Step into Eastern Cafe, located in Seattle’s International District, and you’ll notice the high ceilings. The gray walls. The industrial, yet lofty, feel. Not to mention the food, coffee, and people.
What you may not notice is the new bookshelf that fits perfectly next to the window where the summer sun hits it just right.
This is no ordinary bookshelf. Its ledges are graced with books like Living for Change: An Autobiography by Grace Lee Boggs and No-No Boy by John Okada. While many cafés throughout Seattle have a small library for its patrons, this particular bookshelf is different. This is the API Flying Bookshelf.
An honorable system
The concept is simple. The API Flying Bookshelf is essentially a traveling library that features the works of Asian and Pacific Islander writers, artists, and scholars.
Readers may browse through the bookshelf, pick up a book, read it at the café, and return it. There are no fines, notices, or checkouts. Everything’s based on the honor system.
The bookshelf’s origins lie in the conversations among two friends, Sabrina Chen and Derek Dizon, who met through API Chaya’s Annual Candlelight Vigil.
After a trip down to the Bay Area, it was Chen who first became inspired by the Asian American Curriculum Project, a non-profit organization in San Mateo, California, with its own brick and mortar bookstore. Established in 1969, its mission is to educate the public about the great diversity of the Asian American experience through books.
“I remember walking into that bookstore and thinking, ‘Wow, what an incredible space!’” Chen said. “Just being in that physical space was powerful.”
Here in Seattle, Chen and Dizon saw a need for better access to API literature and resources.
“I don’t really see a lot of these types of books at like the library, bookstores, and places like that,” Dizon said.
The diversity of APIs
There are not a lot of Asians and Pacific Islanders in the United States. Currently, Asian and Pacific Islanders comprise just 6 to 7 percent of the national population—a number far smaller than white, Hispanic, and African American people. However, with a growth of 46 percent from 2000 to 2010, Asian Americans are the one the fastest growing communities in the nation. They are also growing in visibility. As such, there is a need for Asian and Pacific Islander resources and materials, Dizon said, not only in statistics and research data, but also in forms of expression.
“A lot of times when people and folks think about API people, they like to think engineers, doctors, lawyers, dentists,” Dizon said. “They don’t really think of us as artists. They don’t think of us as people who express themselves in an artistic way. For me personally, I think it’s really great to have something like this, to show that we’re beyond mainstream society. We’re painters. We make zines. We write poetry. We’re romantic. We have our ups and downs, just like everyone else. We’re not perfect people.”
Angelo Salgado and Jillian Redosendo are artists who collaborated together in creating the logo and mascot for API Flying Bookshelf. An anthropomorphic bookshelf with eyes, legs, and wings, the mascot represents the ability for APIs to rise in visibility through literature.
“We are perceived as monsters on the outside,” Salgado said. “We are othered. But we are beautiful. I wanted to create a character that embraced that side, but is a symbol for what the Bookshelf stood for. … We’re going above all these injustices that happened to us. We’re going to be in the sky and be seen. People are going to see us.”
In a time where print media is seen as threatened by online resources, the API Flying Bookshelf attempts to show what physical books can do that e-book readers and tablets cannot. Physical books can be a quick and accessible source that cultivates community and knowledge, Chen and Dizon explained. Books are something tangible and inexpensive that can be shared and donated and can inspire imagination. There is something inviting about books, that cannot be replicated with illuminated screens.
For those looking to delve into API literature but don’t know where to begin, Chen, Dizon, and Salgado have some recommendations.
Chen suggests books written by Yuri Kochiyama and Grace Lee Boggs for those who are interested in social justice. Dizon recommends Virgil Mayor Apostol’s Way of the Ancient Healer and Thich Nhat Hanh’s Reconciliation: Healing the Inner Child for anyone seeking personal peace and mediation. For the comic book and graphic lover, Salgado recommends American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang.
The API Flying Bookshelf covers a wide range of genres and issues and will continue to grow. The plan is to “fly” the bookshelf to different cafes throughout Seattle. Its current home is at Eastern Café (510 Maynard Ave S.) in the International District from July to August. There will be a launch party at Eastern Café on Thursday, July 17 at 6:00 p.m. that is open to the public.
If you’re interested in helping out or becoming part of the API Flying Bookshelf family, there are always opportunities for members and volunteers to help. If you have some API related books to donate, the API Flying Bookshelf will never turn them away. And of course, monetary donations are welcomed in purchasing supplies.