WASHINGTON, DC — Asian Americans are a distinct minority in the United States. Those who are Catholic make them a minority within a minority.
So when you see your heritage and your faith reflected, it is truly a boon. And when you don’t, you can’t wait for someone else to do it and take on the task yourself.
That’s what Sarah Hoyoung Ku did, with a little help from her friends.
Ku, who is a Korean-American, and her Chinese-American husband live in the San Francisco Bay Area. Although there were more Asian Americans there than in almost any other region of the country, there were few representations of their common Asian heritage for themselves and their five children.
“Only as a parent do you see yourself reflected in the books you read and the pictures and toys you play with,” said Ku, who was raised Protestant and joined the Church. Catholic 12 years ago. “It was hard to find a doll that looked Asian. It started with them when they were little…even the physical facial features.
This also extends to the representation of Asians in the church, Ku found.
That’s why she founded an Instagram account called Asian Catholic Woman – @asiancatholicwoman – where she explores the Catholic faith through an Asian American lens.
“We are creating an Asian space, from an Asian American perspective,” Ku said. She writes about one column a week for the account, which has over 2,300 followers and has additional resources for those who visit the page.
“When you ask about the Asian Saints, I have been thirsty for those stories,” Ku told the Catholic News Service in a May 13 phone interview.
Recently, author Meg Hunter-Kilmer wrote “Saints Around the World,” “which is great for kids,” Ku said, and “Pray for Us,” aimed at young adults.
“She is really good at telling the stories of various saints,” added Ku, who also wrote a reflection for the CNS’s catechesis and spirituality section.
“When I discovered these books, I was so thrilled. It was so meaningful,” Ku said.
“I can’t tell you what it means to see the stories of saints from your own ethnic culture,” she added, “reading Meg’s books…and those ‘Pray for Us’ books.”
Ku read the stories herself. “I still remember receiving the book in the mail. I have three daughters. I had Elise, my 6 year old daughter, on my lap. I immediately went to the stories of the Korean saints. Ku particularly likes the stories of Saint Agatha and Blessed Colomba.
“I was just understanding. These were new stories for me. I was proud to share these stories with my daughter,” Ku told CNS. “They involve a lot of suffering and persecution. The history of the Catholic Church in Korea, Japan and Vietnam, there is so much distrust of the government towards the leaders of the Catholic Church”, due to supposed “foreign influence”.
Ku said the stories “imply just such a firmness towards Jesus. And so much bravery. It’s just amazing. His daughters seem to have understood this. “My three daughters recognize the bravery and the love so deep for their faith. They (the saints) were tortured for their faith and killed for their faith. These are significant times.
“Afterwards, I noticed that Elise in the days that followed, she was picking up ‘Saints Around the World’ and watching the story of the Korean saints. Maybe it’s because they’re 6 years old and that they learn to read. I think there’s something in there that appeals to his spirit, just as it appeals to me.
More recently, Ku presented a project with the Hallow app; “I love the app,” she confessed. “I had the idea: what if, in May, you could choose stories of Asian saints read by Asian American Catholics? What madness !”
May also marks Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.
“In January, I had a call with the Hallow team: stories of Asian saints read by Asian American voices. They were really supportive,” Ku said. “We have seven of the stories from the book from Meg…. I was able to read the stories of the Korean saints.
Other stories in the Hallow series are in Japanese and Hmong, an ethnic group from Laos. Ku managed to convince the first American-born Hmong priest to recite the Hunter-Kilmer story of a Hmong saint.
Registrations have been in place since early May.
It still takes a little while for Ku to realize that the “Pray for Us” stories are available to be heard in their native language. “I was waiting for this part. I find that part so incredibly powerful in particular, to hear the language that the saint is said to have spoken while he was alive.