I love stories in any way, shape, or form. I studied English in school and enjoyed reading as much English and American literature as I could. But as a young Chinese-Cambodian-American woman, in all my hyphenated glory, it wasn’t until my third year of college, after fifteen years of school, that a book written by an Asian American about his Asian American self was assigned reading. That book was Catfish and Mandala by Andrew X. Pham. It made me realize that people like me can be seen as having a story to share, one that others would want to hear.
Catfish and Mandala was the closest thing to a mirror I encountered in the classroom. The author’s family life felt like mine, their history sounded similar to my family’s history, and his journey in finding his roots was a journey I understood as worth taking. It was the first time I realized that I’d been immersed in studying literature full of people, beliefs, and cultures that I was ultimately observing rather than experiencing or seeing in my own world.
While I’m grateful that Studio Ghibli existed when I was a child (the Japanese animation studio that gave us My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away), I wish there had been more stories that included Asian people for me to read, see, and hear about outside of my home life. So in the bittersweet spirit of “Where was this back then!?” but also “I’m so glad this exists!”, this is a list of stories and voices I wish I’d known about to show me a variety of ways of “being Asian,” and the diversity of experiences and identities that exist within the Asian American community.
What do you wish you knew about when you were younger? What books would have helped you feel seen?
These stories and voices are those I wish I could have read growing up as an Asian American.