HomeAsian AmericansWhat's in a name? New book explores Asian American identity

What’s in a name? New book explores Asian American identity

The Asian American community has long since been misunderstood and underrepresented, constantly being labeled and too proximate to whiteness to experience oppression, but too nonwhite to be included, Religion News Service reports.

Four Asian Americans authors of East Asian, Southeast Asian and South Asian backgrounds, Sabrina S. Chan, Linson Daniel, E. David de Leon and La Thao, explore this issue of acceptance and belonging in their book Learning Names: Asian American Christians on Identity, Relationships, and Vocation published by InterVarsity Press on Aug. 30.

Their book encourages Asian Americans to learn the history behind their names and trace the complex stories of identity and faith of Asians in America.

“Our names, whether their origins are clear or obscure, provide an opportunity for us to look back and make meaning,” E. David Leon writes in the first chapter. “Looking back helps us locate ourselves in our family’s story and in God’s story.”

The authors reference biblical stories to bring to light the perils that Asian Americans had to face. They refer to Hagar, a biblical reference known for mistreatment and oppression, when referring to the marginalization Asian Americans face and feeling the need to be seen.

‘There’s a hyper visibility at times when you’re seen as a foreigner, and then there’s an invisibility when our stories aren’t acknowledged. The author of Genesis outlines Hagar as a foreigner but then there’s also invisibility because Abram and Sarah never call her by her name. There’s this real connection with God knowing our names, even if other people don’t or don’t care to try and learn,” Chan told RNS.

The Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism reported that hate crimes against Asian Americans increased 339 percent in 2021 from the year before, according to the Guardian. Asian Americans have been facing more hardships and unprecedented escalation of anti-Asian hate, making life even more difficult for Asian Americans who have doubts of self-identity, Sight Magazine reports.

Though the book presents itself for all Asian Americans, the authors acknowledge that there are differences within each community. But, by presenting it in such manner, they wanted to acknowledge the struggles the community faces altogether.

“The legacy of the label itself is one of solidarity that came out of the 1960s and ’70s. Our book tries to both problematize Asian American identity for the ways it’s been exclusive, flattening or essentializing, and make it more breathable for people who might not fit into the American imagination of what an Asian American is,” De Leon told RNS.

The book is available to be purchased on InterVarsity Press and Amazon.

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