Mary Ann Key Book Club: Big Event Next Tuesday, Featuring AAPI Community Leaders

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October 26, 2021


Mary Ann Key Book Club: A Community Discussion of “Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning”

Myron Medcalf, Lindsay Peifer, and book cover of Minor Feelings

Tuesday, November 2, 7-8:30 p.m.

Join columnist Myron Medcalf and moderator Lindsay Peifer in a virtual conversation with Asian American community leaders David Mura, Terri Thao and Anthea Yur. Panelists will discuss Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning by Cathy Park Hong, the Asian American experience, and how individuals can dismantle racism and make real change for a better future.

Collaborator: Star Tribune
Sponsor: Friends of the Hennepin County Library
Partner: National Education Association
Registration required. Sign up today!


A short conversation with Myron Medcalf and Lindsay Peifer

Medcalf and Piefer in conversation

Hear from Lindsay Peifer and Myron Medcalf in this new video (via YouTube, 10:01 duration).


Reflections from David Mura, Terri Thao, and Anthea Yur

David Mura

David Mura

The term Asian American was created by activists in the 1960’s, both as an opposition to the term Oriental and as a corollary to African American. Back then, the Asian American population was mainly of Chinese, Japanese and Filipino ethnicity. But then the Hart-Cellar 1964 immigration act, which took down racial restrictions and opened up immigration from Asia, began to change the Asian American population (for instance, enabling immigration from Southeast Asia after the Vietnam War). Asian Americans became more and more diverse, and this has problematized the term. In Minor Feelings, Cathy Park Hong acknowledges the questions around such a grouping:

There are so many qualifications weighing the “we” in Asian America. Do I mean Southeast Asian, South Asian, East Asian, and Pacific Islander, queer and straight, Muslim and non-Muslim, rich and poor? Are all Asians self-hating?

The confusion and the vagaries of “Asian American” result, in part, from necessity: What else could you possibly do with a group that includes everyone from well-educated Brahmin doctors from India to impoverished Hmong refugees? How could you tell a unifying story that makes all those immigrants feel as if they’re part of some racial category, especially those, like my daughter, who will grow up mixed-race?

When I asked Hong about this in her Q & A, she offered that we think about Asian American as an alliance perhaps more than an identity, and there's part of that I like.  In that way Asian Americans ally across differences and Cathy offered that this was similar to Asian Americans allying with say African Americans.

Unfortunately, one thing that does bind Asian American identity together is racism and stereotypes--the ways the white mainstream sees and portrays us. In Minor Feelings, Hong explores the effects of this upon her own identity and other Asian Americans. East Asian women, for instance, are exoticized, seen as sexually available, submissive, etc, and it doesn't matter your ethnicity or class or when you or your family came to America. Kamail Najiani in Silicon Valley and Kunal Nayyar as Raj in The Big Bang Theory were both made fun of as unattractive (Kunal is actually married to an Indian Miss Universe and have you seen the photos of the buff Kamail as the new Marvel superhero Kingo?). The ways Trumpians portrayed the Corona virus led to attacks on random East Asian Americans: We all suddenly became the same, illustrating the principle that whenever there is tension or war between America and any Asian country, Asian Americans will then be seen as spies, fifth columnists, foreign elements and definitely not American citizens (as happened to my parents and grandparents during World War II when they were imprisoned by the US government, despite my parents being natural born citizens).

Recently, in a New York Times Magazine article, columnist Jay Caspian Kang argued that the term Asian American is not only unwieldy but should probably be abandoned, and he has previously dubbed Asian Americans “the loneliest Americans,” and indeed that is the title of his new book.  But what I find missing from Kang's article and to a certain extent in Minor Feelings is the joy, laughter, encouragement and fun I've had with my fellow Asian Americans. What's missing is the thrill and empowerment local Asian American artists and activists felt when we protested the Ordway's third presentation of Miss Saigon and forced the Ordway to apologize to our community and promise never to bring that horrible musical back. What’s missing is the power and influence that an organization like CAAL (Coalition of Asian American Leaders) has had, both in terms of legislation and educating the public, but just as much in forging a whole new generation of Asian American leaders. What’s missing is the skill and beauty and social activism of the Ananya Dance Theater, which to me is one of my spiritual homes, a company whose inclusiveness makes me know there is a place for me too. There is such energy, such hope, such promise, and such achievement when we do band and work together. And somehow that can get lost when we only focus on how we are not alike or how badly we've been hurt by white supremacy--a hurt which is real, but which lessens greatly when we work together because then we understand we are not alone, we have more power than we realized, and we do have much more in common than we realized.

Back in 1992, when we started the Asian American Renaissance arts organization with a conference, I had the Chinese American poets Li-Young Lee and Marilyn Chin and the Japanese American poet Garrett Hongo to my house for breakfast. Marilyn said, “You know, back in Asia, you two being Japanese and us being Chinese would make us enemies. And Li-Young’s family is from the upper-class, and my family is from the peasant class. But here in America we can come together as friends, as fellow artists, and support each other.”  Marilyn’s statement for me captures some of the beauty of the term Asian American and explains why, once I discovered my own Asian American identity, contrary to Jay Caspian Kang, I felt less lonely and suddenly part of a community which has supported me and my work for many years.

Recommended reading:

No-No Boy, John Okada (novel on a WWII Japanese American draft resister)

The I-Hotel, Karen Tei Yamashita (novel on the Asian American activist movement)

The Sympathizer, Viet Thanh Nguyen (Pulitzer novel about the Vietnamese refugee community)

The Latecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir, Kao Kalia Yang (memoir by a MN Hmong writer)

The Making of Asian America: A History, Erika Lee (history by a U. of Mn professor)

Terri Thao

Terri Thao

I am honored to return as a panelist and workshop facilitator for the second book in the Mary Ann Key Book Club, Minor Feelings by Cathy Park Hong. In Minor Feelings Hong presents seven essays that highlight the complexity of what it means to be Asian American today.

She writes about challenging the "model minority myth" that becomes internalized by many Asian Americans and therefore does not allow other lived experiences and identities to be revealed or acknowledged. "We should be grateful that many of us  are here" is a worldview that white supremacy and a philosophy of scarcity reinforces for us. Thus even calling these feelings of being dismissed and gaslighted about our experiences with racism as "minor" feels that they are not being given enough validity, just as many indigenous and people of color know that microaggressions are not really micro in offense at all.

I appreciated how Hong uses both history, personal stories, and journalistic reporting to bring readers along her experience of how her identity has been shaped and shifted concurrent with Asian American identities being shifted as well.  She writes about how the L.A. riots where Black and Asian American communities have been pitted against each other, to how racial trauma seems to be a game where communities of color race to the bottom when comparing the bleak statistics amongst our communities to the absolute injustice of the rape, murder, and subsequent inadequate police investigation into the death of Korean American artist Theresa Hak Kyung Cha. In Minor Feelings Hong continues to do the work of making the invisible visible and asking us questions about reimagining Asian Americans without the context of white supremacy in the future.

My book recommendations are going to be about how else we could learn about the Asian American experience - through humor and love so I am recommending comedienne Ali Wong's biography Dear Girls: Intimate Tales, Untold Secrets & Advice for Living Your Best Life and romance writer (with connections to Minnesota!) Helen Hoang's book The Bride Test

Anthea Yur

Anthea Yur

Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning offers a unique array of solace and sobering epiphanies while simultaneously unlocking and confronting the Pandora's Box of the AAPI experience. Cathy Park Hong's unrelenting exposure of shame, discomfort, and personal nuances braided with her celebration of POC's creative resistive expressions aided my self-aware process of digesting the truth of my Asian existence. I found myself placing the book down with a deep sense of gratitude for her combination of vulnerable truths as well as the education of both the Asian and Black American history that helps criticize the social system of America.

Additionally, this book offered a range of vocabulary that I hadn't known I needed through many episodes of self-dismissal when validating my own experience and pushed me in a much-needed direction of healing. Its rich collection of impactful Asian American historical references planted a seed of curiosity to investigate; references to which felt purposely out of reach by our current biased and protective educational system.

For a culturally rich and intimately healing read, I would recommend The Paper Menagerie by Ken Liu. For a historically educational account of the Asian immigrant roots in America, Desert Exile: The Uprooting of a Japanese American Family by Yoshiko Uchida and Sour Heart by Jenny Zhang.

More Mary Ann Key Book Club events

Mary Ann Key Book Club Discussion

October 26 and 27

Join our discussion of Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning by Cathy Park Hong. Each small group discussion will be led by one member of our panel. Please register for only one small group discussion program. 

Collaborator: Star Tribune
Sponsor: Friends of the Hennepin County Library
Registration required. Sign up today!


Share your feedback and reflections

Tell us your thoughts as you read Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning. Share your feedback and reflections. Responses may be shared with Myron Medcalf and library staff, and quotes may be shared with readers through our newsletter.


Replay and share the talk with Cathy Park Hong

Myron Medcalf and Cathy Park Hong in conversation

A recording of the talk is available for replay and on-demand viewing through November 14, 2021. Watch now and share with your friends!

Replay the Cathy Park Hong talk.

Thank you, Friends.

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The Mary Ann Key Book Club receives generous financial support from Friends of the Hennepin County Library. You can help expand access to more books, programs and resources, by supporting your library today. GIVE NOW


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The Star Tribune is a valued partner of the Mary Ann Key Book Club. Mr. Medcalf is leveraging his column to further engage our community on the truths of the past, our challenges in the present, and the possibilities of the future.

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