By Megan McQueen
I spent many hours of my childhood learning about Filipino and Vietnamese cultures. I am white, but I grew up with close Asian friends. Most of these friends were first-generation Americans, so their family’s native cultural ways were still powerful. I learned from their grandparents that lived with them, even though we did not share a language. I picked up stories about their life in their home countries, cooking, and other cultural traditions. Beyond this education, these families personified Asian American history for me. Advocating for preferred vocabulary, interrupting racist insults, and looking at political history from multiple perspectives are essential skills I gained from these experiences.
My own family will be learning more about Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) cultures this month. And I am motivated to help my family fight the alarming recent rise in racist acts against Asian people in our country.
Let’s use these suggestions to learn together, celebrate diverse AAPI cultures, and build a sense of pride for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
Break down stereotypes: There is a wide variety of identities within the term Asian. Take a moment to acknowledge what comes to mind when you think about the word Asian. Then consider other cultural backgrounds included in this group. Think about people who do not fit into the first images that came to mind. I reached out to a local educator Winnie Catbagan who is Filipina and an advocate for racial equity. She shared, “Asians are not a monolith. The cultural beliefs and practices I have growing up as a Filipino are similar AND different to my friend who is Indian and my friend who is Korean.” She often compares different methods of preparation and eating the same food. Winnie also suggests watching these Smithsonian videos about AAPI topics to help break down bias. Examine why the “Model Minority” is a myth and how it is hurtful to AAPI and Black people.
Celebrate Asian Culture: As with other heritage months, this is a great time to explore and celebrate diverse traditions. Learn how to cook your favorite Indian dishes, watch a Japanese movie, read a beautiful Tibetan book, and make a Malaysian kite with your family. Eat out at a local Asian restaurant and research future festivals you can attend in your community or even virtually online. Consider adding Asian and Pacific Islanders to your music playlists and your social media feeds.
Learn about Asian American History: There are important and fascinating untold Asian American stories. Spend some time this month learning together about Grace Lee Boggs, a Chinese-American social activist. Read about Larry Itliong, a Filipino-American labor organizer. There is important and fascinating history to discover – follow your family’s interests at the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center.
Stop Asian Hate: Your children might be hearing about or noticing racist speech or violence toward AAPI community members (especially, heartbreakingly, the elders). Talk with your child about how to Stop Asian Hate and interrupt white supremacy. If your child is Asian, they may need reassurance about their safety and the safety of your family. Help identify people they can reach out to for help if needed. Books (such as this one and this one) can provide a helpful conversation starter for your family. Role-play situations your child may find themselves in and brainstorm ways that they can react.
Authentically learning about race can become part of our daily lives when we diversify the people around us. When seeking a team sport for your child or place of worship for your family, consider a racially integrated group. Interacting with people different from ourselves opens us all up to greater understanding and an opportunity to build meaningful friendships and community.
What suggestions do you have to add to this conversation?
- Eyes That Kiss in the Corners by Ho
- I Dream of Popo by Blackburne
- Kiyoshi’s walk by Karlins
- Laxmi’s Mooch by Anand
- The most Beautiful thing by Yang
- Paper Son: The Inspiring Story of Tyrus Wong, Immigrant and Artist by Leung
- Sugar in Milk by Umrigar
Middle Grade Books:
- American as Paneer Pie by Kelkar
- Hello, Universe by Kelly
- Prairie Lotus by Park
- Three Keys by Yang (series)
- When You Trap a Tiger by Keller
Young Adult Books:
- Almost American Girl by Ha
- American Born Chinese by Yang
- Patron Saints of Nothing by Ribay
- Superman Smashes the Klan by Yang
- The Book of Joy by HH the Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, and Douglas Abrams
- The Making of Asian American: A History by Lee
- Minor Feelings by Hong
- The Woman Warrior by Kingston
Thanks to Winnie Catbagan for support compiling resources and sharing ideas. All errors or oversights are my own.
Megan McQueen is a warmhearted teacher, coach, consultant, and writer. She grounds her work in empathetic education, importing a strong sense of community and social skills to those with which she works. Megan prioritizes emotional learning and problem solving skills. When not at work, she is most likely playing with her husband, two children, and pup.