By Ed Diokno
#OscarssoWhite has attracted a lot of attention the last few weeks after the Academy of Motion Pictures and Arts announced its nominees for the Oscars’ acting awards. For the second straight year there were no actors of color among the 20 nominees.
The discussions sparked by the lack of diversity in Hollywood brought attention to the lack of people of color throughout the motion picture industry, especially in the decision making roles that determine which movies will get made and who will be cast in the movies.
Although much of the critiicism has focused on the lack of African American nominees, the absence of Latinos and Asian Americans is even more dire.
Hollywood is not the only industry where AAPI are rendered almost invisible. The literary world suffers from the same blindness. In order to bring more attention to Asian American authors, the Asian Pacific American Librarians Association (APALA), an affiliate of the American Library Association, has announced the winners of the 2015 Asian Pacific American Awards for Literature (APAAL).
The awards promote Asian Pacific American culture and heritage and are awarded to titles published from October 2014 to September 2015 based on their literary and artistic merit, according to the group’s press release.
There are five categories for the Awards, each with a Winner and an Honor book. Here are the winners of the 2015 awards:
Winner: Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen (Grove Press)
Viet Than Nguyen weaves a compelling story of a Vietnamese double agent in his debut novel The Sympathizer. The novel brings humor and a critical eye to the Vietnam War and narratives of Vietnamese refugees.
Honor: Don’t Let Him Know by Sandip Roy (Bloomsbury USA)
Sandip Roy blends family secrets, arranged marriages, and culture clash in his debut novel, Don’t Let Him Know. From the new bride Romola who arrives in the United States to her only child Amit, who discovers a family secret, readers will be fascinated with the interconnected stories about family, friendship, and culture.
- Winner: The Making of Asian America by Erika Lee (Simon and Schuster)
Dr. Erika Lee, University of Minnesota History Faculty & Immigration History Research Center Director, compiled an astounding 17-chapter single volume of research which falls on the 50th anniversary of the commemoration of the United States Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. Lee’s significant centennial plus documentation includes and describes some of the most important annals of Asian American history in the areas of immigration, assimilation, civil rights as well as noteworthy contributions and strides made to the American landscape attributed to Americans of Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Filipino Vietnamese, Cambodian, Sikh, Hindu and other Asian ancestry and heritage.
- Honor: Canton Restaurant to Panda Express by Haiming Liu (Rutgers University Press)
To the Chinese people, food is the aggregator of warm social interaction. Haiming Liu in this new title has documented the story of the social history of a transcultural people by weaving the history of the early Chinese settlers, their assimilation into their adopted American culture with the story of their continually adaptive cuisine which includes the present-day fusion and fast food industry. This intriguing title examines the developmental history of the Chinese up from the mid 1800’s and their commitment to American society while retaining their own unique brand of what it means to have Chinese ancestry.
- Honor: The Good Immigrant: How the Yellow Peril Became the Model Minority by Madilyn Y. Hsu (Princeton University Press)
The Good Immigrant stands out as an impeccable study which fills a critical void in the literature of Asian America. Its focused research reveals discoveries about a unique group of immigrants whose history has been generally overlooked. It explores into the past and more recent immigration from Asia, such as transnational immigrant student, the intellectual, the entrepreneurial businessman, and etc., which garnered notice of the growing influence of Asian Americans. Until Hsu’s articulate and scholarly endeavor few have found cause to investigate.
- Winner: P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)
P.S. I Still Love You was a contemporary and relatable story to many teens that we as a committee even wished we had a book like this to read and refer to during our teenage years. Furthermore, Han is able to depict Lara Jean, the protagonist in a very positive and relatable light for not only for other Asians but people in general as well. Lara Jean is able to be both Korean and “normal,” and avoids being typecasted into certain tropes.
- Honor: Ink and Ashes by Valynne E. Maetani (Tu Books)
Ink and Ashes was very interesting and different than what we had read. It was contemporary, but yet the readers will learn a lot about the Japanese histories and superstitions through Claire and her research into her family history which contains links to the Yakuza – the Japanese Mafia. With suspense, mystery, and a dash of romance, this book has teen appeal and would be suitable for a movie adaptation.
- Winner: Full Cicada Moon by Marilyn Hilton (Dial Books/Penguin Random House)
The committee was especially impressed with Full Cicada Moon, praising Hilton’s engaging examination of racial (and particularly, biracial), gender, and social issues, as well as the powerful verse in which it was elegantly told. The portrayal of the remarkable Mimi—a strong protagonist whose memorable journey is both stirringly and gracefully developed.
- Honor: Blackbird Fly by Erin Entrada Kelly (Green Willow Books/Harper Collins)
Kelly’s entertaining and refreshing debut novel was enjoyed by the committee. Of one particular note was the sensitive development of its believable protagonist, the smooth detailing of Apple’s ethnic heritage and her struggles to embrace it, and overall, the hopeful yet not overly didactic message it presents on exploring one’s identity and the adolescent experience.
- Winner: Juna’s Jar by Jane Bahk, illustrated by Felicia Hoshino (Lee & Low Books)
Juna’s Jar celebrates imagination, while also showcasing cross-racial best friends in modern day Los Angeles. It charmingly captures the adventures and heartache of a little girl—who just happens to be a Korean American.
- Honor: Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Rafael Lopez (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers)
Millo Castro Zaldarriaga is a Chinese-African-Cuban girl who dreamed of drumming at a time when only boys were allowed to drum. Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music celebrates music, culture, gender, and the right to dream.
Ed Diokno writes a blog :Views From The Edge: news and analysis from an Asian American perspective.)