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Fighting to Belong

A new graphic novel tells little-known stories about Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

The cover of Fighting to Belong is next to headshots of Amy Chu, Alexander Chang, and Louie Chin.
Third State Books/The Asian American Foundation; Third State Books/Amy Chu, Alexander Chang, Louie Chin; Photo illustration Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

(Clockwise from left) Amy Chu, Alexander Chang, and Louie Chin created the graphic novel Fighting to Belong.

Did you know that Filipino people first arrived in what’s now the United States sometime in the 18th or early 19th century? These early settlers had left the Philippines to serve as sailors and servants aboard Spanish trading ships. At some point, they escaped to North America, where they established the fishing village of Saint Malo along the shores of Lake Borgne in what is now Louisiana. The town would survive into the 20th century.

If you haven’t heard this story, you’re not alone. According to The Asian American Foundation (TAAF), three in 10 Americans can’t name one historical event involving Asian Americans. A new series of graphic novels is meant to help address this problem.

In the first volume of Fighting to Belong, which was released in February, a group of middle school students travel through time and witness important events in the history of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, including the founding of Saint Malo. Volumes 2 and 3 will be available in September 2024 and January 2025. All three volumes will be as colorful and compelling as any comic book because they’re written by comic book authors.

The series was written by Amy Chu and Alexander Chang. Chu is no stranger to the genre—she’s written comic books and TV shows for DC, Marvel, and Netflix and dreamed up storylines for Wonder Woman, Ant-Man, and Iron Man. Louie Chin provided the illustrations for the series.

“With these books, I hope kids and their parents learn that superheroes are real people in history who fought for the rights we have today,” said Chu.

TAAF said the graphic novels aim to do more than just teach about events. Since their history is not widely known in the United States, Asian Americans often get left out of the American story, as if their voices and cultures have been silenced. This can lead to prejudice and discrimination.

We believe education is the long-term solution to fight hate, and our hope is that when students see themselves in history books and their peers learn about these stories in class, we can create a sense of belonging and shared humanity,” said Norman Chen, the chief executive officer of TAAF.

Did You Know?

Thought bubbles with Amy Chu’s comic books surround a pensive looking Chu.

Gage Skidmore (CC BY-SA 2.0), Marvel Entertainment; Photo illustration Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

Amy Chu was in her 40s when she took a class on comic book writing and discovered she was good at it. Before this, she started a magazine about Asian Americans and worked as a business consultant.

AAPI Contributions

Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have made incredible contributions to the growth and development of the United States. Here are just a few.

White and Chinese workers pose for a photo at a gold mining site.
Courtesy of the California History Room, California State Library, Sacramento, California

White and Chinese miners pose at a California gold mining operation in 1852.

Working the Gold Rush. When gold was discovered in California in 1848, Chinese immigrants were among those who rushed into the area in the hopes of getting rich. After the U.S. started requiring all non-U.S. citizens pay a tax, many of the Chinese miners relocated to San Francisco, where they founded the first “Chinatown.” The laundries, restaurants, and other businesses operated by Chinese Americans would become an important part of the city’s economy.

Farming the Land. In the early 20th century, immigrants from the Punjab region of India began farming California’s fertile valleys. Many started out working on other people’s land before saving or borrowing money to obtain their own. Punjabi farmers cultivated peaches, walnuts, and rice, helping to make California an agricultural powerhouse.
A plaque says Hawai’i Sons of the Civil War and includes a description of their service.
Joel Bradshaw
This plaque, located at the National Memorial Cemetery in Honolulu, Hawai’i, commemorates the Hawaiians who fought in the American Civil War.

Serving in the Civil War. Native Hawaiians were among those who enlisted to serve in the U.S. Civil War (1861–1865). At the time, Hawai‘i was its own nation, ruled by a king. But Hawaiians took great interest in the war, and most of them supported the Union (the North) in its fight against the Confederacy (the South). Historians have found evidence that dozens of Native Hawaiians enlisted in the Union Army and Navy.

Inventing the N95. Experts say the N95 mask is a lifesaver in the fight to prevent the spread of airborne viruses like the one that causes COVID-19 because it traps viruses and other particles before they can reach the wearer. The N95 was invented by Peter Tsai, a scientist who arrived in the United States from Taiwan in 1981.
Side by side images of 19th century Chinese workers on railroad tracks and a Chinese worker outside of a tunnel.

Alfred A. Hart/Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. (LC-DIG-stereo-1s00618, LC-DIG-stereo-1s00553)

Laborers from China built most of the transcontinental railroad.
Building the Railroad. In the 1860s, the United States built the transcontinental railroad, which connected the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and made it easier to transport goods and people across the country. Laborers from China completed about 80 and 90 percent of the construction.

Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

Different AAPI faces flash on and off the screen.
© LeoPatrizi—E+/Getty Images, © Ashwin Kharidehal Abhirama, Xin Hua, Belnieman, Goncalo Ferreira, Wong Sze Yuen, Godsandkings, Imtmphoto, Mr. Namart Pieamsuwan/Dreamstime.com; Animation Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month. You can read more about Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, from Olivia Rodrigo to Corky Lee, at Britannica.

WORD OF THE DAY

chronicle

PART OF SPEECH:

noun

Definition:
: a description of events in the order that they happened
Definitions provided by
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Criss Cross

See if you can figure out where all the comic book characters fit into the grid.

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