Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage month celebrates and centers on the accomplishments and achievements of the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. The AAPI community has had a long history in the United States and their personal stories are full of strength, perseverance, and joy. To be seen and heard is the least we as a community can do to support and highlight the marginalized communities across the United States. Hearing their stories about their experiences and perspectives is important to understanding the AAPI community.
So celebrate AAPI Heritage month with books, and what’s more perfect than reading poetry? Here are nine Asian American and Pacific Islander poets that you have to know.
One of the biggest names in poetry today, Ocean Vuong is a Vietnamese American poet. Born in Saigon, Vietnam, Vuong and his small family emigrated to Harford Connecticut where he was raised. He is the author of two poetry collections (Night Sky with Exit Wounds and his most recent poetry collection, Time is a Mother) and one book (On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous). As a poet, Vuong is one of the most insightful poets that I have ever read. In his poetry, he ruminates on personal identity, memory, familial relationships, and existence within the contexts of history and society. Vuong is tender and vulnerable in his poetry, often leaving us readers breathless with his talent for words.
Monica Sok is a Cambodian American poet. A daughter of Cambodian refugees, Sok was raised in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She is the author of a poetry collection, A Nail the Evening Hangs On, and a chapbook, Year Zero. In her poetry, Sok writes about intergenerational trauma, familial silence, and the inheritance of genocide. Her first poetry collection is tragically beautiful; Sok focuses on memory and the Cambodian genocide which destroyed more than a quarter of Cambodia’s population and the consequences are still felt today. Sok as a poet writes with extreme tenderness when approaching memory and how it connects with our personal identity and familial identity.
Craig Santos Perez
Dr. Craig Santos Perez is an indigenous Chamoru (Chamorro) from the Pacific Island of Guåhan (Guam). He is a poet, artist, scholar, and activist, bringing awareness to the indigenous people of the Pacific Islands. Perez is the author of three poetry collections: from unincorporated territory [hacha], from unincorporated territory [saina], and from unincorporated territory [guma’]. His poetry focuses on the history of the Pacific Islands, diving deep into the colonial history, the diaspora, immigration, and themes of Pacific life.
Chen Chen is a Chinese American poet. He is the author of When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities and a forthcoming poetry collection, Your Emergency Contact Has Experienced an Emergency. Chen’s poetry is intelligent and witty and his poetry is a concentration on identity, sexuality, queerness, immigration, and being Asian American. His poetry is at once capable of being humorous and witty, but also full of pain and frank sincerity. Chen’s poetry is beautifully refreshing and his forthcoming collection is highly anticipated.
Mai Der Vang
Mai Der Vang is a Hmong American poet and she is the daughter of Hmong refugees from Laos. Vang is the author of two poetry collections: Afterland and Yellow Rain. Both of her poetry collections seek to bring awareness to the Hmong refugee experience and the United States’s Secret War in Laos from 1964 to 1973. Through poetry, Vang communicates the personal and collective memory of the Hmong refugee experience and diaspora. Her poetry seeps with emotive language about survival, home, and tragedy. She carries the voices of her generation and the Hmong ancestors who came before her and when reading her poetry, you understand that fact.
Fatimah Asghar is a South Asian American poet and screenwriter. She is the author of two collections of poetry: After and If They Come For Us, and one novel called When We Were Sisters. Asghar’s poetry delves into the experiences of South Asian women and explores love, religion, culture, and the lives of the diaspora. She speaks about the displacement of body and culture and how it affects a person. Written with extreme tenderness and care, Asghar communicates to her readers the grief, love, and journey that South Asian women go through.
Victoria Chang is an Asian American poet whose parents emigrated from Taiwan. She is the author of multiple collections of poetry: The Trees Witness Everything, Dear Memory: Letters on Writing, Silence, and Grief, Barbie Chang, and The Boss. Chang’s poetry is thoughtful and insightful, often drawing her readers in with her complex thoughts on identity and metaphysical subjects. She goes into the mind, often communicating to us her rumination on emotions and the impact that they have on our identity and life.
Aria Aber is the daughter of Afghan refugees. Raised in Germany, Aber is now based in Oakland, California. She has published her first full collection of poetry called Hard Damage. In her poetry, Aber speaks to the Afghan refugee experience. She communicates the trauma, tragedy, and terror wrought by war. Loss, grief, and identity are common themes in Aber’s poetry. One of the most important things to understand about her poetry is her meditation on the Afghan experience and its intricate connection to war and imperialism.
William Nu’utupu Giles
William Nu’utupu Giles is an afakasi Samoan writer and arts educator from Honolulu, Hawaiʻi. Their poetry is simultaneously personal and political, suggesting that our bodies are already so politically involved because of the default of belonging to a society. Giles is known for their spoken word and their poetry performances. In their poetry, Giles ties Polynesian oral tradition with contemporary poetics and crosses oceans of immigrant identity, colonization, representation, and masculinity.
As May closes, don’t let your activism for the AAPI community or any community waver. Actively strive to learn more, read more, and listen more from these communities.
If you enjoyed this article, take a look at this article about books showcasing Asian American representation.