Mary Ann Key Book Club: Thank You

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November 15, 2021


Thank you

A thank you to our book club members from Amy McNally, Hennepin County Library's deputy director for public services:

Amy McNally

"In reflecting on the Fall season of the Mary Ann Key Book Club, I have been thinking about a study I read a few years back about the power of stories and reading to build empathy and understanding. The psychological process is called “Narrative Transportation Theory”—in short, when we read and listen to stories, we embark upon a journey with the author or storyteller and return from the journey changed by the experience. This transportation happens when we read a compelling narrative, whether fictional or true—the important element is that the author describes or relates their own experience and the experience of the characters or subjects in a way that helps the reader to understand the motivations and emotions they are describing.

I was personally transported when I read Cathy Park Hong’s Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning. I have been marveling at the powerful storytelling, the honesty, the vulnerability that the author so generously shared with us, her readers.

I feel so grateful that we were able to experience the rich dialogue between Cathy Park Hong and Myron Medcalf at the event in October, and that we heard and were transported by the stories and insights of Asian American community leaders David Mura, Terri Thao and Anthea Yur at the November event, which was moderated by Lindsay Peifer. To me, this season of the Mary Ann Key Book Club exemplifies the role that the library can play in bringing community together to build understanding. Thank you to all who participated in this narrative transformation by reading and discussing the book and by attending the events."


Spring 2022

The Mary Ann Key Book Club will return for a third season! Stay tuned for the announcement of our Spring 2022 book club title.


Final reflections from our panelists

David Mura

David Mura

In Cathy Park Hong’s essay, “The End of White Innocence,” she describes a racist aggression that she experiences when going to the subway with her white female roommate and her roommate’s white boyfriend:

"As I walked down the stairs to the subway platform, a man passed us, and while looking at me, he singsonged, “Ching chong ding dong.” He was a neckless white guy wearing a baseball cap. He looked like a typical Staten Island jock. But then I noticed he was with his black wife and his biracial toddler."

When Hong gets on the train, she notices the same man and goes over and tells him he is a racist and is setting a horrible example for his baby. The man then comes over and points to her roommate’s boyfriend and says:

“He’s lucky that he’s not your boyfriend, because if he was your boyfriend, I’d beat the shit out of him.” After the man walks away, the friend’s boyfriend keeps saying, “I wish I said something.” As Hong leaves the car, the man shouts, “Fucking chink!’ and Hong yells back “White trash motherfucker!”


When we were on the platform, my friend, who had failed to say much during the train ride, burst into tears. “That’s never happened to me before,” she wailed. And just like that. I was shoved aside. I was about to comfort her and then I stopped myself from the absurdity of that impulse. All of my anger and hurt transferred to her, and even now, as I’m writing this, I’m more upset with her than the guy."

Hong never explains exactly why she is more angry at her friend than the white guy who shouted racist epithets at her. It is clear that Hong is upset that even though the man hurled insults at her and not her white roommate, her roommate claims the emotional center of attention afterwards (and if you’ve read Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility, you might see this as an example of white fragility and the critique of liberal white women’s tears when they find themselves engaged in difficult racial conversations or situations).

In part Hong is also reacting to the white women’s sense of privileged protection—“That’s never happened to me”—as opposed to Hong who has experienced racial insults and microaggressions before and who must live with that threat; this is nothing new to Hong. Hong is also in part reacting to the roommate’s boyfriend who keeps saying he should have said something but clearly acts as if Hong is on her own when it comes to confronting the racist.

The implication is that the racism is Hong’s problem, not her white companions. In fact, her white roommate clearly expects Hong to comfort her and not the other way around. In a way, the whole scene becomes an allegory of how people of color often view white liberals as expressing concern about race, but never wanting to put anything on the line, and how often when the subject of race comes up, white liberals breakdown when they are forced to confront the subject and the reality people of color live with constantly in their lives.

But to understand fully the implications of this incident, it’s important to note the context Hong sets a few pages earlier in the essay, where she talks about white innocence as “not just as ‘absence of knowledge’ but ‘an active state of repelling knowledge.” Hong’s white roommate certainly understands that Asian American people have had racist remarks directed their way, but the roommate doesn’t want to know about that reality, and she does want to know what that experience is like for Asian Americans. The roommate is so busy crying she clearly never asks Hong how Hong feels about the incident. Even more significantly, the white roommate doesn’t think she should have to know. She wants to remain “innocent.”

In “the End of White Innocence,” Hong quotes the philosopher Charles Miles who observes that because of this insistence on innocence, whites are “unable to understand the world they themselves have made.” Now the white liberal might say to themselves, “No, I didn’t make this racist world. Racists whites have made it.”

But as this incident on the subway illustrates, Hong’s liberal white friends do nothing to stop this encounter or protect Hong. Indeed, the white female friend clearly does not think her ignorance is the problem; she wants to remain “protected” by her privilege, and she is outraged that she as a white female has had to experience at a distance the racism Hong has always experienced. And all these actions—or lack of actions—by Hong’s white friends here are part of the way systemic racism works. For the system of racism depends not just on outright racists, not just on KKK types, but also upon all those whites who would rather avoid the subject and pretend that racism is not as extensive as it is and who want to retain their sense of protection and innocence. And yet, it is not people of color who have made American racism or who benefit from it. Hong knows who made this world; her white friends do not and their ignorance represents “an active state of repelling knowledge.”

There’s an old Black saying that Richard Wright repeated, “I don’t believe what you say because I see what you do.” But the reverse is also true, “White people believe what they say about race, because they don’t see what they do.” This incident on the subway and Hong and her two white friends’ encounter with a white racist is but one example of this.

Contact David Mura via Facebook.


Terri Thao

Terri Thao

In this final reflection about my experience as a panelist and facilitator for Cathy Park Hong’s book, Minor Feelings, I think about the people I met and questions from the audience about how this book was the first (or one of few) books people have read about being Asian American. In the U.S. this is an all-too-common story, because the work of white supremacy has been so successful in erasing Asian Americans. For many Asian Americans, we are continually retelling our stories of who we are, our histories, and how we are navigating the current complexity of race and place in America.

I am grateful to the Mary Ann Key Book Club’s work to make this community and other communities of color visible. This is the work of both marginalized communities claiming our space and allyship with large institutions such as the Star Tribune and Hennepin County Public Library system. It is about being intentional with what you read, purchase, and share with others.

After the panel many people asked how they could become better allies to the Asian American community. As a person who moves from policy to action, I ask that you first listen and reimagine with Asian American communities, learning about the diversity with the communities and also about some shared experiences. Continue to hold conversations and challenge the model minority myth with non-Asian folks. Spend money at local Asian American businesses and support local Asian American artists.

Below (see Resources for learning) are some organizations doing amazing organizing and narrative work in the local Asian American community that you can also support and learn from. Please note this is not an exhaustive list – we actually have over 100! organizations led by and focused on Asian Americans across the state of Minnesota.



Anthea Yur

Minor Feelings by Cathy Park Hong fostered a surprising variety of emotions for myself as it naturally resurfaced many thoughts and judgments that I have dismissed many times in the past. The book offered healing, not necessarily a “traditional” concept of healing through text, but rather what was in between the lines; the relatable. It fed a curiosity of our Asian American historical roots and pushed me toward a direction of unlearning my biases that may foster the anti-Asian agenda. Cathy’s raw and vulnerable account of her shame allowed me the vocabulary to start digesting my own. A common wave of emotion was an overwhelming betrayal for our Asian Pacific Islander Desi American (APIDA) ancestors as they were falsely advertised the very exclusive “American dream” and the hostility met at their arrival, as well as the suspicious lack of public education of the American POC roots and history. Minor Feelings wasn’t the book to catapult or satisfy my yearning to soften the harm that has accumulated in my lifetime (which I initially believed would), but rather offered a mutual introspection of grief layered with the discomfort that has been dismissed by outside parties. Its historical detail is just enough of a drip to dye your tongue and to fuel my exploration of more APIDA literature.

A continuous theme within the book is a path of learning, unlearning, awakening, and re-awakening for Hong, a familiar path many Asians in America may relate to as we build the confidence to validate our own belonging in this US culture. Although there is a soft hue of the blues upon the sobering realization that many of the oppressive vocal and non-verbal cues of social prejudice are still present despite our generational roots, I’m further burrowing into my conclusion that the antidote is our own brazen joy. 

My cultural and ethnic pride is directly related to my Yur family upbringing with our Taiwanese-Chinese comfort style meals, different evolutionary stages of broken English (and my broken Mandarin), many closed door conversations as we as a family processed our racial trauma, and our countless, irreplaceable moments of tender fits of laughter. The way my mama’s laugh fills up a room and my baba’s almond eyes kiss so tightly at the corners when he smiles is what keeps my pride strong and operates as a limitless fuel to my fight for hyper-visibility and inclusion of our community. Laughter is universally recognized despite language barriers and broken English, joyful expression as well despite however melanated or ethnically rich our features are. Celebration of our APIDA roots in the former and present and being in community with one another to validate our experiences is the priceless countermeasure of social oppression.

Thank you to Myron Medcalf, Lindsay Peifer, and the Mary Ann Key Book Club for this opportunity to read, reflect, and absorb the details of this book amongst other allies and POC. To have four members of our local AAPI community (from various backgrounds in wisdom and ethnic culture) sit and reflect on our experiences and foster a safe space to vulnerably share our perspectives is revolutionary in its own. Cheers to delving into this newly ignited hunger for Asian literature.

Contact Anthea Yur: or via Instagram @anth.e.a or @kokoro.proj


Resources for learning

Armed With Language, Emmy Award-winning TPT documentary on the Japanese Americans who were trained at Fort Snelling and served in the Military Intelligence Service in World War II.

The Coalition of Asian American Leaders (CAAL), network of Asian American leaders working across the state of Minnesota.

How Do I Begin: A Hmong American Literary Anthology

Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War, Viet Thanh Nguyen

Sahan Journal, independent non-profit digital newsroom dedicated to highlighting Minnesota’s immigrants and communities of color whose stories are often overlooked by traditional news organizations.

Song I Sing, Bao Phi

The Southeast Asian Diaspora Project (SEAD) Project, a local non-profit that uses storytelling as a tool for keeping Southeast Asians grounded in culture and community

Theater Mu, Minnesota’s only pan-Asian performing arts organization in St. Paul and the second largest Asian American theater company in the country.

We Are Meant to Rise: Voices for Justice from Minneapolis to the World, anthology of MN BIPOC writers (ed. Carolyn Holbrook, David Mura)

Who We Be: A Cultural History of Race in Post-Civil Rights America, Jeff Chang

@kokoro_ | Linktree, curated resources from Anthea Yur


Connect with us and share your feedback

As part of our mission to build community, the Hennepin County Library occasionally shares patron testimonials with its partners and the public. If you enjoyed the Mary Ann Key Book Club and would be willing to connect with a staff member to share more about your experience, please share your contact information via this brief survey


Catch the replay


A recording of the community discussion is available on YouTube for on-demand viewing. Watch now and share with your friends!


Questions about the Mary Ann Key Book Club? Email


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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