I just arrived in Los Angeles to attend my first ever SCBWI (Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators) conference. Yeah!
As I traveled from one coast to the other, watching the country pass beneath the belly of the plane, I remembered the last time I changed coasts to live in San Francisco. The time when I learned a core-shocking lesson.
Teaching Social Studies in the Bay area revealed an ugly truth. I had reached my mid twenties, and had never heard about the U.S government’s internment of Japanese Americans during World War II or that Ellis island wasn’t the only port of entry. How had I missed the fact, that if you were of Chinese decent, Angel Island held your ancestors’ stories of arrival not the New York icon of European immigration.?
I was appalled at my ignorance. Especially as I had received the top mark on the Advanced Placement exam in U.S. history and had furthered my studies at a reputable college.Then it dawned on me. I had unwittingly grown up with a Eurocentric understanding of history. Unbeknownst to me I had received a biased education.
Discovering that gold nugget and appreciating how I had to unpack my world view and fill it with multiple perspectives wasn’t easy. But I began to see importance of windows and mirrors. As a white female who was born in Britain, raised in Bermuda, and educated on the East coast, the history that I was taught reflected me.
So I never noticed that I was missing windows. There was no disconnect between who I was and what I was learning. But I can only imagine what it must have been like to take the AP exam as a Japanese American in San Francisco!
As a library teacher back again on the East coast, I am doing my best to make sure that I provide my daughter and the children I teach, with many different windows into the world. But after San Francisco where my eyes were opened, I especially include Asian American windows and the uncomfortable history that was swept under the rug in my own schooling.
I traveled cross country to learn about my narrow view of the world. Not everyone can. So as parents and educators it’s our job to make sure we give children as many windows and as broad a horizon as we can, one story at a time!
Photo credit: national archives