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Teaching our children about anti-Asian racism and Chinese history

March 20, 2021

It’s with a heavy heart that I write this. The murders in Atlanta are fresh in everyone’s minds and this weekend there will be Asian solidarity marches and celebrations across the country.

For those of us with children in Chinese immersion programs, this is hitting especially hard. Many of our families are Asian themselves, others have spent years immersing themselves in Chinese and Chinese-American culture as our children learn Chinese in school.

I think the first thing we can do is check in with people and ask how they’re doing. This week I’ve heard stories of people being spit upon, screamed at from cars, followed on the sidewalk while being yelled at and verbally assaulted simply for being Asian in America.

Despicable words about Chinese people were spray painted on the walls of my children’s middle school.

One mom was out shopping and picked something up then put it down. Another woman yelled out “Where’s the hand sanitizer? I’m not going to touch that, that *** just touched it.” With her children standing right next to her.

For those of us who are white, hearing these stories and realizing what our Asian friends deal with that is invisible to us is important. We can become allies and stand against such hatred. Though we must remember that it’s not our friends’ job to educate us about what’s happening, it is our own.

One thing I’ve long been saddened by is the lack of teaching in Mandarin immersion schools about this history of Asians in the United States and especially the history of Chinese Americans. Our kids read books about the Spring Festival and red envelopes, but don’t learn about the Chinese Exclusion Act or the shameful history of anti-Chinese mob attacks and murders on the West Coast.

In my hometown of Seattle, rioters attacked, killed and forced hundreds of Chinese workers to leave town in 1886, something I didn’t even learn about when I studied Chinese at the University of Washington.

So this spring, instead of only having your kids read books about Chinese culture, perhaps add in a few about American Chinese culture and history.

Here are a couple of good places to start:

Top 10 Chinese American Children’s Books (ages 2 – 14)

Best Children’s Books about Chinese American History

Asian American Children’s Books

And for anyone looking for a project: There’s a real need for a book for middle or high school students about the history of the Chinese Exclusion Act and what it did to the Chinese American community. There are a few good adult books on this, including At America’s Gates: Chinese Immigration during the Exclusion Era, 1882-1943, but they’re too academic for kids.

The Act, passed in 1882, barred almost all Chinese from the United States for ten years. It was the first federal law that banned a group of people solely on the basis of race or nationality set a precedent for future restrictions against Asian immigrants and others.

Forty-two years later the 1924 Immigration Act excluded all classes of Chinese immigrants. It wasn’t until Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965 that these racist quota systems were abolished.

One Comment leave one →
  1. rklan350@gmail.com permalink
    March 20, 2021 5:05 pm

    PBS aired an excellent 5-part series last year called Asian Americans: https://www.pbs.org/weta/asian-americans/episode-guide/

    On Sat, Mar 20, 2021 at 10:53 AM Mandarin Immersion Parents Council wrote:

    > Elizabeth Weise posted: ” It’s with a heavy heart that I write this. The > murders in Atlanta are fresh in everyone’s minds and this weekend there > will be Asian solidarity marches and celebrations across the country. For > those of us with children in Chinese immersion program” >

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