Cover Image: Learning Our Names

Learning Our Names

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Member Reviews

I’m not part of the target audience, but this book was so encouraging and helpful in understanding the Asian American Christian experience. The format reflects the experience of multiple Asian American authors, and includes helpful questions for reflection at the end. 

I was provided a free copy by NetGalley in return for my honest review.
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"Chinese names are harder to remember. Take an English name." This is a common comment made by Westerners when they try to pronounce a Chinese name. Often, they mispronounce. This makes the title of the book quite identifiable among many Asians in Western society. For Asians who immigrated to the West, it might be a culture shock at most or an inconvenience at least. For those who grew up as natively, it is a way of life. In a book written by Asian Americans for the larger Christian public, we read several stories depicting the constant struggles to find acceptance and recognition in a largely non-Asian culture. The stories are subdivided into three categories:

1)    Learning our Stories;
2)    Learning our Relationships;
3)    Learning our Vocations.

In "Learning Our Stories," each author shares how racialization has impacted them. David de Leon shares his Pilipino upbringing by sharing the history of the Philippines, and how the country was influenced by Spanish powers and American colonialism. He tells us that names not only point to the past but also show us the hope that parents have for the next generation. Sabrina Chan shares her Hong Kong background and how she got her English name through American movies. Linson Daniel's parents hail from India while he was born in Texas, making him a full American citizen both nationality-wise as well as culture-wise. La Thao laments about the cultural confusion happening even within her own family. Her parents' Hmong upbringing over parenting matters conflicts with the Western parenting advocated by American sitcoms and popular cultures. One of the major emotional conflicts has got to do with the different expressions of love. 

There are many stories that speak of racialization occurring in modern America. Being ethnically Chinese, Sabrina represents a minority that gains acceptance mostly through hard work and performance. With marginalization leading to fear and uncertainty, many Asian Americans are forced to accept being reclassified as a lower class or invisible as far as equal rights are concerned. Even the verbal acceptance voiced by members of the white community does not seem deep enough for emotional comfort. Reflecting on the biblical names of Daniel's three friends, many similarities are felt when reading about how their Babylonian names were used more often than their Hebrew heritage names. The following sentence is haunting: "It would have us stay quiet and focus only on our own plight in exchange for fitting in and being well thought of. But speaking up against racism and other injustices is one way we upend the model minority myth." By showing us ways in which we can battle racialization both outwardly and inwardly, we are emboldened to stand up for injustice or unequal treatment. 

On Relationships, the authors look at three significant relationships in our culture: With our parents; with our partners; with our single selves; and with one another. They reflect on what these relationships mean in the light of the love of God in the gospel. We grapple with things of culture, theology, as well as stereotypes. Cultural differences grow in complexity when we introduce matters of gender, multidimensional perspectives, and different perceptions about roles and expectations. Then there are the expectations pertaining to marriages and singlehood. Churches need to play their part to educate marriage and singleness in the light of God's calling instead of cultural expectations. 

The final part of the book looks at the struggles in finding a home at Church; understanding the meaning of calling in Western culture; and leadership.

My Thoughts
It's about time! As an Asian living in a largely non-Asian culture, this book contains many observations I find familiar. In fact, some of them are way too familiar for any comfort. Those of us who spend most of our time with homogeneous communities might not feel the tensions as much. For the rest of us who need to interact often with the majority of races, the problems described in this book become distinct. Most if not all of the stories resonate with me, especially the part about the relationships with our parents. With regard to the racialization aspect of living, it opens up our eyes to the hidden injustice and prejudices that are still happening in our modern world. Perhaps, with more open sharing and discussions like these, the next generation would be more understanding of the unique struggles of Asian Americans living in the West. The term "Asian American" is a common term used among Asians living in America. Due to the shared emotions and common traits felt among Asians in Western society, I feel that the term applies equally as well to those in largely English-speaking nations such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom.

This book can benefit a wide group of audiences. First, it benefits those considered members of the ethnic majority by showing them what they don't normally see. It reveals white privileges often taken for granted in all aspects of society. From jobs to social acceptance, school participation to various roles in society, we should not kid ourselves to say that ethnicities do not matter. They do matter. How else will we then understand the constant emphasis in our constitution and laws that mention the requirement to be fair and equitable to all? The truth is, things are not what they seem to be. The second group to benefit will be Asians struggling to make sense of what it means to live in America or in Western nations with an Asian minority. By learning that they are all in the same boat, they could be a source of comfort and encouragement as they eke out their own sense of identity without feeling uncomfortable about their skin colour. Third, it benefits the rest of us to learn to be more sensitive to the needs and feelings of Asian Americans. The first step toward peace and reconciliation to happen is understanding. We already live in a divided world. If there is anything we can do to bridge the gaps, it is to share our stories and invite others to learn about us. This is exactly what this book has done.

I hope that books like this will trigger more expressions which hopefully will launch a wave of stories so that we can all learn and benefit from greater understanding.  I believe that all Asians, regardless of where they are born should read this book. Why? That is simply because the world is becoming more globalized. With increasing immigration activities, perhaps, other races can take a leave from the Asian American example to avoid injustice for the rest.

Sabrina S. Chan, a daughter of immigrants from Hong Kong, is national director of Asian American Ministries for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA. She is an ordained minister and earned a master's degree in theology from Fuller Theological Seminary.

Linson Daniel (Indian American) is associate pastor of Metro Church in Dallas, Texas. He previously served as the national coordinator for South Asian InterVarsity and is a doctoral student at Fuller Theological Seminary.

E. David de Leon (Pilipino American) is a doctoral student at Fordham University and previously served as national director of InterVarsity's Global Urban Trek.

La Thao (Hmong American) is an InterVarsity campus staff in Wisconsin and previously served as the director of InterVarsity's Hmong Christian Collegiate Conference.
Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.

This book has been provided courtesy of InterVarsity Press and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.
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Learning Our Names
Asian American Christians on Identity, Relationships, and Vocation
by Sabrina S. Chan; Linson Daniel; E. David de Leon; La Thao
Pub Date 30 Aug 2022
 InterVarsity Press,  IVP
 Christian  |  Nonfiction (Adult)  |  Religion & Spirituality

I am reviewing a copy of Learning Our Names through InterVarsity Press and Netgalley:

What’s your name?  It seems like an easy question but Asian Americans are used to being called names that deny our humanity.  They may toggle back and forth between different names as a survival strategy. But it's a challenge to discern what names reflect true identities as Asian Americans and as Christians. In an era when Asians face ongoing discrimination and marginalization, it can be hard to live up to God’s Calling for their lives.  Asian American Christians need to hear and own our diverse stories beyond the cultural expectations of the model minority or perpetual foreigner. A team from East Asian, Southeast Asian, and South Asian backgrounds explores what it means to learn our names and be seen by God.   

This book encourages ages American to know their history, telling diverse stories of the Asian diaspora in America who have been shaped and misshaped by migration, culture, and faith.  

I give Learning Our Names five out of five stars!

Happy Reading!
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This book is a powerful compilation of stories, covering important topics and offering an invaluable resource for the church in America. 

This is not just a book for Asian-Americans to read, but it is for anyone who desires to listen and learn— Listen to the journeys of joy and pain faced by our Asian-American brothers and sisters. Learn new things, as the book guides the reader in reflecting on the diversity of being Asian-American, resisting racialization, and embracing different relationships.

I am not Asian-American, but my children are a mixture of Asian (Indonesian) and American. I am grateful that this book helps me learn about and reflect on different areas of life and topics I had never considered before. When my children are older, I will remember to recommend they read this book!
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This book is a bit of an anthology describing a wide variety of Christian Asian-American experiences. The different authors are all from different Asian contexts. This helps show the differences even from each other and their challenges in entering other Asian environments. However, using multiple authors also has drawbacks. The most significant is that the book feels a little unclear. The unifying factor is the Asian-American Christian experience, but I couldn't sense much more than that.

The stories are at the forefront of the book. While each chapter covers different topics like their relationships, jobs, or experiences in church, it shines in their personal stories. Their unique struggles are informative for non-Asians like me, and I would imagine them encouraging for others. The stories are often honest and come from those who are still in process. This book does not come across like the authors have their identity all figured out and know how to move and worship in every space. Instead, they are transparent about their struggle to find the right answer. 

The book is introductory in nature. If you are have already read a ton on Asian-American racism and the church, then this might be a little below your level. I have not read much like this and appreciated it.
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I requested this ARC (thank you to NetGalley and InterVarsity Press) because I thought it would be good for my family members, for those working with college students, for my friends who have adopted children from countries in Asia, and for uninformed readers in general. I will definitely be buying the book August 2022 when it comes out on the 29th. I was only halfway through when I recommended it to one of our local university Christian leaders. It is from InterVarsity Press, so it is written by Christ-followers. 

The book covers a number of subjects with input from four Asian-American authors whose families have ties to cultures in four different Asian countries. One of the chapters I would love to see developed into a full-size book about how Asia is not a country. The stories of these authors are as diverse as the countries of the Asian continent are, yet people in the United States, probably 9 times out of 10, group them as one culture. 

Sometimes the chapters can seem instructional yet it could be much needed instruction. There is so much in this book that needs to be learned. I have so many bookmarked pages on this online copy that I need my own physical copy to highlight and tab pages. I highly recommend the book.
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I started reading this book as part of AAPI History Month (though it did take me a bit to finish it). I am so thankful that I read it! The authors gave such great and informative perspectives that I hadn’t considered before. The book is divided into 3 major parts:

- Learning Our Stories (with subparts, Learning Our Names, Being Asian American, and Resisting Our Racialization)
- Learning Our Relationships (with subparts, Knowing Our Parents, Growing Our Partnerships, Living Our Singleness, and Embracing Our Religious Diversity)
- Learning Our Vocations (with subparts, Finding a Home at Church, Discovering Our Vocation, and Bringing Our Leadership)

Through each parts, the authors brought their stories to the forefront, while bringing awareness and understanding for things they have gone through as Asian Americans. Their pride in who they are shines through and is evidenced by their desire to help people like them. I would highly recommend this book for anyone who is looking to learn from perspectives other than their own, as well as Asian Americans that want to be encouraged in their racial identity.
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Thanks to Netgalley and Intervarsity Press for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review. 

This wasn't a bad book by any means, and I appreciate the viewpoints given in this book - and the range of Asian identities who speak in it. However, it just...wasn't quite what I expected? It felt almost like an Intro to Asian Cultures 101 at times, like the authors were describing and educating things to non-Asians, and then separate sections on Christianity that could apply to everyone. That's not bad or anything, but from the title I thought this book was going to delve deeper into things like worshipping as Asian-Americans, where our voices can be heard in a religion that's predominantly viewed as a white Evangelical population, any predominant Asian Christian figures. It did eventually touch on these things, but it felt like by the time we got there, they were briefly mentioned and the bulk was explaining certain aspects of our cultures, and I just didn't get much out of it. Another review on storygraph mentioned that it didn't feel cohesive, and I agree - there's a lot of really great elements there, and important things to talk about, but I don't think it came together cohesively as the authors intended.
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Learning Our Names is written specifically for Asian American young adults (college students) who are Christians. It offers 2-3 chapters each from four different writers, and while I appreciated the variety of viewpoints, it didn't feel cohesive as a book. I do wish it were more clearly marketed as written for college students or those who have just graduated. The older reader can still learn from Learning Our Names, as I did, but it definitely isn't geared toward an older reader and was not what I expected based on the book's description.
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