Like many Asian Americans, I was devastated by the news of the shootings in Atlanta in March. I’m a comedy writer, and I fell into a sad, dark place that week. Asians were being spat on, harassed in person and online, assaulted, and killed. What could I do to empower, protect, and uplift my Asian American community?
I’ve never been an activist type. I describe one of my main characters as a “social justice worrier”—this is absolutely my personality. My sister works on college campuses to support diversity initiatives, and my best friend from high school is active in the Democratic party, fundraising in a very red state. They are the activists in my life. For my entire existence I’ve been more of a participant than an organizer. But this time, with the anti-Asian hate swelling all around me, something inside me changed.
Bookstagrammer Michelle Jocson reached out to me and, while we both admitted we weren’t the usual types to “do something,” we added bookstore owner Jhoanna Belfer to the conversation and that same evening came up with the idea of launching an awareness campaign. Knowing that it would likely be more messy than perfect, we were nonetheless willing to stumble along and try. With a small team of Asian authors and bookstagrammers at the helm, we were able to rally authors, booksellers, bookstagrammers, and allies to get this #StandUpforAAPI campaign off the ground quickly.
The #StandUpForAAPI challenge we held in March was about raising awareness of the ongoing violence and hate incidents targeting the Asian American and Pacific islander communities. While we believed wholeheartedly that reading literature about different cultures and communities helps us understand our common humanity, we also wanted to include a tangible call to action in our campaign, so people who wanted to do something—anything—could help make a difference. We encouraged action by providing suggestions on how to move from conversation to action: writing to libraries to request adding more AAPI authors, encouraging publishers to publish diverse authors, sharing book recommendations that support causes, donating to vetted organizations, and attending a harassment bystander training.
Librarians and publishers have increased support for AAPI authors in the past few years, but there is still more that can be done. Though many libraries, bookstores, media outlets, and publishers participated in May’s AAPI Heritage Month, we want to encourage this evangelism to be year-round. For libraries, highlighting our authors and titles in monthly or quarterly newsletters, featuring AAPI authors in panels (not just ones centered on race), and giving our books prominent placement would make a difference in providing more visibility. Read-alikes should transcend racial barriers: not every AAPI book is like Crazy Rich Asians. Including AAPI authors in larger countywide library promotional opportunities and prioritizing AAPI-authored books during next year’s AAPI Heritage Month would also show support.
Publishers have stepped up their diversity and inclusion game, but there is still work to do there, too. Significant efforts have been made in hiring more diverse employees, but it would be great to see these companies focus just as much effort on promotion and retention of junior and midlevel staff. Within the Asian diaspora, there are so many rich stories; those dealing with trauma and pain shouldn’t be the only narratives that publishers want to acquire and promote. The AAPI community needs a breadth of books written by #OwnVoices authors, and we need them marketed and publicized thoughtfully.
During and after the March campaign, we received so many messages from people who felt their voices could be heard for the first time in their lives. The hashtag #StandUpforAAPI provided a way for the AAPI community to share their personal stories, and the openness and vulnerability of the community and our allies really shone through. With more traction behind the Stop Asian Hate movement, I’m hopeful that more people inside and outside of the AAPI community are asking questions and learning from the past, and this will open up opportunities for cultural and institutional change.
Though awareness of anti-Asian hate is growing, the AAPI community is still hurting. Even small actions can make a difference. We need your help to speak up, fight back, and stop anti-Asian hate beyond our designated heritage month. It starts here, with all of us.
Suzanne Park’s new book, So We Meet Again, will be published by Avon on August 3.