HomeAsian AmericansIllustrated Asian American history book breathes depth & hilarity

Illustrated Asian American history book breathes depth & hilarity

By Rhiannon Koh, AsAmNews Staff Writer

Rise: A Pop History of Asian America from the Nineties to Now is now officially out on bookshelves and available for purchase.

Co-authored by Jeff Yang, Phil Yu, and Philip Wang, this prolific team of Asian American creatives has produced a nuanced and interactive book that not only celebrates art produced by the AAPI community, but also the AAPI activists and movements seeking to ensure equity and justice.

AsAmNews had the opportunity to speak with Jeff Yang and Phil Yu about the inspirations behind Rise.

“We first conceived Rise through a series of conversations that I had independently with Phil and Philip,” Yang said. “Phil and I co-host the podcast They Call Us Bruce and had been talking about doing a book for a while.”

“Philip and I have been friends for a while and we got into a discussion about the memory gap that seems to exist around the past 30 years of our community,” Yang continued. “It’s like, recorded Asian American history seems to end in the 1980s and then goes dark! In both cases, the conversation underscored something we all agreed on: this period, from the 1990s to the 2010s, was a pivotal one for our community and culture, and deserved to get a spotlight that it had never yet received.

Yu echoed Yang’s sentiments.

“We all come from unique vantage points of creating, observing and experiencing culture in our community,” Yu said. “But you don’t think about any of it as ‘history’ when you’re in the middle of it. When you look back and think, ‘these moments in our collective community history were significant; somebody should document our story for posterity.’ I think we realized that we were that somebody.”

We all come from unique vantage points of creating, observing and experiencing culture in our community. But you don’t think about any of it as ‘history’ when you’re in the middle of it. When you look back and think, ‘these moments in our collective community history were significant; somebody should document our story for posterity.’ I think we realized that we were that somebody.

Phil Yu, Angry Asian Man

When pitching Rise, Yang said their proposal was met with enthusiasm. Yang believes that the start of the pandemic and the consequent, growing antagonism towards the AAPI community was instrumental in re-shaping the focus of the book.

“It felt like all of a sudden there was a very real chance that we would have to rebuild from scratch, so this book was not just a time capsule, but a blueprint if everything went away for how we could bring it all back,” Yang explained.

Yu commended their editor, Jenny Xu, for being one of their biggest advocates inside of Harper Collins.

“All credit goes to our editor Jenny Xu, who believed in the book from day one and totally understood our vision,” Yu said. “It’s not enough to have a great idea. You need key people who not only have the faith but also the willingness to go to bat for you.”

Because of Xu’s unfailing support, Rise ended up with almost 500 pages of full color with fold-out spreads and illustrations throughout. Yang and Yu were shocked at the sheer amount of time and investment HarperCollins put behind this volume of Rise.

(Purchase of Rise: A Pop History of Asian America from Nineties to Now through the button below will support both independent bookstores and AsAmNews.)

“We understood from the beginning that the three of us didn’t exactly represent the most diverse cross-section of Asian America,” the two explained. “So, we reached out to an entire village of people we admired and wanted to bring into the book as contributors, which also vastly expanded the topics and ideas and events and people we knew we needed to cover.”

For Yang, Yu, and Wang, Rise is only the beginning. While they’re not allowed to disclose the specifics, they promised “really cool stuff in the works.”   

To aspiring AAPI creatives and artists, Yang and Yu advised:

1) Tell the stories that are closest to your heart, most intimate to your soul, and be defiant about the details. There is no longer a need to compromise in order to find universality because specificity is universality, and 2) Don’t let anyone else tell it, and don’t wait for anyone else’s permission to tell it. Do it because you love it, and do it because you absolutely must.

AsAmNews has Asian America in its heart. We’re an all-volunteer effort of dedicated staff and interns. Check out our new Instagram account. Go to our Twitter feed and Facebook page for more content. Please consider interning, joining our staff, or submitting a story, or making a contribution.

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