Hundreds gather in NYC for Third State Books and TAAF’s groundbreaking book launch, LNY party

Hundreds gather in NYC for Third State Books and TAAF’s groundbreaking book launch, LNY party
via Wini Lao
Michelle De Pacina
February 15, 2024
Over 300 people attended and celebrated the first book launch and Lunar New Year party of Third State Books (TSB) and the Asian American Foundation (TAAF) in New York City.
On Feb. 8, NextShark, in partnership with TSB and TAAF, launched the graphic novel “Fighting to Belong!” by renowned comic-book writer Amy Chu and her 20-year-old son, Alexander Chang. The comic book, illustrated by Louie Chin, dives into overlooked Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) history. 
“The main difference between this project and the other projects we’ve done so far is that we have a very clear purpose and that is to educate middle grade readers about Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander history, because for a lot of Asian Americans, including me in my youth, we didn’t have a lot of conception about being represented properly in the United States,” Chang tells NextShark. “I think this book is a way of informing general audiences about our longstanding history and to empower and embolden AANHPI readers that we are citizens and we do belong here.” 
Chu, who has written for comic book companies Marvel, DC and Dark Horse, was the first woman to write for “The Green Hornet” and “Deadpool” series. She has long fought for Asian American studies since she was a student at Wellesley College in the 1980s. She received dual degrees at Wellesley College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) for East Asian studies and architectural design, respectively. During her time at MIT, she became friends with Norman Chen, who now serves as TAAF’s CEO. Decades later, Chen reached out to Chu about creating a graphic novel dedicated to advancing and serving the AAPI community.   
“I told him comics are a very effective way of reaching people, and he said, ‘OK, let’s do it!’ and we did,” Chu recalls. 
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Chin, who has created illustrations for a variety of publications and companies such as the New York Times and Nike, acknowledged there was a lack of AAPI representation and education in media and schools for her while growing up. While working on “Fighting to Belong!,” he was surprised to learn about historical figures and significant events in the past that have not been taught in schools, including the arrival of the “Manilamen” in Louisiana in the 1700s, who were the first Asians to settle permanently in relatively large numbers in the U.S.
Although the groundbreaking graphic novel is targeted for children ages 8-14, Chin believes that adults can also follow along the series that observes middle school students and their guide, Kenji, as they embark on a journey through history. 
“Fighting to Belong!” is co-published by TAAF and Leading Asian Americans to Unite for Change (LAAUNCH), with an activity guide produced by the Asian American Education Project. Volume One is now available for purchase, while Volumes Two and Three will have release dates of September 2024 and January 2025, respectively. 
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The book launch event, held at Hana House in Brooklyn, featured a comic book-drawing workshop with Chin and a lion dancing performance led by Chang. Parents and children lined up for a chance to meet the authors and have their free giveaway copies signed before sitting for a reading from Chu, Chang and Chin. 
Other booths available at the celebration included a Yu & Me Books pop-up featuring AAPI children’s books and photo ops, including a 360 booth. Hana House, which offers a range of Asian culinary delights, also offered refreshments, snacks and meals for attendees, including Korean fried chicken, tofu and pork and cream buns. 
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“My daughter did some comic drawing, ate delicious pork buns and met Amy Chu, her son who co-authored and artist Louie Chin. They all signed her complimentary copy of ‘Fighting to Belong!,’” shares attendee and illustrator Kristin Sorra, who drove over an hour from Westchester to Brooklyn with her child for the book launch. “It felt wonderful to celebrate with a larger AAPI community even for just one night.”
Sorra particularly appreciated the opportunity for her 13-year-old daughter to engage in a meaningful activity on a school night. “She has an interest in history, Filipino culture (half of her ethnic makeup), and she’s a voracious reader that loves graphic novels. I am a children’s book illustrator, so I also wanted her to see the importance of what we were celebrating: a book that makes Asian history in America accessible to kids, and cheering on fellow Asian creators. I thought it was great that the event was also a celebration of the Lunar New Year so it felt very festive,” she says. 
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The event was also attended by Girl Scouts from Chinatown who were aiming to earn their comics badges as well as a group of students on a school field trip. Many parents expressed their gratitude in being able to attend an event that celebrates AANHPI history and culture alongside their young children. Among those would be Chu herself, who says “Fighting to Belong!” is by far the most important book she has ever written. 
“As a student in the ’80s fighting for the very first Asian American Studies class at my college, to now being a mom and working on this with my son, Alexander, I wish every parent could have this experience,” Chu says. “I know Alex has learned a lot from creating this book, but I’ve also learned a lot working with him. I am so proud of him and his whole generation and what they can do going forward.”
Charles Kim, president of TSB, underscores the lack of diversity in the publishing industry, stating that over 80% of those involved, including agents, editors, executives, sales reps, book reviewers, publicists, librarians and booksellers, are white. He says TSB’s mission now is to establish an environment where AANHPI writers can succeed without compromising their voices in a predominantly homogeneous industry.
Other titles slated for release this year include “Pride and Preston Lin” by Christina Hwang, “What in the World Is Ezra’s Art?” by Shay Fan and Eric Toda, “Edison” by Pallavi Sharma Dixit, “Amplify! My Fight for Asian America” by news anchor Dion Lim and “L.A. Coroner” by Anne Soon Choi.
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