Sharing Asian-American Stories


Myra standing in front of Asian American Voices book display.

On Friday, August 27th, a book display highlighting Asian-American voices went up in Hayden Library on ASU’s Tempe campus. The display features titles like When Dimple Met Rishi, The Sympathizer, Know My Name, and Crying in H Mart, among others. This book display was one of the final projects I worked on as a student worker but one that I deemed among the most important. 

While working as a student archivist during the ongoing wave of anti-Asian racism throughout the United States, I often asked myself how I could use my position as a member of the archives and the library to make changes in the systems in which I interact with daily. It was then that I thought of creating an Asian-American voices book display featuring suggestions from community members, online Asian Pacific American reading lists, and my personal library.

While a book display may not seem like much at first glance, it serves a few different functions. Firstly, book displays are physical and public, something which greatly improves accessibility for all students, especially those who may simply stumble upon the collection. Additionally, the creation of the display itself engaged myself and community members to think about the different Asian-American voices which are meaningful to us. Many of the books were purchased by the library specifically for this collection, thereby improving the diversity of the ASU Library’s collection with these meaningful stories. As students engage with these new additions, the university librarians are more likely to continue purchasing more books that focus on underrepresented groups.

Since leisure reading is one of the best ways to learn outside of a formal classroom setting, it is crucial to provide diverse choices for students. When I refer to “diversity,” I also mean variety within a certain community’s representation, not just a singular presence of that community to check off a box. As such, the display highlights fiction and nonfiction stories ranging from lighthearted South Asian romantic comedies to familial stories about Japanese incarceration  camps and everything in between. The differences in genre, reading level, nationality, and other factors were deliberate choices to show how the Asian-American experience is complex, diverse, and is best understood at the individual level. 

All too often the Asian-American experience is boiled down to a heteronormative, East Asian-centric story about the actual act of immigration when our community requires far more nuance to truly be understood and empathized with. Even while working on the project, I was keenly aware of the fact that there are countless other experiences and identities under the Asian-American umbrella which I may not be able to properly represent simply due to the constraints of the project.

As a community archivist, my primary goal is to not just collect and preserve stories of marginalized groups but to also share these stories to ensure that they are heard by those who may need them most. While we probably won’t be able to outright end anti-Asian violence through book displays and reading lists, these resources enable archivists and other librarians like me to help create a space for Asian students, diasporic or otherwise, where their identity and experiences are made familiar instead of othered. 

I hope that this project may be able to inspire, educate, or provide hope to students who may stumble across it and that others in the library and university broadly continue to provide meaningful long-term resources for BIPOC communities.