The Basics: Mr. Vo is the only Vietnamese-American to ever be elected to the Texas legislature. A Democratic representative, his District includes parts of west Houston. Born in South Vietnam, he moved to America to avoid the community government there. He endorsed a program in 2014 that would allow food stamp users a wider variety of places to eat by opening up their usage at some restaurants.
Why I Chose Them: It’s an achievement to be a minority and become an elected official in this country, but an almost miracle to become one in a state like Texas. That alone makes this man worthy of coverage. Representation is important and it always will be. Even when I may not agree with every aspect of a person’s politics I’m still always happy to see when inclusion is at work.
The Basics: Born in London to two parents from West Bengal, she moved to America when she was two. She grew up in Rhode Island and it was there she got her nickname of Jhumpa from a teacher. A recipient of multiple degrees, Jhumpa has taught creative writing at Boston University and the Rhode Island School of Design. Her short story worked faced rejection for years but her first collection was finally released in 1999. That book, Interpreter of Maladies, received the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Her work focuses on the struggles of Bengali communities and Indian American groups first moving to America and the trials they face upon arrival here.
Why I Chose Them: I was first exposed to Jhumpa Lahiri in college and I absolutely loved her work. Her writing was powerful and made you understand the difficulties facing a group of people you might not know a great deal about. Writers like her are the reason we need books and the reason we all need to make reading a part of our daily routines. Reading is that thing that draws upon and develops your empathy skills. When you can empathize with another culture and find yourself in it, that is how bridges to understanding are built. Writers like Lahiri are our architects.
The Basics: One of America’s most well-known authors, the Chinese-American Oakland native writes novels that deal with the experience of the Chinese as a family unit here in America. Her first novel was The Joy Luck Club, which some may know from its movie adaptation. Her Mother’s hardships inspired the novel and served as the basis for Tan’s work moving forward. Unfortunately, she is suffering from late-stage Lyme’s disease, but still continues to write. Her last novel was released in 2013.
Why I Chose Them: I’m ashamed to say I’ve only read The Joy Luck Club and as I write this, I’m rectifying that. A woman with the caliber of work she has can’t only have one of their books read. In my mind, she’s the Maya Angelou of the Chinese-American community and say that only having read one book. She writes with such authority y and authenticity about the Chinese-American experience that you can’t ignore her. It’s poetic in how she deals with the most tragic of things and somehow finds beauty in them.
The Basics: A native of New York, Ellen Oh was a former practice of corporate and entertainment law. Of Korean-American heritage, this author has spurred calls for diversity in the publishing world and is a co-founder of the WENEEDDIVERSEBOOKS movement. Her most well-known work to date is her trilogy; The Seven Kingdoms trilogy. It smashes boundaries in speculative fiction for being written by a woman of color AND not being a European centric fantasy series. It is based on Korean history, which interestingly enough a great deal she learned through translation as she is not fluent in Korean.
Why I Chose Them: If no other reason than the founding of WENEEDDIVERSEBOOKS, Ellen Oh would be deserving of being talked about. She helped to start a conversation in literature, particularly speculative literature that has been needed for such a long time. The writing on the wall is quite simple and it’s that writers of color have to work much, much harder than their white (and usually male) counterparts to find success in the writing world. This movement has done so much for me and makes me feel like things like this very blog are worthwhile. Ellen Oh was willing to call out something that she saw as wrong and it has spurned a real movement.
The Basics: A Japanese-American writer, he is considered the first novelist of his ethnic group. Born in Seattle, he was a college student when the Pearl Harbor attack happened. He was forced into internment as many Japanese-Americans were during World War II. Joining the Army allowed him to be released from internment, where he served as a translator. His only published novel was No-No Boy and it dealt with the aftermath of the Japanese-American internment camps and how the event divided that community. Unfortunately, his second novel was burned after his death by his widow.
Why I Chose Them: The internment of Japanese-Americans during World War is one of those events in American history that many want to skip over and try to not deal with much like the harsh treatment so many other ethnic groups have faced coming into this country. Ethnic groups do not develop the attitudes they have about mainstream America overnight and it doesn’t result from them just wanting to find reasons to dislike. The concrete examples exist and thankfully there was someone like Mr. Okada willing to forge that experience into words. May his novel always serve as a reminder of the damage that America is capable of doing to its citizens.
The Basics: One of the most influential comic book artists of the 90s, Lee was born in Seoul, Korea and grew up in St. Louis. He was part of a revolution that led to the formation of Image Comics and moved the comic book industry from being writer focused to artist focused. He was the artist on the best-selling comic book of all time when he did the pencils for X-Men #1 in 1991. He created his own studio called Wildstorm Productions which eventually caught the eye of DC and those characters were assimilated into the DC Universe. In 2010, he was announced as the new co-publisher of DC Comics.
Why I Chose Them: Anyway who knows me, knows I love comics. Lee was one of those artists I grew up with during the 90s and his work definitely had an influence on how I viewed comic book characters aesthetically. But what impresses me about him is his acumen as a businessman. Of all the Image founders, he is the one that has arguably had the most success and longest lasting impact. You must be doing something right when your production company produces works that the Big Two (Marvel and DC) want to collaborate with and eventually absorb.
The Basics: A native of San Francisco, B.D. Wong discovered his love of acting in high school. He is a Tony Award winning actor that most of us probably know from this extensive time on the hit TV show, Law and Order: SVU. For those of us with longer memories, he was the priest on the prison drama Oz. But he actually has a long list of accomplishments that include a number of plays on Broadway and voice over work. Who loves Mulan? Well, he was the voice of Captain Shang, our dear Mulan’s love interest. As a member of the LGBT community, he donates a lot of his time and money into charities benefitting that group.
Why I Chose Them: Representation is important and even though Wong’s characters haven’t always moved past a lot of Asian American stereotypes, he is such a good actor that he can give the characters he plays nuance despite it. He is a well-known face and while not necessarily considered “A-List” he’s out there and doing work. And one can hope that his longevity in the business can translate into opening more doors for other Asian actresses and actors.
The Basics: A French born, Chinese-American and a child prodigy from the age of five with the cello. He graduated from both Julliard and Harvard. The man’s career has given him over 90+ albums and 18 Grammy Awards. He has recorded classical music, but has also dipped in American bluegrass, Chinese melodies and Brazilian music. He even worked with the Dixie Chicks. The instrument he typically plays with is valued at 2.5 million dollars.
Why I Chose Them: I think his accolades speak for themselves. The man is just accomplished point blank, period. But he also goes against stereotype in a lot of ways and in the land of squeezing minorities into a box, we need to see people who don’t fit it. Asian-Americans are so often limited to certain job fields and you certainly wouldn’t ever think to talk about a Chinese-American musician having over ninety albums. That’s a mind blowing number to consider. We have to allow people of color to flourish where they will and not where they are expected to.