“I Am Asian American” feature

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illus. by James Yang

One of my favorite magazines, Teaching Tolerance, has published my article in their  inaugural digital magazine (Summer 2013). Check it out: Teaching Tolerance.

This article was inspired by reading about the prevalence of bullying with Asian-American students. The more I explored the topic the more I learned about this very fast growing population in the U.S.

First, lumping together people from over 48 different cultural groups into one melting pot of “Asian” is a huge mistake. Each sub-group has its own distinct language, customs, religions, and issues. A student from Korea will have completely different experiences and needs than a student from Cambodia, for instance. A child of Chinese immigrants might live in a U.S. Chinatown in a large city and interact with mostly other Mandarin speakers. A refugee student from Myanmar (Burma) might arrive in the U.S. with no English skills, no money, and no parents. Or, a third generation Japanese-American student might not speak any Japanese.

And then, there are the myths and misconceptions, including

  • model minority – good in math, bad in sports, nerdy and smart – and don’t need academic help
  • forever foreign – assuming all are immigrants, when in fact, many have been in the U.S. for many generations and may not speak their ancestral language

As the first immigrants from Japan arrived in California to work on farms and the fishing industry, and were soon followed by Chinese seeking gold and working in the railroads, they were beset with discrimination and prejudice.  Banding together for protection, the first “Chinatowns” were created, allowing these early immigrants to create their own banks, restaurants, and businesses. Along the west coast, these groups of people were often forcibly removed from their homes, their businesses and homes destroyed, and laws were enacted to keep them from marrying or bringing members of their families over from original countries.

As teachers, we tend to not know much about the history of people from Asian countries and little is taught in our curriculum. Exposure to well-written books can help combat this lack of information. “Coolies” by Yin is an excellent picture book describing early railroad workers from China. Allen Say has written and illustrated many books about the Japanese-American experience, including “Grandfather’s Journey.”  Many other titles abound.

I delved into this topic when I read that the number of Asian-American students in our country has increased dramatically and sadly, those who are bullied has increased as well. This bullying happens mostly in the classrooms. This tells me the bullying is more subtle so as not to attract a teacher’s attention. Words, gestures, and exclusion can be damaging to anybody’s self-esteem. As teachers, we need to be aware that this is happening in our classrooms. We also need to approach each student as unique. Stereotypes are just that and until we know the kids we teach, we are not addressing their needs. I was enlightened by all I learned researching this article. I hope you’ll find the time to read it and let me know your thoughts.

By the way, I am not Asian-American, and as much as I love the title to this feature, I can’t help but be a little embarrassed by my European-based name behind it! I did, however, interview experts in this field.

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About andreabittle

Teach happy. Teach right. Speak up!
This entry was posted in Education, Race, Teaching and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to “I Am Asian American” feature

  1. gwenkuo says:

    Nice post of Asian American.. it occurs to me Anna May Wong, she is indeed truly talented and respectful. http://wp.me/p3bwN9-cK for sharing 🙂

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