Over the years, I haven't found many books and articles that speak honestly about the Asian American experience, especially for men. Although that is changing in recent years.
What follows is a small (but growing) list of articles/books/media that I have found somewhat therapeutic. They're books that make me feel seen. Reach out to me if you have a suggestion that should go on this list.
On the Asian American experience:
“Sometimes I wonder if the Asian-American experience is what it’s like when you’re thinking about everyone else, but nobody else is thinking about you,” Yeun said.
On Asians who grow up in white America:
Our talks, I admit, were therapeutic, at least for me. Yeun and I are both immigrants, born in Seoul and then raised in mostly white neighborhoods.
“I’ve looked at this photo so many times,” Yeun said. “If you look at photos of me in Korea, I’m like joyful, man. So happy, like flipping my yellow bucket hat upside down.” Or hanging out with a friend, he added. “And then you see this photo, and I look so terrified.”
In Detroit at the time, there were just enough Koreans to fill a few church congregations and run a handful of Asian grocery stores. But it wasn’t like Los Angeles or Queens, where the enclave can contain your entire life — where you grow up around your kind, you go to school with your kind, you play youth sports with your kind, you end up dating and marrying your kind. “I remember when I first went to L.A. and saw these totally free Korean dudes,” Yeun said. “They weren’t weighted down with all that same self-consciousness. They even walked differently.”
On Asian men and dating:
An Asian man dating a white woman on the most popular show on TV was seen as not only a marker of progress but also a permission slip for white women to maybe start dating more of us. Yeun understood the excitement but wasn’t sure what to make of the fuss. Should he be proud? Or did he even want that sort of attention at all? “I went through the same journey that I’m sure most Asian-American men go through,” Yeun said, referring to the typical rejections and emasculations that befall so many of us. “It’s just so paper-thin — you’re asking Asian men to be validated by whiteness, and you’re basically saying that I can only feel like a man if I’m with a white woman, which is just a terrible thing to think.”
On how to act when awareness of race can leave you feeling paralyzed:
“It’s painful to feel that aware,” he said. But he also said he thought there were ways in which that hypersensitivity could become its own prison. “You can lock yourself into those patterns, and then all of a sudden you can’t even see outside of it,” he said. “You don’t see how you might be able to break through the system.” Then he added: “If I see a door is cracked open, I just want to see what’s behind that thing. And I just go through it. And I get burned a lot, too, but whatever.”
On awareness, and the next generation
But maybe his kids might be able to grow up without this debilitating awareness?
“I don’t want to eliminate all of that questioning for them,” Yeun said. “But I hope they’ll be more unlocked than me and less traumatized. But for me, the [expletive] nature of that statement is that it implies a lack of agency about it, like our brains are just hard-wired to consider others.
The most striking thing about the Southern Californian Asian communities isn’t the percentage or volume of Asian people living in them, but the boldness and shamelessness of the Asian culture that thrives there.
Here is what I sometimes suspect my face signifies to other Americans: an invisible person, barely distinguishable from a mass of faces that resemble it. A conspicuous person standing apart from the crowd and yet devoid of any individuality. An icon of so much that the culture pretends to honor but that it in fact patronizes and exploits. Not just people “who are good at math” and play the violin, but a mass of stifled, repressed, abused, conformist quasi-robots who simply do not matter, socially or culturally.
Sort of on this list - The Joy Luck Club: it's a great book that speaks to the difficulties in communication between immigrant parent and American child, but it's a miserable read for Asian men. There might be four Asian men in the book, and most are misogynists or background props. There are a lot of people who hate the book (and the movie and Amy Tan because she wrote it), but I thought it was beautiful and helped me understand my parents a little better. However, I felt worse about myself after reading it. Thus, it's on this list, but with a huge asterisk.
Sometimes, the best way to learn about something is to read an eye opening Tweet thread. I will collect some of them here: