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Asian American Literature

Challenges + Ideas + Resources



Teachable Texts


Better Luck Tomorrow by Justin Lin. Challenging the stereotypes of the "model minority", this film centers around the lives of a group of Asian-American high school students who use other people's preconceived notions of them as a cover for illicit activity. Noted as one of the most important Asian-American films of the last decade, Justin Lin's independent film shows that Asian-American actors can portray more that just "bulletproof monks" and Karate experts. The film is a fine example of modern Asian-American cinema and could be used to in secondary and post-secondary classrooms. by Jeff Patterson

Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston. Farewell to Manzanar is Wakatusuki Houston's recollection of her childhood experience as a Japanese American held at the Manzanar internment camp during WWII. Although she writes many years after the fact, she tells the story through her eyes as a child and furthermore, recounts what "re-entry" into society meant for her as a Japanese American teenager. This book is already widely taught to middle and high school students and completely appropriate for the postsecondary setting as well in either English, Social Studies and/or Asian American literature classes. This article addresses the challenges of teaching this text and offers some ideas and resources for doing so. by Nicole Ziegler

Growing Up Brown: Memoirs of a Filipino American by Peter M. Jamero. Jamero's brilliantly provides us with his journey of working on a farm labor camp to his military service to his participation as a social activist both during and after his college education. This is a wonderful text for a high school classroom, yet because of its recent publication, there are very few resources to supplement it.
by Peter VanGorp

Journey to Topaz by Yoshiko Uchida. Told through the perspective of Yuki, an eleven year-old Japanese American, this story recounts the trials the Sakane family faces after Pearl Harbor and the subsequent evacuation of Japanese people inland. Struggling with selling everything and leaving their lives behind, Yuki expresses the feelings and emotions prevalent at the time for those in Japanese internment camps. The following article discusses the challenges with teaching this text, as well as possible ideas for approaching it in the classroom. by Kyle Krol.

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan. A New York Times bestseller and later adapted to the Hollywood screen, The Joy Luck Club is Amy Tan's debut novel. Weaving through time, history, reality and myth this novel explores relationships between four Chinese immigrant women and their American-born daughters. The novel's segmented structure and female-oriented themes might make the text slightly distracting or disinteresting to high school or male readers. However, Tan's lyric description of pre-World War II China creates a beautiful and engaging setting, and the generational conflicts the novel addresses are ones with which contemporary adolescents can relate. Due to the novel's structure, it is feasible to teach a portion of the text in a secondary or postsecondary classroom. The novel could also serve as a launching point for exploring post-colonial influences on Asian and Asian American cultures. by Erinn Bentley

Thief of Hearts by Laurence Yep. A book directed at eight to twelve year old children, Thief of Hearts focuses on the story of Stacy, an American girl of Chinese heritage who is made to make friends with a young woman, Hong Ch'un, who is accused of being a thief. This book has some distinct flaws, although its merits make it suitable for use in classrooms devoted to the study of both Asian American and Children's Literature.

A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park follows the struggles and perseverance of a young orphan, Tree-ear, as he fights for basic survival and the chance to learn the art of Korean pottery. by Michelle Ringle-Barrett

A Step from Heaven by An Na. (grades 7-12) This is the story about a young girl whose family immigrates to California from Korea. She believes that America is heaven, until she spends some time there. Young Ju and her family have to struggle with learning English, losing traditions, and changes in family dynamics, all brought on by their move to a new country. by Christy Yingling

The Unwanted by Kien Nguyen. The Unwanted is a memoir of a childhood interrupted by war. Nguyen is only eight years old during the fall of Saigon and the rise of the communist party in Vietnam. He stays in Vietnam for ten years following the fall of Saigon, and his memoir focuses on those ten years of his life. Nguyen suffers incredibly as a half breed child of an American soldier and a mother whose capitalist connections make her an enemy. Although the reading level is appropriate for high school students, the violence portrayed in the memoir should be considered when teaching this novel. by Lindsay Steenbergen

Wild Swans by Jung Chang
Wild Swans details the lives of three generations of Chinese women. The book affords a close look at how the women were affected by Mao Zedong's rise to power and the consequences they faced as its result. by Mandy Browning

Also recommended

Chinese American:

The Amah by Laurence Yep. Putnam, 1991.
American Born Chinese (graphic novel) by Gene Luen Yang
Child of the Owl by Laurence Yep. Harper Trophy,1990.
Thief of Hearts by Laurence Yep. Harper Trophy, 1995.
The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts by Maxine Hong Kingston. Vintage, 1989.

Filipino American:

America is in the Heart by Carlos Bulosan. University of Washington Press, 1974.

Japanese American:

A Boy at War: a Novel of Pearl Harbor by Harry Mazer, 2003.
Journey Home. by Yoshiko Uchida. Athenuem, 1978.
Nisei Daughter by Monica Sone. University of Washington Press, 1979.
No No Boy by John Okada. University of Washington Press, 1978.

Korean American:

Finding My Voice by Marie Lee. Harper Collins, 2001. Necessary Roughness. Harper Collins, 2001.