Pacific Islander Books and Erasure

Though there are many Pacific Islander (PI) books they aren’t often discussed in the book community. This was highlighted in Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month in May when Pacific Islanders were all but erased from the conversation. In this post I will discuss what may have contributed to this erasure.

Asia and the Pacific Islands

Asian and Pacific Islander are two different umbrella identities that encompass people from two different regions. Asia covers many countries including China, Taiwan, India, Nepal, Indonesia, Malaysia, Iraq, and Syria. Pacific Islander is an umbrella term for three different regions i.e. Polynesia, Melanesia, and Micronesia. The Pacific Islands include Samoa, Tonga, New Zealand, Hawaii, The Cook Islands, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, and The Marshall Islands.

There are many Asian and Pacific Islander (PI) authors out there, and yet PIs are often not included when people discuss Asian and PI books. PIs are often erased because they’re wrongly placed under the Asian umbrella.

Pacific Islander =/= Asian

The conflation of the Asian and Pacific Islander identities is not a new thing. This is so common that in their yearly round-up of non-white books and authors the CCBC Multicultural Statistics for 2016 stated that:

  • 237 books had significant Asian/Pacific or Asian/Pacific American content
    • 75 of these were by authors and/or illustrators of Asian/Pacific heritage
  • 212 books were by authors and/or illustrators of Asian/Pacific heritage
    • 137 of these had no visible Asian/Pacific cultural content

This was despite the fact that on the forms used to log and count non-white books and authors there was only an “Asian” box and not a Pacific Islander box. I can only assume that PI books were wrongly placed under the “Asian” category (if they were included at all).

From the Observations about books for children and teens from the Cooperative Children’s Book Center blog

People can identify as Asian and PI, but as I stated in the first section of this post, the two are not the same, and PI does not fall under the Asian umbrella. There are Pacific Islander books out there and they need to be recognised.

Pacific Islander Erasure in AAPI Heritage Month

The erasure Pacific Islanders face in the book community was highlighted in Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Despite it being called Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, Pacific Islanders were barely featured, if they were featured at all. This was highlighted in the book lists meant to celebrate AAPI Heritage Month where PIs were conflated with Asian authors (i.e. the term Asian Pacific was used instead of Asian American and Pacific Islander), and our identity was (mostly) only included in name only. This is shown in 10 book lists for AAPI Heritage Month (2017) listed below.

  1. Happy Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month! And what better way is there to celebrate than with a great book? We recommend…
  2. Recognizing Children’s Books for #AAPIHeritageMonth
  3. Book List: Asian & Pacific Islander American Heritage Month – Fiction & Literature
  4. 15 Books for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month
  5. Books Featuring Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders for Kids and Teens*
  6. 9 Books To Read For Asian Pacific American Heritage Month
  7. Celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month with 12 New Titles
  8. Celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month*
  9. 13 Must-Read Titles for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month
  10. Professor: Books to Celebrate Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month

Those are some really amazing lists if you’re looking for Asian and Asian American books (so definitely check them out), but not so much if you’re looking for Pacific Islander books. All but two of the lists (marked by an asterisk) feature Pacific Islander books; the rest contain the word(s) Pacific or Pacific Islander in the title and/or description. The Nylon article (which is number six on the list) even goes so far as stating: “May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, a time to celebrate the cultures, traditions, and history of Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States. In honor of this, we’re shining a spotlight on some of our favorite Asian-American authors.” So what’s the point in including Pacific Islanders if only to erasure us?

Pacific Islanders don’t fall under the Asian umbrella, and we shouldn’t be erased. We’re our own identity, and we have a whole catalogue of books out there by and about us.

Pacific Islander Books

Pacific Islander books are out there, but they’re not being counted, and they’re not being featured as was highlighted in this years AAPI Heritage Month. We all need to start reading more Pacific Islander books, boosting them as much as possible, and not being complicit in erasure. If you’re not sure where to start check out Huia Publishers, Tales from Pasifika, and Pacific Island Books. If you’re looking for materials about PI languages and books in Sāmoan, Tongan, Cook Islands Māori, Niue language, and Tokelauan (Tokelauan is that foreign language in Disney’s Moana) then check out the Ministry of Education Pasifika and ESOL website. In addition to the above resources, the two lists below will be helpful to you:

  1. Māori (and Pasifika) writing in 2017: Thalia Kehoe Rowden recommends 22 picture books that feature Pasifika and Māori children
  2. Tina Makereti: five Maori and Pasifika favourites

Definitely check out more PI books and look out for my Pasifika Spotlight blog series which highlights Māori and Pacific Islander authors.

What are your favourite Pacific Islander books? What ones are you planning on reading?

12 Comments

  1. Marianne @ Boricuan Bookworms

    July 14, 2017 at 8:20 am

    I’ll admit I don’t think I’ve ever read a Pacific Islander book, and I have to fix that! So sorry your identity has been erased like this, I know erasure is hurtful and I hope that this can be fixed soon.

    1. anjulie

      July 14, 2017 at 10:47 am

      Well I have some recommendations coming with my Pasifika Spotlight series so hopefully you’ll get some recs from that!

    1. anjulie

      July 14, 2017 at 2:19 pm

      Thank you!

  2. Huntress of Diverse Books

    July 14, 2017 at 2:40 pm

    Thank you for writing this! This is a great post to keep in mind and something that I have to work on myself!

    1. anjulie

      July 14, 2017 at 5:19 pm

      Thank you! 🙂

  3. Bina

    July 20, 2017 at 1:42 am

    Thanks so much for this post, it’s a great resource for me to do try and do better! Look forward to your Spotlight series 😊

    1. anjulie

      July 22, 2017 at 11:54 am

      Thank you so much! Makes what I’m trying to do worthwhile ^__^

  4. #AsianLitBingo TBR – A Reading Challenge for May – Paper Wanderer

    July 22, 2017 at 9:31 am

    […] activists and their spaces. Update: To support Pasifika spaces, please read Anjulie’s post on Pasific Islander erasure in the book community and their Pasifika spotlights posts. Also, check out this Storify of book […]

  5. #AsianLitBingo Wrap-Up for May – Paper Wanderer

    July 22, 2017 at 11:23 am

    […] AAPI heritage month.  July Update: To support Pasifika spaces, please read Anjulie’s post on Pacific Islander erasure in the book community and their Pasifika spotlights posts. I’ll also be casually taking […]

  6. July 2017 Wrap Up | CandidCeillie

    August 1, 2017 at 7:31 pm

    […] Make ‘Cwtch’ Happen | Waiting on a Bright Moon | Stories for my Mother | Pacific Islander Books and Erasure in the Book Community | It’s Time For A Sexist-ectomy In […]

  7. July 2017 Wrap-Up – Sarah Ames-Foley

    August 6, 2017 at 5:18 am

    […] Pacific Islander Books and Erasure by Anjulie Te Pohe – A topic I haven’t really seen discussed at all and something, as a white American, I really know nothing about. Very educational! […]

Leave a Reply