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Content ideas and free library resources for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

Pictured are musician Mitski, actor Michelle Yeoh and actor Dev Patel


Images pulled from Flickr and Wikimedia Commons

For educators, Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month is an opportunity to understand and get acquainted with the cultures, stories and figures that make up the AAPI experience. In recent years, a focus has been placed on culturally responsive teaching, which considers every student’s culture and encourages ethnic-racial identity development. In a culturally responsive classroom, AAPI heritage isn’t limited to a month but is woven into the school year.

Luckily, there are organizations like Make Us Visible NJ, which has done work on the legislative level to incorporate more AAPI representation in classrooms. As a result of the organization’s advocacy work, New Jersey is the second state to require AAPI history as part of its public school curriculum, following Illinois.

Through culturally responsive teaching, New Jersey teachers can help create more diverse learning experiences for their students. To assist with connecting educators with AAPI heritage resources, Rutgers Alternate Route has rounded up some engaging content ideas to incorporate into classrooms. 


Free resources from your local library

Digital apps have revolutionized how we interact with libraries, giving users access to thousands of titles wherever. Using the code associated with your library card, websites like Hoopla, Libby and more provide users with streaming content, digital books and more.


Through Hoopla, library cardholders receive digital access to audiobooks, eBooks, comics, movies, TV, magazines and music. Content syncs across all devices, streamlining content accessibility.


Hosted by OneDrive, Libby allows users to read digital books across devices, has offline access, streams audiobooks across platforms and has hundreds of thousands of titles available.


Stream critically acclaimed films and documentaries through Kanopy, which offers thousands of titles across various eras and genres.


Stream your favorite music without a paid subscription plan. Freegal offers library cardholders thousands of well-known musicians from today and yesterday. Browse by genre or hit ‘play’ on one of Freegal’s playlists.

To search for AAPI events and content happening at New Jersey libraries, LibraryLinkNJ provides a database to find and submit opportunities. 

Content for the classroom

Students will never complain about watching a movie in class, engaging in bold stories or discussing modern hitmakers. There are countless AAPI creators and stories to highlight, so keep in mind that this is just a small sampling of books, movies and musicians that have secured a notable place in this world.


Books for elementary school students

American Desi

How do you identify as one thing when you are many things? That’s what American Desi explores through its main character. Is she American or Indian? Can she be both at once?

Barbed Wire Baseball: How One Man Brought Hope to the Japanese Internment Camps of WWII

Kenichi Zenimura (“Zeni”) dreamed of becoming a baseball player growing up, and when his family was sent to a U.S. internment camp, he used baseball to offer a sense of hope. Eventually, Zeni became a professional baseball player and is known as the Father of Japanese American Baseball.

Grandmother’s Visit

This book represents life for many multi-generational families. Grace’s grandmother lives with her family and is an important part of her life. As time goes on, Grace learns about the aging process and, eventually, death and how to celebrate and honor someone’s life.

That’s Not My Name!

On Mirha’s first day of school, her classmates mispronounced her name, which brings up complicated feelings about her name and its origins. With her mother’s help, Mirha learns to love her given name and teach her classmates the correct way to pronounce it.

Books for middle school students

Finally Seen

Lina Gao hasn’t seen her parents or little sister in five years. During that time, she was living with her grandmother in Beijing while her family lived in Los Angeles. Finally ready to make her first visit to America and live with her family full time, Lina Gao quickly realizes life is not like the postcards her family sent.

Project Mulberry

Julia and Patrick want to win the blue ribbon at the state fair but can’t agree on a project. Julia’s mother then shares an exciting idea: raise silkworms, as she did with her family in Korea.

Stand Up, Yumi Chung!

A young stand-up comedian balances her life onstage with her real-life shy persona. She stumbles on the opportunity of a lifetime to attend a comedy camp. There’s just one catch—the instructor and students assume she’s Kay Nakamura, a different AAPI student.

They Called Us Enemy

George Takei is now a beloved actor, but before he found success through Star Trek in 1965, his family was forcibly incarcerated as part of the United States’ Japanese internment camps during World War II. In this graphic novel, Takei recalls being taken to the camps at four years old and living in a concentration camp as a legal American.

Books for high school students

Fire Scar: The Untold Story of the 1887 Burning of San Jose’s Chinatown

Jessica begins exploring her family’s past and uncovers unspeakable violence toward Chinese American immigrants during the process. The book incorporates history from the 1887 fire that destroyed San Jose’s Chinatown.

From a Whisper to a Rallying Cry: The Killing of Vincent Chin and the Trial That Galvanized the Asian American Movement

In 1982 Detroit, Chinese-American man Vincent Chin was beaten to death by two white men at a bar. This book explores the murder, trial and outrage sparked when the judge handed down a lenient sentence. Chin’s murder led to the first federal civil rights trial involving crime against an Asian American and sparked the Asian American movement.

The Namesake

British-American author Jhumpa Lahiri’s debut novel represents the identity struggle many APPI individuals experience. The story focuses on a young couple from Calcutta who move to Massachusetts for schooling and the cultural challenges they encounter. The story is then passed down to the couple’s son, who navigates life as an American who often feels torn between his two cultures.

Things We Lost to the Water

Huong and her two sons are separated from her husband and the boys’ father, as he must remain in Vietnam. As Huong and her sons adjust to American life, she begins to recognize the truth that she may never see her husband again. 


The Donut King

California donut shop owner Ted Ngoy is the subject of this documentary, which details his life as a Cambodian refugee. Ngoy found success in owning donut shops and used that success to sponsor visas for other Cambodian refugees and connect them with work through his shops.

Everything Everywhere All at Once

Described as a “deeply Asian American film” by The Washington Post, 2022’s Everything Everywhere All at Once offered a unique cultural spin on the multiverse concepts currently oversaturating content. The multiverse, instead of being the main character, is used as a tool to provide metaphors and context to modern AAPI life. The film was a critical and commercial success, making Michelle Yeoh the first AAPI woman to win the Academy Award for Best Actress.




Actor and filmmaker Dev Patel received an Academy Award nomination for his work in this 2016 film. Adapted from the 2013 non-fiction work, A Long Way Home, the story follows Saroo Brierley, who loses his family at five years old and spends the next 25 years searching for them. Patel stars as the elder Saroo and, in the eight years since Lion’s release, has become a prolific filmmaker. Just this year, he wrote, directed and produced the film, Monkey Man. Since its April 2024 release, the film has received strong critical reviews.

Turning Red

Disney’s 2022 animated feature tells the story of Mei, a 13-year-old Chinese-Canadian student. One morning, Mei wakes up and discovers she has turned into a giant red panda. Furthermore, she learns this happens whenever she experiences high emotions. The movie explores Mei’s family history and how she can wield her emotions for good.  


Dominic Fike

With a supporting role on Max’s Euphoria and a feature on the Barbie soundtrack, Dominic Fike has seen his star rise over the past couple of years. A multi-hyphenate talent, Fike is a singer-songwriter, producer and rapper in addition to his acting career. Currently, he has two full-length studio albums, with Sunburn the most recent, released in 2023.


In “Your Best American Girl” off her album Puberty 2, singer-songwriter Mitski grapples with her Japanese-American identity and childhood full of cultural influences. Born in Japan, her father’s job at the U.S. Department of State gave her homes in Malaysia, Turkey, China, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Czech Republic. While she sees the United States as her home, “Your Best American Girl” explores the complicated feelings of being seen as ‘other’ in your own country.

Olivia Rodrigo

Arguably the biggest new talent to emerge in recent years, Olivia Rodrigo pushes back at the modern notion that pop stars must be blonde, bubblegum and happy. She is vulnerable with her emotions, honors the artists that influenced her growing up and is proud of her Filipino American heritage. "I sometimes get DMs from little girls being like, 'I've never seen someone who looked like me in your position,’” she once said in an interview. “I feel like I grew up never seeing that. Also, it was always like, 'Popstar,' that's a white girl."


Born Diamonté Quiava Valentin Harper, Saweetie has Filipino, Chinese and African American heritage. She is connected to her AAPI roots and has spoken out against the rise in anti-AAPI sentiments in recent years. In 2021, she joined other AAPI performers like, Jhene Aiko and Ken Jeong, for a TV special—“See Us Unite for Change — The Asian American Foundation in Service of the AAPI Community.”

If you’re considering following your dream of teaching, Rutgers Alternate Route can offer you the support and training you need to succeed. Be sure to follow Rutgers Alternate Route on Twitter and sign up for Alternate Route’s monthly newsletter for more information and stories from the field of education.

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Heather Ngoma

Heather Ngoma has over 25 years of experience collaborating with educators across New Jersey to drive education innovation. She currently serves as the Director of the Rutgers-GSE Alternate Route Program in the Department of Learning and Teaching, a program which helps career changers, recent college graduates, and other aspiring education professionals become licensed teachers in New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter @heatherngoma.