< Go Back to Full Educator | Resource List

May 2021 Educator|Resource of the Month

The Center for Diversity and Social & Economic Justice Educator|Resource is a monthly feature that highlights curricular resources and social work educators who address diversity and justice.

Narratives by and About Asians and Asian Americans

In April I had the author of Jack & Agyu (view read aloud), Justine Villanueva, visit my social justice and interculturality seminar. Jack & Agyu is a children’s book about a child growing up in the Filipino diaspora who learns about the awesomeness of his culture at home but longs to find himself in the books that he reads. My students, most of whom had not been exposed to Filipino culture, were mesmerized by the book and wondered why there weren’t more books like this one. Why are people other than Whites underrepresented in children’s books in America? How were you, they asked the author, able to jump all the hoops and get your book published while keeping it authentic? She shared that “there is such a thirst for these kinds of stories, where children can see themselves.” They are a form of reclaiming indigenous values and worldviews. 

In this issue of the Educator|Resource we bring you selections from the Diversity Center Library of highly acclaimed contemporary literature by and about Asian and Asian American authors. The books represent nearly a quarter of the 51 countries and territories of Asia, earth’s largest and most populous continent. Intersectionality, coming of age, the precariousness of forced displacement, and layered cultural identity are some of the themes explored in the books in this collection. To add a personal perspective, we asked social work students and others of Asian ancestry to share a favorite book by an Asian or Asian American author. Below are their recommendations.


Please Look After Mom, a novel by Kyong-Suk Sin, translated from the Korean by Chi-Young Kim

When 69-year-old mom Park So-nyo suddenly disappears amid the crowds of the Seoul Station subway, her husband and adult children begin a desperate search for her. Trying to find her whereabouts sets in motion an examination of who she was and how well they knew her. Being selfless and nurturing, So-nyo reminded me of many Asian mothers whom we dearly honor. —Review by Meekyung Han, PhD, MSW


On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, a novel by Ocean Vuong 

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous recounts the story of Little Dog’s coming of age growing up with his single mother, Rose, and grandmother, Lan, who had moved from Vietnam to America before his birth. Winner of numerous awards, this semibiographical novel is unique in that Little Dog shares his experiences and reflections in letters to his illiterate mother. The novel often prompted me to pause and reflect upon my own experiences growing up as an Asian American in the United States. —Review by Stephen Chen


Here We Are: American Dreams, American Nightm​ares, a memoir by Aarti Namdev Shahani 

What does it mean to be an American? Why do people decide to move thousands of miles away to a different country? These are the kinds of questions that NPR correspondent Aarti Namdev Shahani struggled with and sought to answer in writing her memoir. I chose this book because I had never before read a memoir written from the perspective of a daughter of immigrants with Indian heritage, which I can identify with. I was curious how similar her story was to mine. —Review by Monica Mahajan


The Joy Luck Club, a novel by Amy Tan  

The Joy Luck Club is the story of the relationships between Chinese American women and their Chinese immigrant mothers as they navigate their culture and experiences across generations. The novel inspired children to learn about the unspoken sacrifices their parents had to make in their journey to America. In 2018, almost 30 years after its publication, The Joy Luck Club was chosen as one of America’s 100 best-loved novels. —Review by Anita Chen, MSW


Secret Daughter, a novel by Shilpi Somaya Gowda 

Asha was born in a remote village in India. Seeking to save her life, her mother leaves her in the care of an orphanage, where she is subsequently adopted by an American couple, one White and the other South Asian. The story follows both families and eventually Asha’s journey back to India to find out where she came from. As a biracial person, I related to Asha’s experience of trying to come to terms with an identity rooted in multiple places and cultures. —Review by Laura Dosanjh, MSW

Jack & Agyu, by Justine Villanueva, illustrated by Lynnor Bontigao 

Even at an early age children understand that representation matters. Jack & Agyu is a great reminder that sometimes resistance against the silencing of our stories comes in the form of a single brown crayon. I am a Pilipinx mother to two young boys, and this book is in heavy rotation in my household. I love that my boys can see themselves in this book and that they know what anting-anting means! —Review by Lalaine Sevillano, MSW

The views expressed in the Educator|Resource are those of the educator(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Council on Social Work Education.

 Contact Dr. Yolanda Padilla, CSWE Diversity Center Director, at [email protected].