#Augvocacy2019 (Extended): The Importance of Asian Representation in Books

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that the media industries are dominated by white people. Persons of color are often overlooked.

Some say that POCs don’t sell, while others claim that there were no POCs at that specific era (for certain historical fiction). As expected, white become the standard. They would make the effort to choose anyone other than POCs since it’s what everyone else is doing.

Sadly, this includes the publishing industries. They often choose to publish books with Asian rep by white authors, rather than Asian persons who write their own stories. This resulted in many readers, including me, who started to think that being white is better and ultimately, being ashamed and rejected their own culture, since our favorite fictional characters at that time were one.

A little backstory before I dive further: I live in Indonesia, where English isn’t the native language and reading isn’t a popular hobby, so English books are pretty hard to come by. Also, keep in mind that I was 15 in 2014, so online shopping wasn’t an option since I didn’t have a credit card.

Back when I started blogging in 2014, you can imagine how hard it is to find books by Asian authors, let alone books set in Asian countries. The only one I remembered finding in my tiny local bookstore is Legend series by Marie Lu. Books set in Indonesia or featuring Indonesian character? Seemed like a faraway dream at that time.

The first time I found any trace of Indonesia in books was when Cassandra Clare mentioned in one of her books that Magnus Bane is an Indonesian descent. I admit that the bar was set very low, but I was ecstatic. It’s the first time I saw part of myself — however little and insignificant — being acknowledged inside a book I read.

Fast forward 5 years later, in 2019 where at first glance, it seems like it’s no better than 5 years ago. The number of Asian authors is still low compared to white authors. They’re also still facing unfair treatment and have to work extra in the publishing world.

But, if you see it through my eyes, there are some positive changes. There are more Asian books being published each year, with various rep and genre. I’ve found own voices Asian books set in various Asian countries.

Not only that, but here in my country, Asian books are more accessible than ever. I used to have to wait a few months after the US release date to find the book at the bookstore, but now? I found Wicked Fox by Kat Cho a few days before its US release date. And even though I’ve yet to find an Indonesian rep (not counting the one published by local authors. They’re great too but I can’t really promote it to INTL reader since they’re written in Indonesian), but there’s an own voice Malaysian rep — The Weight of Our Sky by Hanna Alkaf — which has similar cultures to mine. Even though some part of publishing world are pretty shitty toward Asian authors and Asian rep, looking at those Asian books (both released and upcoming) made me really happy at how far we’ve gone.

All of those books are prove that our cries weren’t for naught. Every single support you and I made toward Asian rep and Asian authors help paving the way for aspiring Asian authors who want to tell their stories. So please, keep asking for Asian rep in books. Keep tweeting about Asian authors you love. Keep spreading the word about upcoming Asian books. Every little things you do help an Asian person somewhere in this world felt seen and be proud of their culture and heritage. Someday, I do hope we reach the point where every single Asian person could find themselves reflected in the book they read.

Augvocate for the Day

Tiffany is a 20-year-old college student from Indonesia. She’s very fond of books and cats. When she’s not reading, Tiffany can be found sleeping or re-watching her favorite movies.

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Augvocacy 2019

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.

* Note: Due to unforeseen delays on my part, the posts for Augvocacy 2019 will keep coming until the 23rd of September! Hence, the new title: #Augvocacy2019 (Extended).

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I’d love to hear from you!

🌻 What are your thoughts on Tiffany’s article? Do you agree with her points?

🌻 Have you noticed any positive change with the number and quality of Asian representation in books throughout the years?

🌻 What are some of your favorite novels with Asian representation?


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3 thoughts on “#Augvocacy2019 (Extended): The Importance of Asian Representation in Books

  1. Lovely post, Tiffany! ❤ I'm so happy that Asian books have become more accessible in Indonesia for you! I always think it's so unfair how many popular new releases don't release in international countries until months after the US release. It's great to hear that you've noticed some improvement in this aspect for the better!

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  2. Totally agree! So, I’m white, but growing up, the majority of my friends were Asian (Korean, Chinese, Indian, and Russain, which is Eurasian but still relevant). I always found it weird that so few of the books I read had characters who resembled my friends. And then, when popular books did have Asian characters, they were super generic, and they were usually Chinese. We never had books with Asian characters in class, either.

    In college, I took a class on Asian-American literature, and another class on postcolonial literature in southeast Asia and India. For the first time, I was reading literary fiction with Asian characters, and it was awesome.

    But since graduating high school (5 years ago), especially in the world of YA, I’ve seen a lot more representation from a LOT of Asian countries. Some of them, I haven’t had a chance to read, but they’re on my TBR (When Dimple Met Rishi, Wicked Fox, The Star-Touched Queen, Forest of a Thousand Lanterns, A Match Made in Mehendi, The Astonishing Color of After…). Others, I’ve read and loved (which I’ll list below). YA fiction has a strong push going for #OwnVoices fiction these days, across all sorts of countries, genders, sexualities, races, abilities, and other categories (neurodivergence, mental illness, nontraditional family structure, etc) and I love it.

    So, favorites with Asian rep…
    Literary fiction:
    – The God of Small Things (India)
    – Cracking India–also sometimes sold as Ice Candy Man (India/Pakistan)
    – A People’s History of Heaven (India)
    – Quichotte (India/America)
    – Q&A (Indian–this is actually the book Slumdog Millionaire was based on!)
    – Snow Crash (protagonist is Japanese-American, though it is futuristic sci-fi)
    – Like a Love Story (one of the main characters is an immigrant from Iran)

    YA:
    – Spin the Dawn (Chinese-inspired fantasy)
    – Shadow of the Fox (Japanese-inspired fantasy)
    – Patron Saints of Nothing (Filipino)
    – Descendant of the Crane (Chinese-inspired fantasy–I didn’t love this one but a lot of people did)
    – We Hunt the Flame (Middle Eastern-inspired fantasy–also didn’t love this one but tons of people did)

    …I’m sure I have more, but those are the ones that immediately came to mind!

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