An only child raised by a Chinese immigrant mother in West Los Angeles, she spent a lot of time in bookstores. But it seemed like the stories she was most connected to — those written by immigrants and people of color — were often relegated to a single shelf or heritage month display.
“I just wanted to get into a place where I didn’t have to search so much,” she said.
“I think the publishing industry didn’t think they were going to sell or that people were interested in our stories,” Yu added. “But they had always been there and these authors and these writers and these stories have always been there.”
Yu sees room for improvement in publishing
Despite this, Yu did not decide to open an Asian American bookstore.
When she designed her small business, she dreamed of a space that would reflect the rich diversity of her community. She envisioned a place dedicated to stories written by immigrants and people of color — which included Asian American authors.
The space always reflects his vision. But perhaps because of Yu’s own Asian American identity, perhaps because of the historic location of his bookstore, or perhaps because of Asian Americans’ thirst for authentic representations of their communities, Yu and Me Books has since become a go-to for Asian American readers hoping to find their experiences reflected on its shelves.
“It was really interesting to see how I was kind of pushed down the Asian American bookstore route,” she said. “I think if I wasn’t Asian American, maybe I wouldn’t have had to put myself in that bracket.”
As Yu stuck to her mission to shine a light on stories of immigrants and people of color more broadly, she leaned into customer demand for books by Asian American authors. Most of its inventory is now geared towards Asian American books, she said, making Yu and Me Books a rare and special place.
“As someone who is thinking about my own identity and also a business owner, I want to be able to support anyone who wants to come in and find books that represent themselves,” she said. “But I love that there’s a lot of love and desire for Asian American books and representation.”
Yet Yu makes it a point to challenge and delight visitors to his store.
“One of my favorite things I hear when customers walk into the store (is) ‘I’ve never heard of this title before’ or ‘I’ve never seen 40% of this inventory before’ “, said Yu. “It makes me so happy because you can connect to a story that is not necessarily pushed by editors.
While Yu and Me Books celebrates and showcases the breadth of work that Asian American writers have produced over the decades, Yu also encourages its visitors to keep an open mind.
“I also try to remind readers as much as possible that outside of the Asian American experience, there are so many books written by other immigrants that we can relate to,” she said. added.
Since Yu and Me Books opened, Yu said he has seen positive changes in the publishing industry. She sees more diversity among authors who are published, but those authors are often called upon to be “educators of our experience,” Yu said. As exciting as it may be to see those experiences authentically represented, she hopes that the industry will reach a point where authors can transcend their identity.
“I want authors of color to write only about unicorns or cupcakes — whatever they want to write about,” she added.