Lata D’Mello, Co-Director of Programs at Monsoon Asian and Pacific Islanders in Solidarity, spoke with Librarian Meredith Crawford for the latest installment of the Cedar Rapids Public Library’s Read Woke discussion series highlighting organizations and books that center marginalized groups.
It also came at the start of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Monsoon serves victims and survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking in Asian and Pacific Islander (API) communities in Iowa. With offices in Des Moines, Dubuque, and Iowa City, the organization serves all 99 Iowa counties through direct services, community outreach and education, violence prevention and technical assistance.
Along with Asian Americans and Asian and Pacific Islanders, they have programming that serves the Middle Eastern community. Staff members are all multi-lingual and speak a total of 14 languages. They serve all ages and gender identities.
“We see ourselves as Asian but also understand we are not a monolith,” D’Mello said.
It is important to offer culturally sensitive services, she said, taking into account all of a person’s identity and background. Some of the people they work with have trauma from time spent in refugee camps and war zones. Others have intergenerational traumas. Others are dealing with racism and marginalization in the United States.
D’Mello and Crawford talked about how representation and seeing yourself in art is also important. It’s why she wrote a play, “Virginity Dialogues”, which Monsoon will present April 29 as a staged reading.
Books can also offer representation in art. They can give people context for lives different from their own, and they can help people feel seen and not alone in their experiences. The Read Woke series encourages people to seek out and discuss books that represent many different kinds of voices, so that we may all better understand one another.
Here are some reading suggestions centering Asian and Pacific Islander voices.
Girls Burn Brighter
by Shobha Rao
Poornima and Savitha have three strikes against them: they are poor, they are ambitious, and they are girls. After her mother’s death, Poornima has very little kindness in her life. She is left to care for her siblings until her father can find her a suitable match. So when Savitha enters their household, Poornima is intrigued by the joyful, independent-minded girl. Suddenly their Indian village doesn’t feel quite so claustrophobic, and Poornima begins to imagine a life beyond arranged marriage. But when a devastating act of cruelty drives Savitha away, Poornima leaves behind everything she has ever known to find her friend.
The Woman Warrior
by Maxine Hong Kingston
In this memoir, a first-generation Chinese American woman recounts growing up in America within a tradition-bound Chinese family, confronted with Chinese ghosts from the past and non-Chinese ghosts of the present.
by Alexander Chee
Twelve-year-old Fee is a shy Korean American boy and a newly named section leader of the first sopranos in his local boy’s choir. But when Fee learns how the director treats his section leaders, he is so ashamed he says nothing of the abuse, not even when Peter, his best friend, is in line to be next. When the director is arrested, Fee tries to forgive himself for his silence. But when Peter takes his own life, Fee blames only himself. In the years that follow he slowly builds a new life, teaching near his hometown. There he meets a young student who is the picture of Peter and is forced to confront the past he believed was gone.
The Best We Could Do
by Thi Bui
In this illustrated memoir, the author describes her experiences as a young Vietnamese immigrant, highlighting her family’s move from their war-torn home to the United States in graphic novel format.
What is Read Woke?
School librarian Cicely Lewis created Read Woke in 2017. She determined a “Woke” book must meet one of these criteria:
- Challenge a social norm
- Give voice to the voiceless
- Provide information about a group that has been disenfranchised
- Seek to challenge the status quo
- Have a protagonist from an underrepresented or oppressed group
Ready to start reading woke? Sign up through Beanstack to start earning badges in the Read Woke challenge, watch our Facebook events for future book discussions, and find more conversations on the Library’s YouTube channel.