The Best Memoirs to Read for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month



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Helena Rho was six years old when her family left Seoul for America. For decades, she fulfilled the expectations of others: to marry a doctor, raise children and work as an assistant professor of pediatrics. All the while, she was silent about the personal and professional traumas that left her determined to escape this life. Then, at age 40, when a catastrophic event occurs, Helena decides to abandon her career, break away from the path laid out for her, and embark on a journey of self-discovery on her own terms. Read this powerful and inspiring memoir about being Korean again.

Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month is celebrated in the United States from May 1-31. While it’s important to read AAPI stories year-round, consider this month an additional opportunity to celebrate the stories of Asian American and Pacific Islander writers.

Of course, “Asian American and Pacific Islander” is a term that encompasses a very diverse group of people from different cultures and backgrounds and with different life experiences. And that means the stories these authors tell are just as varied. With that in mind, this couldn’t be an exhaustive list of all AAPI memories. And of course, that doesn’t even begin to encompass the entirety of the Asian American and Pacific Islander experience. No book collection could. But the following ten books are some of the standout titles that have come out in recent years that are absolutely worth reading.

As you think about how to celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, add these books to the top of your list. These stories are moving, heartwarming and sometimes even funny. They are stories of family, identity, finding one’s place in the world, finding community and so much more.

Cover Speaks, Okinawa by Elizabeth Miki Brina

Speak, Okinawa by Elizabeth Miki Brina

Speak, Okinawa is Elizabeth Miki Brina’s deeply personal exploration into the complicated relationship between her parents – an Okinawan war bride and Vietnam veteran – and the author’s own feelings about her multicultural past. This powerful memoir explores many thought-provoking themes around identity, family legacies, forgiveness, culture and history, and what it means to be an American.

crying in h mart book cover

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard of Michelle Zauner of Japanese breakfast fame and her bestselling memoir. Crying in H Mart. But if you’ve somehow missed it so far, here’s your sign. Read it now. What started as a virus New Yorker The essay is now a comprehensive memoir about the author’s experiences growing up as a Korean American, coping with the loss of his mother, and finding his identity. You will laugh. You will cry. You will want to kiss all the people in your life who matter.

party sigh book cover

Sigh, gone by Phuc Tran

At Phuc Tran Sigh, gone is an irreverent and heartfelt coming-of-age memoir that’s perfect for anyone who’s ever felt like an outsider (so basically, this book is perfect for everyone). Phuc Tran immigrated to America with his family in 1975 when Saigon fell. But the transition from life in Saigon to life in Carlisle, Pennsylvania was not easy, and Trans people struggled to assimilate into American life. In this book, Phuc deals with his feelings of isolation and the challenges of immigration by connecting to literature and punk rock music.

color book cover

of color by Jaswinder Bolina

This first collection of essays is not a traditional memoir. Instead, of color by Jaswinder Bolina is a collection of autobiographical essays that explore the author’s own experiences with racism in America. Bolina uses his own life stories as a starting point to see how race, as he puts it, “become metaphysical.” This essay-based dissertation examines issues of immigration, assimilation, art, politics, and more.

book cover of The Magical Language of Others

The magical language of others by EJ Koh

Previous memoirs were memoirs told through essays, and EJ Koh’s memoirs are told through letters, from mother to daughter. After living in America for more than a decade, Eun Ji Koh’s parents returned to South Korea to work, leaving Eun Ji and her brother in California. Over the years, Eun Ji’s mother wrote her letters in Korean, asking her daughter for forgiveness for abandoning her. Now, years later, Eun Ji translates the letters, and in doing so, she examines the story of her mother and grandmother, and how their stories connect to hers.

The best we could cover

The best we can do by Thi Bui

The best we can do is the first of two graphics memories in this list. This debut graphic novel is the story of Thi Bui’s family’s journey from their war-torn home in Vietnam to their new life in America. Through this moving story and deeply moving images, Thi Bui explores the struggles of being a parent and a child, the strength of family, identity and what it means to find a home.

Cover What we carry

What we carry by Maya Shanbhag Lang

Maya Shanbhag Lang’s What we carry is a touching memoir about a daughter who takes care of her mother and rediscovers her as an adult. Growing up, Maya idolized her mother, a brilliant doctor who immigrated to the United States from India. But as Maya got older, her mother became less of a support system. Later, Maya learns that her mother is living with Alzheimer’s disease. When Maya becomes responsible for her mother’s care, she soon realizes that the mother is not the person she thought she knew. And all the stories she grew up believing about her mother might not even be true.

Cover of the book The Papers of the Body

The body papers by Grace Talusan

The body papers is Grace Talusan’s award-winning memoir that explores the highs and lows of the author’s life with brutal honesty. With emotional openness, Talusan writes about her experiences immigrating to America from the Philippines as a child, facing racism, the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of her grandfather, and battling cancer in adulthood. Talusan’s story is very personal, but it’s also the story of family heritage and how that shapes who we are.

cover of Good Talk

good conversation by Mira Jacob

At Mira Jacob’s good conversation is the second graphic memoir on this list, and it’s just as touching and thought-provoking as the first. Inspired by his popular BuzzFeed play “37 My Son’s Tough Questions to Mixed Races,” Mira Jacob’s emotional and often humorous graphic memoir is written in response to tough questions from her 6-year-old son, Zakir. Jacob’s book explores complex issues surrounding race, gender, love, family, and more.

book cover all you need to know

all you can know by Nicole Chung

As many of these memoirs have pointed out, family heritages and culture are a very important part of identity. But Nicole Chung’s memoir all you can know is a story about what happens when a person is separated from these things. Nicole was adopted by a white family and grew up in a small town in Oregon. Nicole grew up believing the myth that her biological parents made the ultimate sacrifice by abandoning her so she could live a better life. But as she grew up and faced issues her white parents could never fully understand, she wondered what the truth was about her biological family. Was the story he had been told the whole truth?

Want more Asian American and Pacific Islander stories to help you celebrate this month? Here are 12 middle-level Asian historical fiction books by authors of color. Here are 18 great YA books by AAPI authors. And finally, here are 25 AAPI authors everyone should know. Good reading!

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