Archives For Chinese-American

Answer: Godly Luck and the Three Pandas, a new retelling of the old fairytale. While Natasha Yim’s version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears isn’t my favorite, I do LOVE the Asian spin on this Western classic. The text isn’t as lively a read- aloud as I would like for such a plucky character but the cultural details and rituals surrounding the lunar new year festival are a fun introduction to Chinese new year.

This is a great conversation starter for younger students who are already familiar with Goldilock’s antics so they can pay closer attention to the dragon parade passing by the open window in Grace Zong’s illustrations.Image


Gong Hei Fat Choi” in Cantonese or “Gong Xi Fa Cai” in Mandarin.

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.?
Medical Exams on Angel Island

Medical exams on Angel Island, San Francisco, Ca

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

A sure way to teach the value of diverse perspectives is with windows and mirrors and by following these steps. (for more on windows and mirrors check out this post).DSC_0980

1)     Provide Mirrors

Give children books, stories, movies, art work, music, and other expressions of culture that reflect their experience. For example if the child is adopted, provide plenty of stories about adoption.

2)     Collect Windows

What stDSC_0969ories offer you a different cultural, racial, ethnic or religious background? Gather those titles and share them. See how many you can find. Make sure you have more windows than mirrors . If you are Irish Catholic, read fairy tales from China, India. Then read some Jewish and Arabic folktales.

3)     Find the gaps

Study your stories. Do you gravitate to certain perspectives? What viewpoints are missing? Do they focus on a one particular family life style? Are the heroes of your books always white? How might your broaden your understanding?

4)     Seek new vistas

You have your individual take on the world. It’s shaped by family, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity,  race, age, ability, culture, and class. Look for stories out of your comfort zone for each one of these cultural identifiers.

5)     Explicitly teach them

Children as young as kindergartners can be taught to see how things are similar and different from their own experience. Use actual images of windows and mirrors to introduce this concept. Model your own thinking and give lots of examples.

6)     Identify the windows and mirrors

Read a story or study a picture with your child. Share all your mirrors and windows. Encourage children to agree, add or disagree from your observations. For example you might read Grace Lin’s fabulous Red Thread: An Adoption Fairytale.(Stay tuned for an in- depth post). You might say the window for you is that this family came into being through adoption if yours did not. And the mirror you identify could be that all families share love in common.

7)     Connect windows to mirrors

Your mirror in the above example might be that your family also came into being through adoption. And the window could be your family structure has two Dads while the story has a mother and father. You could connect the mirror and window by saying that in both the story and your experience two loving adults raise and care for one child.

8)     Spot your blinders

If you don’t check for windows and mirrors, it is easy to  miss a narrow outlook.  Do you gravitate to stories that reflect your own cultural indicators? Or do you seek out a range of ethnic stories but never read stories about varied abilities? What windows are missing?  Study identity indicators. Which do you never think about? Find those stories.

9)     Ask for help

Get suggestions from teachers, librarians, parents  or by contacting me for books that can round out your world view. Reach out and ask a variety of people to share their stories with you. Always do this with the mindset of appreciative inquiry and respectfully understand it’s just one story not everyone’s story.  Return the favor. Sharing stories is our connecting glue.

10) Do it again

Wherever you go, whatever you do, ask yourself, is this a window or a mirror?  Do I have more mirrors at my workplace? More windows? How about for my colleagues? What can these observations teach me? What stories are missing?  Why? No matter what, enjoy the lifelong journey – One story at a time!