History & Culture

Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. According to the Pew Research Center, “Asian Americans trace their roots to more than 20 countries in East and Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent, each with unique histories, cultures, languages and other characteristics.”

Heritage months like this one are annual reminders to acknowledge the experiences of various marginalized people and to elevate their contributions that are too often ignored. These months are also celebrations of their culture. This year, you can use this time to immerse yourself in the diverse histories, cultures, and traditions of people of Asian-Pacific ancestry.

Graphic Novel Memoirs Featuring Asian American and Pacific Islander Authors

A memoir is a narrative book, written from the perspective of the author, that tells about a particular portion of their life. Memoirs give individual perspective and share what a person felt during a particular experience. A memoir may or may not begin in childhood as an autobiography often does, whose purpose spans the author’s life time. Memoirs instead focus on a particular moment or influential experience that has shaped the author. Memoirs create empathy and understanding at a deeper level beyond the facts. The story is told as the author remembers it. The author is the only one who can tell the story. Our staff have selected several graphic novel memoirs to recommend during Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage month.

For even more reading ideas see our guide to Finding Books by Asian and Pacific Islander Authors.

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang is made up of three seemingly unrelated stories blending modern day issues with a beautiful old Chinese myth to tell a story about racism, identity, and acceptance. It won the 2007 Best Book Award from The Chinese American Librarians Association, the 2007 Michael L. Printz Award, and the 2007 Eisner Award for Best Graphic Album. In addition, it was a finalist for the 2006 National Book Award. IndyPL_KristenF

The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui

In the graphic novel memoir The Best We Could Do, Thi Bui tells the story of her family, starting with the birth of her son and then working back in time. She chronicles the lives of her parents through the ever shifting turmoil in Vietnam and their escape to the United States. Through it all, she questions whether or not she will be as strong as her parents and if she is worthy to even be a parent. Bui’s book was an American Book Award winner, a National Book Critics Circle finalist in autobiography, and an Eisner Award finalist in reality-based comics. IndyPL_MarianneK

They Called Us Enemy by George Takei

Finally, you may know George Takei from his performance as Sulu on the TV show Star Trek and from his wonderful social media presence. What you might not now is that when he was a child during World War II Takei spent time in an internment camp for people of Japanese descent. Takei sheds light on this dark part of American history in his emotional memoir They Called Us Enemy. It’s a story of legalized racism, the love of family, and perseverance. Takei’s book won the 2020 Asian/Pacific American Librarians Association Literature Award, the 2020 American Book Award, and the 2020 Eisner Award. IndyPL_KristenF

Browse More Asian American Memoirs

This is a list of memoirs celebrates the unique and varied voices of Asian American authors. It provides representation for the different countries and cultures that make up the Asian American experience.

Title - Beautiful CountryTitle - Biting the HandTitle - Crying in H MartTitle - Eat A Peach


Set aside an evening or two to enjoy a movie feature from one of our streaming movie services. Kanopy features collections of Chinese CinemaIndian CinemaJapanese CinemaKorean Cinema, and Thai Cinema. In addition, Hoopla feature an Asian Cinema collection.


Enjoy the online National Poetry Foundation portal Asian American Voices in Poetry. This collection is intended to introduce readers to Asian American poets. Simply click on a poet’s name to learn about them and read selections of their work.

Online Sources

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To take a deep dive online, visit the PBS site, Ancestors in the Americas, which provides a comprehensive list of resources related to Asian American heritage or explore this comprehensive web portal that is a collaborative project of the Library of Congress, the National Archives and Records Administration, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Gallery of Art, the National Park Service, the Smithsonian Institution, and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

For a look at local history, explore the Encyclopedia of Indianapolis articles featuring ChineseFilipinoJapanese and Asian Indian histories in Indianapolis. You can also browse the Indianapolis Sister Cities International Digital Collection which features the Sister Cities Taipei, Taiwan, and Hangzhou, China and Hyderabad, India.

Especially for Kids

Enjoy these online read alouds featuring stories by Grace LinDemiJi-li JiangVirginia Loh-HaganMinh , and more. You can also listen to stories read aloud in Mandarin brought to you be Scholastic Treasures.

To find even more great titles for kids, children’s book author Linda Sue Park has created and manages a site called KiBooka that highlights kids’ books by Korean Americans.

title - Amy Wu and the Patchwork Dragontitle - Amy Wu and the Perfect Baotitle - Cora Cooks Pancittitle - Danbi Leads the School Paradetitle - Drawn Togethertitle - The Empty Pottitle - Eyes That Kiss in the Cornerstitle - Ling & Tingtitle - Ling & Tingtitle - Lotus & Feathertitle - 'Ohana Means Familytitle - PoPo's Lucky Chinese New Yeartitle - The Sound of Silence