Although it is likely that the majority of us will still be working from home in May, that is no reason to put your APAHM programming on hold. To that end, we have compiled some of our favorite television episodes, films and books from the last year that would make great conversation starters for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month events (or any month, for that matter!). This is in no way an exhaustive list, but one that offers a little something for everyone.
In addition, we provide a couple of tips on how to structure your programming in order to get the best out of the material you choose (from this list or your own).
If you have read, watched or listened to anything in the last year that you would add to the list, please let us know!
Interior Chinatown is a great book to use to prompt a discussion about Hollywood tropes and Asian stereotypes. The novel takes place somewhere in between a real life Chinatown and a movie set, where Willy Wu is “Generic Asian man…but he dreams of being Kung Fu Guy—the most respected role that anyone who looks like him can attain.”
A Place for Us is a family drama about an Indian, Muslim family in the Bay Area that starts at the wedding of the oldest daughter. The story goes back and forth in time slowly putting the pieces of the puzzle together as to why the youngest brother is estranged from the family. The story is beautifully written and allows us into the most intimate aspects of this family’s celebrations and challenges as they navigate their faith and what it means to be a family.
This young adult novel centers on Frank Li, a Korean-American teenager navigating between his parents’ traditional values and expectations and the realities of being a teenager in a diverse Southern California. The book is filled with charming characters, humor and family challenges, but at the core it is an exploration of culture and identity and asks the question: who am I?
This film “based on an actual lie” tells the story of a family returning to Changchun, China to gather around the matriarch of the family who has been given weeks to live, a fact the family has not shared with her. From the producers’ website: The Farewell is a heartfelt celebration of both the way we perform family and the way we live it, masterfully interweaving a gently humorous depiction of the good lie in action with a richly moving story of how family can unite and strengthen us, often in spite of ourselves.
Patriot Act is a Netflix series hosted by Hasan Minhaj that explores social, economic and political issues through a combination of hard-hitting journalism and humor. Although a little out of date (Andrew Yang was still in the running for the Democratic nomination), this particular episode presents some compelling data about the Asian American population and their potential political influence in the upcoming election. Also, it is incredibly funny.
To help people to understand the larger context of the current state of xenophobia and racism directed at Asian and Asian-American people, we recommend NPR Codeswitch’s recent episode, When Xenophobia Spreads Like a Virus. It frames the current situation by looking at the history of anti-Asian racism and xenophobia in this country and shares the voices of people who have experienced this sort of hate over the last several weeks. The podcast is only 25 minutes long and would make a great conversation starter for a virtual discussion at your organization to explore these issues.
Tip #1: The Book Club Model is Not Just for Books
One of the most difficult challenges when planning this type of program is time. Most events or gatherings need to be an hour or less and take place during the work day at a time that is convenient for as many people as possible. Not an easy task. Using a book club model to discuss movies and television is one way to address this. Employees are invited to read a book or watch a film or television show on their own time and come ready to discuss it with fellow employees either in person, if possible, or virtually. You can set multiple times for people to meet and/or encourage teams to use part of their regular meeting to talk about the content.
Consider preparing three or four discussion questions for each piece of content that people can use as conversation starters.
Tip #2: Show Short Clips (or read short passages) as Conversation Starters
No time to show a full length film or an hour-long episode of a television show? Find a powerful clip from the movie or episode that can stand alone without too much context that you can show and discuss. This would also work for books by reading aloud a short passage from a book to kick off a conversation. You would be surprised by how much people love having books read to them out loud!
Pro tip: you can sometimes find audio clips from books on publishers’ websites if you would prefer to use them instead of reading aloud.