Editor’s note: This story was updated on May 20 to include additional recommendations.
One of the most powerful ways we come to know the world and each other is through media — books, movies, music. Telling and sharing stories, stories that pique our curiosity and expose us to new ideas, can lead us down the path of empathy, understanding and solidarity.
As part of Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we asked staff and faculty from UCLA’s Asian American Studies Center and across campus to share some suggestions of things to read, watch or listen to that celebrate the history, culture, struggle and contributions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
Barbra Ramos, marketing manager at the Asian American Studies Center, recommended two of the center’s recent publications.
“To me, both books exemplify a saying that I was taught at UC Berkeley as an undergrad active in AAPI student organizations, ‘Lift as you climb,’” she said. “Both books drive this idea, not just when thinking about protecting and uplifting communities, but also when thinking about cross-racial solidarity and what collective liberation can look like.”
- “Mountain Movers” features nine personal essays from individuals who pushed for the formation of UCLA’s Asian American Studies Center, for Asian American studies programs at San Francisco State University and UC Berkeley, and for the importance of ethnic studies curricula in general. UCLA alumni Amy Uyematsu and Casimiro Tolentino and current doctoral candidate Preeti Sharma are three of the essayists included.
- “Rockin’ the Boat: Flashbacks of the 1970s Asian Movement” is the first photo collection from UCLA alumna and photojournalist Mary Uyematsu Kao. It is a visual journey into Asian American activism from 1969 to 1974 by way of never-before-seen photographs.
And, thanks to the Jasmine Playlist on Spotify and 88Rising Radio on SiriusXM, she’s been able to discover music of AAPI artists, experiencing a mix that crosses borders and multi-artist collaborations that don’t get much air time on mainstream radio.
Karen Umemoto, director of the Asian American Studies Center, shared three recent podcast episodes that tell important stories of the experiences of Asians in the United States.
- From Hao Huang at Scripps College: “Blood on Gold Mountain” — An original storytelling podcast about the 1871 Los Angeles Chinatown massacre. It follows the journey of Yut-Ho, a young woman who arrives in Los Angeles as a refugee, only to become embroiled in a romantic relationship, a gang war and one of the deadliest race riots in American history.
- NPR’s “Throughline,” “Our Own People” — This episode highlights the activism of Japanese American civil rights champion Yuri Kochiyama and cross-racial solidarity, including her encounters with Malcolm X, featuring Diane Fujino, professor of Asian American studies at UC Santa Barbara.
- WNYC Studios’ “The Takeaway,” “The Deep History of Anti-Asian Violence in the U.S.” — This episode features Beth Lew-Williams, history professor at Princeton University and author of “The Chinese Must Go: Violence, Exclusion, and the Making of the Alien in America,” sharing this history and why it’s so critical to understanding the present.
Meg Thornton, UCLA alumna and external affairs coordinator for the center, recommended a zine, a book, music and a film.
- East Wind e-zine, volunteer edited by UCLA alumnus Eddie Wong, who is one of the co-founders of UCLA’s Asian American Studies Center.
- Nobuko Miyamoto, icon of Asian American music and activism, released a powerful memoir last year called “Not Yo’ Butterfly: My Long Song of Relocation, Race, Love, and Revolution” and a companion album titled “120,000 Stories.”
- UCLA alumna Tiffany Lytle is a Cambodian American singer/songwriter and dancer based in Los Angeles. Her music pairs meaningful lyrics with pop music influenced by Southeast Asia. In a quote for the liner notes, Lucy Mae San Pablo Burns, UCLA associate professor of Asian American studies, said: “This album embodies the possibility of pop music as an expression of historical memory.”
- The film “Fighting for Family”, by UCLA alumna Lan Nguyen, follows a Vietnamese refugee and his family as they navigate the impact of incarceration and deportation.
Irene Suico Soriano, office manager for UCLA’s Asian American Studies Center, is a poet, independent literary and film curator and activist.
She created a list on Bookshop.org of “Filipinx LGBTQ Poetry Book Recommendations” for 2021 National Poetry Month, which was in April.
Evyn Lê Espiritu Gandhi, assistant professor of Asian American studies, teaches a course on critical refugee studies at UCLA. Students work in groups to produce episodes of the “Distorted Footprints” podcast, illuminating a variety of issues facing refugees from around the globe.
Gandhi recommended the “Memoirs Pasifika” podcast to learn more about Micronesia history, which often gets overlooked in discussions of AAPI issues.
Recently Gandhi anchored and co-wrote an episode for the series about Operation New Life — a program launched by the U.S. government as the Vietnam War ended. Her episode highlights the role Guam played in processing Vietnamese refugees after the fall of Saigon, which included Gandhi’s own mother and grandmother.
Some of her favorite books are:
- “How to Pronounce Knife: Stories” — This collection by Canadian writer Souvankham Thammavongsa, who was born in the Lao refugee camp in Nong Khai, Thailand, honors characters struggling to find their bearings far from home, even as they do the necessary “grunt work of the world.”
- “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous” — This novel is written by New York Times best-selling author Ocean Vuong, who is an assistant professor in the M.F.A. program for poets and writers at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
- “from unincorporated territory [guma’]” — In this installment from a collection by Chamorro poet Craig Santos Perez, he memorializes what the Indigenous people of Guam have lost as a strategic U.S. territory since 1898, and how they must protect and defend what they have left of home.
Keith Camacho, associate professor of Asian American studies, regularly collaborates with artists and activists from the Pacific Islands, including his homeland of Guam in the Mariana Islands.
- He highlighted Alex Munoz, an award-winning, Los Angeles–based independent filmmaker of Chamorro background who founded Films by Youth Inside. The nonprofit uses creative storytelling to empower youth affected by the juvenile justice system, seeking to improve their lives and have them become self-reliant. Follow FYI Films on Facebook @FYIFilms and Instagram @fyifilms.
- Conrad Lihilihi is a Native Hawaiian filmmaker whose four-part historical docuseries, “Language of a Nation,” examines the 1896 decision that withheld accreditation from Hawaiian-language schools, which functioned essentially as a ban.
Melany De La Cruz-Viesca, deputy director of UCLA’s Asian American Studies Center, recommended a film, book and music.
- A documentary by UCLA alumnus Tadashi Nakamura, “Mele Murals” is about the transformative power of modern graffiti art and ancient Hawaiian culture for a new generation of Native Hawaiians. At the center of the story are two street artists, Estria Miyashiro (aka Estria) and John Hina (aka Prime); a group of Native Hawaiian youth; and the rural community of Waimea. Through their stories, “Mele Murals” shows how public art and Native Hawaiian traditions transform the artists, students and community.
- First published in 1943, “America Is in the Heart” is a classic memoir by well-known Filipino poet Carlos Bulosan, who describes his boyhood in the Philippines, his voyage to America, and his years of hardship and despair as an itinerant laborer following the harvest trail in the rural West. The 2014 edition includes a new introduction by the late Lane Hirabayashi, a former UCLA professor, and Marilyn Alquizola.
- Afro-Filipina artist H.E.R. recently won the best original song Oscar for “Fight for You,” which was featured in the film “Judas and the Black Messiah.” She is an extraordinary and talented 23-year-old singer/songwriter who plays five instruments, but mostly the guitar. I absolutely love her soulful voice against funky ’70s R&B tracks. Most of all, I appreciate how she is all about her music, letting it speak for itself, and how she resists being put into the pop-star archetype.
Cheryl Cheng, chief copy editor at UCLA Strategic Communications, recommended two books.
- By writing “Interior Chinatown” as a screenplay, Charles Yu compels readers to think about the roles that Asian Americans are forced to play in their everyday lives. It’s an inventive narrative structure that makes us aware of our biases and prejudices.
- Mira Jacob’s beautiful graphic novel “Good Talk” focuses on her struggles with race and identity as an Indian American, at turns humorous and heartbreaking. Her attempts to explain racism to her biracial son highlight the challenges parents face in making sense of this moment.
Jen Ear, associate director of finance and business services at UCLA Strategic Communications
“The Try Guys on YouTube recently posted an hourlong documentary about racism, violence and political propaganda targeting Asian Americans,” she said. “I had some difficulty last year trying to understand my own feelings about being an Asian in America. This video helped me realize that my struggles with racism, bullying and stereotypes aren’t exclusive to me. My perceptions, expectations and views of Asians are shaped by historical events that I never knew about.”
Allison Lu, front-end web developer at UCLA Strategic Communications
“Mitski is a Japanese American singer/songwriter. Her emotion-packed songs helped me survive the confusing time that is college,” she said. “I have seen her perform live three times, and each time, her performance and songwriting evolve. I like to think that’s an analogy for my own growth.”