As we reach the end of this year’s Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we wanted to share with you some of book, film, television, music, whatever content created by and for Asians and the Asian diaspora. Celebrating our culture and history here in Canada and around the world also means celebrating the content and creators who help us to understand ourselves and share our experiences with one another. We hope that this list helps you to discover something to watch or read or listen to, not only for the rest of May but also for whenever you’re looking for something new.
Things to Read:
Pawan Minhas: Empire of the Sikhs, by Patwant Singha and Jyoti M. Rai
I bought this book for my Dad a few Christmases ago. Since then, I've read it through a few times and still marvel at how a book so keenly focused on the history of a region can feel like it’s speaking directly to you.
The book focuses on the Sikh empire, led by the warrior-king Ranjit Singh and in its 300 pages, you'll find yourself sucked in by the intricacies of the empire, battle against colonial rule and the strict egalitarianism mandated by both Sikhism and Maharaja Singh.
This book piqued my interest in my homeland and sparked a passion for a region half a world away. I still don't think my dad’s read it, though.
Elizabeth Wang: The Art of Living, by Lin Yutang
Published in 1937, The Art of Living is one of the first English books written by a Chinese writer about the traditional value and culture of its country and people. In this book, you can find Chinese ways of living from more than 80 years ago. Lin uses a mix of formal and humorous language to introduce Chinese culture to a Western society despite many aspects of the culture being misjudged by the West. It’s a perfect read for people who want to learn about Chinese culture from a native perspective in a language that they’re familiar with.
Things to Watch:
Kaila Johnson: The Half of It, written and directed by Alice Wu
This movie is available on Netflix and I have already seen it twice! One reason why I love this movie is that it has good LGBTQ+ representation and has an ending that the audience may not expect. I loved the attention to detail in this movie (which I won’t get into, so you can watch it). The setting of the film also takes place in Washington state, which is where I'm from!
The aspect of Asian diaspora in this film is centred around the main character’s dad and how his job prospects have suffered due to his English being his second language. While the film did not centre around this, it added to the overall theme surrounding communication, as the main character, Ellie Chu, seems to understand the love interest, Aster Flores, more than the male character who was supposedly in love with her.
Andrew Ha: Matangi/Maya/M.I.A, directed by Steve Loveridge
M.I.A. is the renowned artist of “Paper Planes” fame — and she’s unabashed in her Sri Lankan heritage. The self-shot movie follows the origins of her refugee family who settled in the United Kingdom, how she incorporates Tamil activism in her work and the struggles she has faced as an artist of colour enduring international fame. This biopic is more than your classic tour movie: M.I.A. herself was surprised when she saw what her acquaintance and film director Steve Loveridge had done with the footage she’d given him. Be sure to add this movie to your Asian Heritage Month watchlist for a deeper look into the person behind the iconic ka-ching! and gunshot sound effects.
Arumann Dhillon: Never Have I Ever, created by Mindy Kaling
When I first started watching this series, I thought it was a little bit cringey, but by the end of it, I saw the message that the producers were trying to get through to their audience of young or teenage Asians around the world. In a lot of Asian cultures, there’s this really deep-set taboo around all things romantic and sexual. Sometimes, these taboos can put a strain around young Asian women and their families, because they feel that they aren’t accepted or understood because of the thoughts that they have.
Mindy Kaling’s concept around this series really tackles a lot of the taboo things that young Asian girls are usually thinking about but too scared to talk about. But even further, it goes to show that at the end of the day, no matter how different your thinking and ideals are from your immigrant parents, they are still, at the end of the day, your family, and will probably, eventually end up accepting you for who you are.
Thea Udwadia: Made in Heaven
Made in Heaven is an Indian TV show that follows the careers and personal lives of Delhi-based wedding planners Tara and Karan. Each of the nine episodes showcases the planning of a different wedding for rich and affluent members of Delhi society. As the wedding planners meet a new couple in each episode and jump through different hoops to put together lavish weddings for them, they are forced to deal with complex social issues that are pertinent to modern Indian society. The show unveils the ugly truths associated with the Indian wedding industry and illustrates the frequent clash between traditional and progressive values in young Delhi couples and families.
Diana Hong: Hospital Playlist 슬기로운 의사생활, Netflix
This is by far the cutest and most healing Korean drama I have ever watched. The story is based on five best friends continuing the band that they have created during their medical school days. Throughout the episodes, they reflect back to their days in university whilst showing glimpses of what it is like to be a doctor in South Korea. Watching this will heal your broken heart, guaranteed.
Things to Listen to:
Kaila Johnson: SAWAYAMA, Rina Sawayama
An album that I am enjoying recently has been SAWAYAMA by Rina Sawayama. One of the first songs I heard on this album was her single, "STFU!", which she dedicated to "any minority that has experienced microaggressions."
She also has songs on this album that bashes capitalism (XS), highlights a double standard that women face (Comme Des Garçon (Like the Boys), and talks about the importance of loving yourself (Love Me 4 Me). There really is a song for everyone on this album!