What to read, watch or listen to during Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month

AAPI faculty and staff at UCLA recommend media that provide insights into history, culture, struggle and contributions

AAPI faculty and staff at UCLA recommend media that provide insights into history, culture, struggle and contributions

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.

Ramos said she is also currently enjoying Emmy-winner Elizabeth Ito’s new animated Netflix series “City of Ghosts,’ which features the voices and stories of real Los Angeles residents.

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 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 ezine , volunteer edited by UCLA alumnus Eddie Wong, who is one of the co-founders of the 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 is the office manager for UCLA’s Asian American Studies Center and also a poet, independent literary and film curator and activist

She created a list on Bookshop.org of “LGBTQ Filipinx Poetry Book Recommendations? 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 also recommends 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 , a nonprofit that seeks to empower youth affected by the juvenile justice system to improve their lives and become self-reliant through creative storytelling. 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.

Jessica Wolf

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