during this time. (American Chinese)

Where the mountain meets the moon by Grace Lin. Lin is an absolute pioneer in presenting a wide assortment of Asian American children’s literature. Fantasy and adventure come together in Where the mountain meets the moon, recipient of the John Newbery Medal. Lin’s poetic words drip with beauty as she draws inspiration from Chinese folklore. (American Chinese)


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