A year ago, Hollywood was all abuzz with the release of Crazy Rich Asians. It was the first all-Asian cast movie to be released from a major studio in over 25 years. How is it that a cultural subpopulation of over 21,000,000 has received such little attention in modern media? By some accounts, it is the fastest-growing demographic in America.
While Asian American culture has been given a little more attention in pop culture due to the success of shows like Fresh Off the Boat and movies like the aforementioned Crazy Rich Asians, it is still almost nonexistent in most classrooms outside of the elementary units on the Chinese New Year or the occasional excerpt from Amy Tan that can be found in many high school literature anthologies.
Joy Luck Club is a brilliant piece of literature! Artistically, it is an amazing example of a nontraditional narrative style with seven different narrators, each with a unique voice as the novel alternates back and forth through their stories. Narratively, it is a study in both the clash between mothers and daughters as well as 1st generation Americans being torn between two cultures.
But there are so many other amazing pieces from Asian American writers that we should be exploring in our classrooms. As mentioned in the previous articles, our students need to see themselves represented in the literature studied in class, and not just during a multicultural unit.
America used to be described as the great melting pot, but that implies assimilation of culture that nullifies the beauties and riches found within the cultures that are coming together. Anthropologists have shifted to focusing on the US being a salad in which each “flavor” is valued and appreciated. So, unless you are teaching a classroom full of very old, white men, your curriculum and classroom library should represent a wide variety of cultures, lifestyles, and experiences.
It is worth mentioning that you should be sensitive to inappropriate representations of cultural stereotypes in literature, as well. If a character in something you are studying is a satirical representation of extreme cultural stereotypes, discuss why this was done, what makes it inappropriate, and the negative impact subtle racism in the media can have. If it is just poking fun, explore how this might make members of this population feel; challenge students to consider if the portrayal was reversed and making fun of them.
Make sure you are not just teaching political correctness, but respect for cultural diversity. Explain the richness of the individual cultures that make up the Asian continent (or better yet, have students explore these).
As suggested in previous articles in this series, add some titles to your classroom library that have prominent Asian American characters (both fiction and nonfiction). Also seamlessly integrate literary pieces written by Asian American writers into your instruction all year round.
Here are some of our favorite titles.
As with all content, you should make sure that you have properly vetted, studied, and received approval for any piece before teaching it or even adding it to your classroom library.
Please add your favorite titles in the comments!
A Path of Stars, Anne Sibley O’Brien
Bee-Bim Bop!, Linda Sue Park
Big Red Lollipop, Rukhsana Khan
Cora Cooks Pancit, Dorina Lazo Gilmore
Dear Juno, Soyung Pak
Ganesha’s Sweet Tooth, Sanjay Patel
Hana Hashimoto, Sixth Violin, Chieri Uegaki
Hot Hot Roti for Dada-Ji, Farhana Zia
King for a Day, Rukhsana Khan
Lin Ui’s Lantern, Brenda Williams
The Name Jar, Yangsook Choi
Suki’s Kimono, Chieri Uegaki
Wabi Sabi, Mark Reibstein
Zen Shorts, John Muth
Alvin Ho (series), Lenore Look
Aru Shah (series), Roshani Chokshi
Dumpling Days (series), Grace Lin
Hiroshima, Laurence Yep
In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson, Bette Bao Lord
The Year of the Dog (series), Grace Lin
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, Grace Lin
American Born Chinese (graphic novel), Gene Luen Yang
Blackbird Fly, Erin Entrada Kelly
Ichiro (graphic novel), Ryan Inzana
Listen, Slowly, Thanhha Lai
Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo, Greg Leitich Smith
Project Mulberry, Linda Sue Park
Stanford Wong Flunks Big-Time, Lisa Yee
The Great Wall of Lucy Wu, Wendy Wan-Long Shang
The Thing About Luck, Cynthia Kadohata
All You Can Ever Know: A Memoir, Nicole Chung
America Is in the Heart, Carlos Bulosan
America Is Not the Heart, Elain Castillo
Falling Leave: The Memoir of an Unwanted Chinese Daughter, Adeline Yen Mah
Frankly in Love, David Yoon
Girl in Translation, Jean Kwok
Hiroshima, John Hersey
Hunger: A Novella and Stories, Lan Samantha Chang
I Love You So Mochi, Sarh Kuhn
Internment, Samira Ahmed
Korean Girl in America, Hope Kim
Like a Love Story, Abdi Nazemian
Love from A to Z, S. K. Ali
Mariam Sharma Hits the Road, Sheba Karim
Native Speaker, Chang-rae Lee
Norwegian Wood, Haruki Murakami
Saints and Misfits, S. K. Ali
Skunk Girl, Sheba Karim
Starfish, Akemi Dawn Bowman
Taipei, Tao Lin
The Astonish Color of After, Emily X. R. Pan
The Namesake, Jhumpa Lahiri
The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts, Maxine Hong Kingston
Up From the Sea, Leza Lowitz
Wait for Me, An Na