JACL Seattle launches education initiative
By Elsie Taniguchi
Special to Northwest Asian Weekly
Education is key: According to the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL), education is pivotal to how Asian Pacific Americans (APA) are viewed and treated. The Seattle Chapter has launched a concerted effort to proactively fight for important APA issues by focusing on teaching students about the experiences of people of Asian ancestry.
In conjunction with May being APA Heritage Month, the JACL kicked off its campaign by developing and circulating a recommended reading list for high school students.
The Seattle Chapter of the JACL contacted every Washington state public school with high school students through a mailing; more than 370 institutions received them. The mailings, addressed to the principals of each school, included the recommended reading list and a request to share it with the school’s English and social studies teachers. The list comprises a set of books that vary widely in terms of difficulty, book type (including fiction, non-fiction, and graphic novels), and ethnicities.
“We know that a lot of important issues, such as hate crimes, xenophobia, and the perpetuation of stereotypes can be averted through education. Therefore, we’re looking to circumvent these problems in the future by teaching our future leaders about APAs and the ramifications of exhibiting ignorant behaviors,” said Ryan Chin, JACL Education Committee Chair.
“Recently, we’ve seen particularly disturbing representation of APAs by extremely influential pop stars such as Miley Cyrus, Pau Gasol, and Joe Jonas,” said Elaine Akagi, JACL National Board Member and Seattle Public School teacher.
“We want to combat these portrayals, as well as communicating other important issues to students,” added Akagi.
Within the past year, the Internet has unveiled pictures of Cyrus (who plays the title character on the TV show “Hannah Montana”), Gasol (pro basketball player for the Los Angeles Lakers), and Jonas (member of the Jonas Brothers band), each, in independent incidents, pulling their eyes back to form a slant-eyed look to mock APAs.
“We are also looking to combat the ignorance that leads to xenophobia and hate crimes, which continue to reverberate through our society because of a lack of understanding of who APAs are,” said Chin. “Far too many Americans have difficulty differentiating between APAs and Asians.
“Many develop their images of APAs through pop culture, such as movies and video games, which is detrimental because these are usually representations of Asians, not APAs. They believe that the actions and thoughts of countries like China and North Korea are indicative of APAs, when in fact our core beliefs and values aren’t different than other Americans.”
“Japanese Americans are particularly sensitive to xenophobia because of the discrimination we faced during World War II,” said Akagi. “During World War II, Japanese Americans were incarcerated by the U.S. because people could not differentiate the beliefs of the Japanese from us, the Americans.”
Aside from the recommended reading list, the JACL is also offering an APA curriculum guide, the result of a project sponsored by State Farm. The goal of the project was to equip teachers with the materials — lesson plans, readings, additional resources — needed to educate students about APA history. ♦
Download the reading list and the APA curriculum guide for free by visiting jaclseattle.org/resources/jacl-materials. Elsie Taniguchi is president of JACL’s Puyallup Valley chapter.
Elsie Taniguchi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.