Often Asian American children are bullied and the message that is hurled at them is that they are not Americans. Two books to read to our youngest Asian Americans that reinforce that they are proud Americans are An Asian American A to Z: A Children’s Guide to Our History and I’m An American.
An Asian American A to Z: A Children’s Guide to Our History by Cathy Linh Che and Kyle Lucia Wu
Using imperfect rhyme, this book provides historical facts about Asian Americans. The format of the text is an alphabet book. “A,” of course, is for Asian American. The book is positive and reinforces the importance that each Asian American and others participate in our democracy.
On another page, the book presents, “E for exclusion, to deny entry, shut out. The Chinese were the first group to be locked out.” This refers to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 in which an ethnic group was barred from entering the United States.
One of the most powerful sections reads: “L is for labor, which first brought us here on ships to plantations in the early years. In California, bosses refused to pay workers fairly for picking grapes in the blazing heat daily, until Larry, César, and Dolores joined hands, Filipinos and Mexicans became part of one band.” Under the alphabet letter of “L,” the book highlights the work of Larry Itliong, César Chavez, and Dolores Huerta who brought together the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee, mostly made up of Filipino Americans, and the National Farmworkers Association to create the United Farm Workers. Itliong led the original Delano Grape Strike in 1965.
The illustrations are fun and show physical differences among the numerous personalities identified.
There are many Asian American role models included in the book from Sunisa Lee, the first Hmong American to win an Olympic gold metal in women’s gymnastics, and Grace Lee Boggs, a civil rights activist from Detroit.
Finally, the book ends with “Z is for zoom! Up, up, and away! With all that you know, you can go any place…The world is here waiting, watching you grow.”
I’m An American by Darshana Khiani, illustrated by Laura Freeman
The book describes various American values like justice, unity, freedom of religion, freedom of expression, and the pursuit of happiness in our democratic, multicultural nation. The stunning drawings show the diversity of Americans such as Filipino Americans, Russian Jewish Americans, and Somali Americans. The text shares with young people key values that Americans hold. Here are two examples:
“I’m an American. I believe in justice.Everyone should be protected under the same laws. My great grandparents were US citizens, but they were treated unfairly during World War II… The government seized my great-grandparents’ farm and imprisoned them even though they were innocent.” This discussion is about the disturbing incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II.
“I’m an American. I believe in equality. Everyone should be treated the same. No matter their race, age, gender, or income/ In the 1950s, my great-grandparents couldn’t get a loan from the bank. The bank discriminated against them because they lived in a lower-income Black neighborhood.It was called redlining and it is illegal today. But Black people are still treated differently.” This description is about how Black Americans continue to be discriminated against in housing and loans.
Teachers and parents can have young people discuss the democratic values listed in the book and how everyone should be treated equally and fairly. As the book reads, “Our beliefs are the threads that tie this country together. We are American!”