Talking To Dora Ho

Dora Ho has been a Young Adult Librarian at the Los Angeles Public Library (California) since 1995. She is the current president of the Chinese American Librarians Association (CALA). She is also a member of the Asian/Pacific American Librarians Association (APALA) and serves as chair of the Literature Award Committee of APALA. Ms. Ho received her Master in Library Science from UCLA and she is very active in the American Library Association (ALA), serving a second term on Council, the governing body of ALA. Dora Ho spoke with YA author Paula Yoo (Good Enough) in a recent interview.

YOO: Asian American "immigrant" themed novels were quite "in vogue" in the 1980s and 90s thanks to the popularity of Amy Tan's "The Joy Luck Club." Now that trend has spilled into the world of young adult/ middle grade novels. Why is this such a hunger and interest for these types of books, especially for young people?

HO: Because of the large flock of immigrants from Asian in the late 1970s and 1980s, we are seeing many of their children (young people who are Asian American, or Asian/Pacific Americans) who want to read books that they can identify with. Many Asian American authors commented that when they were growing up there were only a small selection on Asian American literature available to them and that is why they start writing book base on Asian American themes.

YOO: Some critics feel that there needs to be more broad-based novels featuring Asian American characters in "mainstream" roles where they are not always dealing with the classic issues of immigration/language barriers/racism. How do you feel about that? Are there any new books, especially for teens, that you feel are good examples of this new trend?

HO: Sometimes, the theme of immigration/language barriers/racism is not necessary in a good Asian American literature. Readers want to be able to identify with the characters in the books and many of them may not face that kind of discrimination. Rather, I feel that readers want to read about life in America and issues that all teens have to face such as drugs, pregnancy, identify, peer pressure, etc.

YOO: Publishers now realize the importance of diversity in children's literature, particularly for teenagers who are often searching for their identity and place in society. Why do you think it's important - and perhaps necessary - for diversity in teen fiction, especially for Asian American readers?

HO: Teens are very aware of diversity issues in life, especially in school, society and literature. Everyone is trying to embrace and learn about other cultures and different ethnic groups. More often, Chinese and Japanese are taught as foreign language in most American high schools and people celebrate various different holidays: Chinese New Year, Hanukah, Kwanzaa, Cesar Chavez Day, etc. Especially for the Asian American readers, we all want to be inclusive of other cultures as well as learning our other.

YOO: Many Asian American authors (both veteran and up-n-coming) express frustration at being pigeon-holed or labelled as ONLY Asian American fiction when they feel their books feature universal themes. Why do you think Asian American teen fiction is important for readers of different backgrounds/ethnicities to read? In other words, why is multicultural fiction important for today's teenagers?

HO: Nowadays, teenagers will read good literature regardless of the author and intended audience. They want to read books that are of interest to them and issues they can relate to. For example, teens interested in vampires will read books by Stephenie Meyer, L.J. Smith, and Annette Curtis Klause. Asian American authors should focus on writing good literature rather than focus on writing only to target the Asian American audience. If it is a good read it will be picked up by teens.

YOO: Do you have any favorite books or books you think are groundbreaking/important that were written by or about Asian American young adults? Why do you think these particular books are important?

HO: As the chair of the Asian/Pacific American Librarian Association - Literature Award Committee, I come across a lot of books dealing with Asian cultures. The amount and quality of these titles has increased tremendously in the last 10 years. I am truly impressed with the many authors that bring their characters to life and touch our heart. These books are part of the American culture and reflect our way of life. They are important because they feature characters that are Asian American and they reflect genuine American culture. I have many favorites; it will be too long a list to list everything. Recently I published an article in the Asian/Pacific American Librarians Association (APALA) newsletter on Asian/Pacific American literature listing a number of titles that can be used in a core collection on Asian American literature. Several authors that I have read recently have also became my favorites: Justina Chen Headley, Cynthia Kadohata, Grace Lin, An Na, Linda Sue Park, and Lisa Yee.

YOO: Where do you see Asian American fiction going in the future? Do you think it will reach the same level of mainstream acceptance as African American literature has today (witness the mainstream popularity of writers from adult novelist Toni Morisson to children's novelist Julius Lester?

HO: I really hope to see Asian American fiction flourish in mainstream American literature. We need to promote and publicize books on Asian American as much as we can and I hope that Asian/Pacific American Librarians Association will be a forerunner to heighten the awareness of Asian American literature.