A group of Asian-American authors, Instagram users and a bookseller have joined forces for the Stand Up For AAPI campaign, using the Instagram hashtag #StandUpForAAPI to share their experiences with racism and share calls to action to support AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islander) organizations and advocate for more AAPI representation in libraries and the larger literary community. The campaign was formed in the wake of the Georgia massage parlor killings which took the lives of eight people, including six Asian women. Over 2,000 posts featuring the hashtag have been shared as of this writing.
The campaign is the brainchild of Michelle Jocson, @nurse_bookie on Instagram, and Suzanne Park, author of novels including Loathe at First Sight (Avon Books) and the forthcoming Sunny Song Will Never Be Famous (Sourcebooks Fire) and So We Meet Again (Avon Books). The pair joined forces with six others, including Jhoanna Belfer, owner/manager of Long Beach, California independent bookstore Bel Canto Books, as well as Instagrammers Sabrina (@travelling.the.pages), Tiffany (@oomilyreads), Kat (@booknerdkat), Kailee (@noseinabook) and Asha (@ashareads) to craft the campaign, which includes daily prompts as well as the aforementioned calls to action, from March 22-26, using graphics created by Sabrina.
It’s fitting that it’s taking place on Instagram, since it was an Instagram post by Park on March 17 of an image with the words “SUPPORT ASIAN VOICES,” a regram of a post by author Julie Abe (Eva Evergreen, Semi-Magical Witch) that capture Jocson’s attention. Park’s caption about tackling racism and sexism in her books and wondering “if I should even keep writing,” made Jocson reach out. By the following day, they, along with the others mentioned above, had laid out the weeklong schedule.
Jocson says the bookstagram community has consistently supported a variety of causes, raising money to fight colon cancer and awareness over Black Lives Matter. “One thing I can count on in the book community is the way authors and readers rally and come together for important issues. I think that books help people understand other cultures the best and there is nothing I know that can come close to the book community on Instagram,” she says.
Park says that while none of the three initial organizers had ever done anything like this, “The recent events were a wake-up call that it was time to make a stand, even if we had to figure it out in real time.” Of what they hope to accomplish, Belfer says, “Our goal is to support the AAPI community and celebrate the power of storytelling as a tool for inspiration, discovery and understanding.”
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Among a series of prompts, one titled “Support Asian Literature” asks users to “request AAPI works for purchase consideration at your local library, add Asian Lit to your local Little Free Library and tell publishers how much you’ve enjoyed their published AAPI books and want more of these kinds of books!” Jocson stressed the importance of library representation, saying, “AAPI children should be able to read books about people that look like them, and have the struggles they are going through. As a child I would have loved to see children’s books or YA books that celebrated my difference and unique perspective I bring to my community.”
Park offered numerous examples of how libraries can better showcase AAPI titles, including prioritizing books written by Asian-American and Pacific Islander authors during May, AAPI Heritage Month, rather than simply books about AAPI characters, along with highlighting these books all year round. She would also like to see such titles in monthly or quarterly newsletters, AAPI authors included in panels, not only ones centered on race, and for libraries to place books “where people can see them because they’re showcased prominently would make a difference.”
Sabrina would like to see libraries have a section for minority authors and feature a different author every month stem from the lack of representation she saw on shelves in her childhood. “I grew up only reading books by white authors and reading about their experiences. It would have been great to go to my local library and pick up a book by an author that looked like me and read about experiences that resonated with my life,” she says.
Campaign participant Stacey Lee, author of novels The Downstairs Girl and the forthcoming The Luck of the Titanic (both G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers), says she “would love to see publishers continue to raise Asian American voices, and market them the same way as white authors, and not feel that because they’ve bought one Asian story, they’ve filled a quota. We’re not a monolith, and there are millions of stories that still need telling.” Of library diversity, Lee says, “it wasn’t long ago that stories by people of color were relegated to the ‘multicultural’ shelf. I would love to see less othering of our books and making them part of the canon. We write classics, too.”
Alice of bookstagram account @a_stylish_bookworm praised Grand Central Publishing’s Forever imprint for doing a “great job” promoting romance Accidentally Engaged by Farah Heron, saying the publisher had reached out to ownvoices reviewers and hosted a webcast with the author. Alice says she’s “slowly seeing more AAPI published books” and would like to seem them promoted more widely. Alice wrote in a post that she had previously read books primarily written by white authors, and thanked her fellow bookstagram users for “exposing me to so many new authors and diverse reading.”
Jocson says she was surprised to see that a library where she lives in Southern California, “is considered diverse,” has only “limited AAPI authors on their collection.” She wrote to the library leadership directors and principal administrators to let them know that “as an AAPI patron I would love to see more AAPI books on their shelves,” requesting titles including The Mango Bride by Marivi Soliven (Berkley), Once Upon a Sunset and The Key to Happily Ever After by Tif Marcelo (both Gallery Books, Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors by Sonali Dev (William Morrow and Company), Clay Walls by Kim Ronyoung (Permanent Press) and I Love You So Mochi by Sarah Kuhn (Point).
Of how book publishing can expand its AAPI offerings, Park said, that in addition to hiring diversely, “it would be great to see them focus just as much effort on promotion and retention of junior and mid-management staff, too.” Park would also like to see a broader range of stories being told relating to the Asian diaspora, stating that books “dealing with trauma and pain shouldn’t be the only narrative that publishers want to acquire and promote.” She would also like the education market for books to “consider expanding their school materials to include more AAPI visibility in American history, including such events as the Exclusion Act and Japanese internment camps.
Bookstore owner Belfer wants publishing to speak more directly to the AAPI community. “I would love to see the bigger publishers launch Asian-American-focused imprints, like HarperCollins has done with Heartdrum, their new imprint focused on Native creators,” she says. “Frankly, I think it’s just good business. There are more than 22 million Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the US now, and our communities are some of the fastest growing in the country. That’s a huge, mostly untapped, audience for books.”
For those looking to read books about the Asian-American community, bookseller Belfer recommends these titles: The Making of Asian America: A History by Erika Lee (Simon & Schuster) “so that readers understand the greater history of Asians coming to North and South America and that this wave of violence and hate-mongering is nothing new but part of long-standing efforts to maintain white supremacy and keep people of color ‘in their place,’” Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations by Mira Jacob (One World) “so that readers see what it’s like to have difficult, though sometimes hilarious, conversations with your kids and other family members about race, racism and the rise of extremism, and novel Your House Will Pay by Steph Cha (Ecco Press) “so that readers get a deeper perspective on the LA Riots/Uprising from the point of view of two Los Angeles families, one Black, one Korean, whose fates intersect in life-altering ways.”
Beyond the literary community, the campaign also encourages people to take part in other ways to fight back against racism. Bookstagrammer Hannah Ramsey (@booksandbitesroc) advocated for people to take part in bystander intervention training, such as one taught by the group Hollaback!, writing on Instagram, “What has been so revealing to me (but not shocking as I’ve experienced this all my life) is how many bystanders there are to racist slurs, crimes, and actions that stand aside and do nothing.”
Jocson noted the long history of Asian people in America, and said, “The injustices have always been present and Asian Americans have suffered segregation, exclusion, and inequity. This has to stop. If we don’t say anything or do anything, this will continue. At some point I have to be the disobedient daughter who will finally not stay quiet for the sake of my own children. I can’t stand in the sidelines anymore just watching when people are getting killed and hurt. These are no longer just slurs and words thrown, people are dying.” The impact has extended beyond the AAPI community, according to Jocson, who shared, “What is exciting to me is that the campaign has reached other communities outside of the book world and into small businesses, restaurants, artists and the film industry.”
Sabrina stressed that “this racism that people are suddenly hearing about” isn’t new, but that it has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, with the campaign offering an outlet for posters to share their personal experiences. “A lot of people have reached out saying that they didn’t know that this racism existed or was a thing. It makes me angry, but I’m also grateful for this campaign and that it is bringing such awareness to others. Knowing that I’m not alone with my experiences and that there is such a large and supportive community, is so wonderful.”
Of the outpouring of responses, Park says she’s been filled with gratitude. “We received so many messages from people who felt their voices could be heard for the first time in their lives.”