API Flying Bookshelf gets its wings, seeks new landing spot

API Flying Bookshelf organizers gather a crowd of about a couple dozen at their July 17 launch party at Eastern Cafe. From left to right, co-curators Minh Nguyen and Chris Woon, and co-founders Sabrina Chen and Derek Dizon. (Photo by Tuyen Than)
API Flying Bookshelf organizers gathered a crowd of a couple dozen people at their July 17 launch party at Eastern Cafe. From left to right, co-curators Minh Nguyen and Chris Woon, and co-founders Sabrina Chen and Derek Dizon. (Photo by Tuyen Than)

Historically, the plight and accomplishments of Asian Pacific Islander Americans (APIAs) have been left out of our U.S. history classes. Even some of the most reprehensible discriminatory policies against APIAs such as the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and incarceration of Japanese Americans in 1942 are easily forgotten. And these past grievances still carry over in micro-aggressions that imply we still do not belong here with questions like “Where are you from?”, “What are you?” and  “You look really Asian in this picture.”

The API Flying Bookshelf, a traveling library taking up temporary residence at the Eastern Café in Chinatown-International District through the end of this month, is a community-driven antidote to this.

As a co-curator of this project, I help honor a space for us to shape our own identity in our own words, histories and expressions, rather than being told what “Asian” means by an outside, predominately white perspective. (Extreme case in point on the latter: the Mikado controversy that generated well-deserved national attention, thanks to strong Seattle advocates).

A diverse collection of APIA fiction, non-fiction and history books expands the definition often limited by what the Asian literature section looks like on the shelves of mainstream bookstores.

And as a recent launch party last Thursday attested, the API Flying Bookshelf has the potential to build and create community just by connecting people to stories that resonate with them.

The genesis of the project began on a recent trip to San Mateo, California, where project co-founder Chen, also a youth organizer with API Chaya, discovered the Asian American Curriculum Project.

“I’ve never been in a bookstore where it was primarily APIA authors, writers, artists just everywhere,” she said. “Go to Barnes & Noble, and it’s their Asian section which is very culturally based.”

When she returned from San Mateo, Chen shared the idea of starting a sort of curriculum project in Seattle with co-founder Derek Dizon, who thought up the concept of a traveling bookshelf to cut down on operation costs.

The API Flying Bookshelf has become more than just books. It’s a symbol of community, resistance and revolution — something that should be accessible to all who are seeking it. The bookshelf was born in part because “a lot of the ways people access books like these are in academic settings,” when they should be accessible to those in non-academic settings, said Chen.

With more and more community members donating books to it, the selection and art from APIA artists is expanding every day, and will continue to expand. The co-curators of the project, including Minh Nguyen, Chris Poon and myself will be adding new sections to our collection. Look out for cinema, zines, graphic novels and more.

With more supporters, we can keep up this momentum.

Keep the API Flying Bookshelf going!

1. Help us find where we’re landing next! The API Flying Bookshelf is in search of a new temporary home. If you have an idea of where the API Flying Bookshelf’s next destination should be, let us know via our website or email the API Flying Bookshelf family at apiflyingbookshelf@gmail.com.

2. Use it! To check out a book simply: grab a card insert, write down your name and date, leave the card in the basket and enjoy your book. Be careful not to take any books out of the café!

3. Donate Books! There are drop-off bins located next to the actual bookshelf at Eastern Café in Chinatown-International District at 510 Maynard Avenue South.