I think we can all agree that there could be a lot more Asian representation in books, though we’ve come a long way.
But even though I will never stop fiercely advocating for more, because those stories deserve and need to be told, I think this also makes the representation we do have all the more special and meaningful.
I’ve been reflecting on why people supporting diverse books—something that should be done all the time—makes me feel warm and fuzzy, and I think it boils down to this: Seeing love for books about an underrepresented group of people makes them feel loved.
Every single time I read a glowing five-star review of an Asian book, or I see someone talking about how excited they are to read a particular Asian release, my heart swells. It’s only in these last few years that I’ve been able to find myself represented in books (though not completely represented) and I never would have imagined that these books could be so genuinely loved by other people too.
Not just because the books were Asian and could therefore have a lot of meaning to the readers — but because these books were just simply good, well-written, enjoyable books. (And it’s especially touching when it’s non-Asian readers too, because then you know they didn’t love it because it represented them, and just purely enjoyed content that happened to be almost nonexistent ten years ago.)
I think the most profound example of this was seeing Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan become such a popular, well-loved book. I remember being so happy and overwhelmed to hear that it hit the New York Times Bestselling list, and I remember getting excited when I saw it on one “Anticipated Releases of the Year” blog post after another.
And to witness the love for Girls of Paper and Fire was just… so moving and meaningful to me. Because it was the first book I read where two Asian girls were in a relationship together, and seeing them fight against oppression together meant everything to me. Watching the support for the book only grow bigger and bigger and seeing all the love and positive reviews pour in for it felt like an indirect way of people saying to me, “I see you, as a queer Asian, fighting against oppression. And I support and love you too.”
There are other books as well; To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han and Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan were both pretty popular books before their movie adaptations came out, and after that, seeing a surge of love for them from even beyond the book community felt surreal. Marie Lu’s Warcross captured the hearts of an overwhelming amount of readers, RF Kuang’s The Poppy War is a book I’ve seen so many people openly adore and admire, and the hype for Hafsah Faizal’s We Hunt the Flame on multiple platforms was truly heartwarming.
Of course, there’s still a long way to go with Asian representation. I mean, most of the popular Asian books I just named are East Asian-centered, which is already saying something and makes me sad as a Southeast Asian. (Everyone’s love for these Asian books is absolutely wonderful, but also make love non-East Asian books the same way!)
But I think when you’re marginalized, and you don’t see yourself in the books you read, when you finally do find books that represent you in some way and people actually love and enjoy them, it feels like someone is recognizing and loving you when everyone has been ignoring you and forcing you into the margins.
How many Asian readers can say that five years ago they thought they would see all these wonderful Asian books being published today? How many Asian readers can say that they thought people would actually adore these books, and that they would become so hyped and supported and well-loved, some even enough to get their own movie adaptations?
And I think it gets even more overwhelming when you think about how the reason these books with Asian representation were even rarer a few years ago is because the publishing industry didn’t care about these voices. They didn’t think their stories were necessary, they didn’t think their stories should be told, they didn’t think their stories were wanted.
And now? Readers are showing how wrong publishing was — they’re showing that they love these Asian stories and these Asian voices. To me, indirectly, they’re showing that they love me, as an Asian, and my story and my voice. And this, when, historically, no one has shown that they’ve cared about my Asian identity, means the world.
I’ll end this post by saying this: Read and support and uplift and show all the love to Asian books. Let the publishing industry know that these books are needed, and perhaps more importantly, actually wanted.
Because Asian readers deserve to see themselves in books, and Asian readers deserve to see others loving the stories about them.
Augvocate for the Day
May is a Thai queer teen book blogger at Forever and Everly. She advocates for diverse representation, enjoys reading gay books, and loves to dance. If they’re not reading or writing, they’re definitely screaming into a void or eating mangoes.
This guest post is part of a month-long collaborative series called Augvocacy, which is shorthand for August with an advocacy. Essentially, this project aims to bring together like-minded individuals — be it bloggers, authors, or readers — in actively forwarding a particular advocacy. All contributors to this project are referred to as Augvocates — and each Augvocate will share their thoughts on my blog from the 1st day of August until the 28th. Find the rest of the Augvocacy 2019 posts here.
For this year, Augvocacy hopes to discuss and encourage the importance of amplifying Asian voices in books and in media. While this particular call brings attention to the oftentimes-ignored demand for more authentic Asian representation, it also aims to debunk the bigoted view that Asian cultures are a monolith and to shed light on the nuances of struggle, privilege, and identity within and across our own communities. Learn more about Augvocacy 2019 in this post.
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I’d love to hear from you!
🌻 Can you relate to May’s post? Does seeing other readers love diverse books that you can personally relate to make you feel loved as a person with that identity?
🌻 Have you read any of the Asian books mentioned in this post? Are any of them your favorites, too?
🌻 What is an Asian or Asian-authored book that is personally meaningful to you?