One afternoon when I worked with the United Methodist Church’s public policy and advocacy agency, I facilitated a two-day seminar examining U.S. immigration policies with a group of retired United Methodist Women (UMW). They had come thousands of miles to Washington, DC, to discern how God was calling them to work toward just immigration policies and system.
I intentionally invited an Asian American Justice Center attorney to talk about their advocacy to improve immigration policies. Too often, media accounts of immigration focus on members of the Latinx community rather than the diversity of people throughout the world. My goal was to ensure that our examination of immigration would encompass this diversity to lessen the scapegoating of any group of people seeking refuge or economic opportunities in the U.S.
At the end of the session, a well-intended member of the group asked the attorney, “where are you from?” “California,” she responded. The United Methodist Woman persisted, “no, where are you from?” Finally, the attorney answered the question that she had been asked too many times, “I was born in California. My parents are from China and Japan.”
The “where are you from?” question assumes the person being asked does not belong in the U.S. and is not as “American” as the rest of us. This attorney was in no way a “foreigner”; however, the UMW unintentionally made her feel that way.
Unexamined good intentions regularly cause harm. Microaggressions like the one described above enable groups of people to be dehumanized and othered. We have seen violence escalating publicly against Asian Americans throughout our country. It has long been there undercover. We must work together to attribute dignity to each person in our community to stop the perpetuation of violence.
Below are a few children’s books that I hope you will check out or buy to share with the children in your health center, house of worship, community center, or classroom. We must begin with the smallest among us to interrupt stereotypes as pervasive as the air that we breathe.
Ohana Means Family by Ilima Loomis
“The importance of this native Hawaiian tradition is revealed through Loomis’ and Pak’s textual and visual re-creations. The wind, the rain, the sun, the ‘land that has never been sold,’ and the wise old hands that work the land show that family is one of many interconnected parts—plant, planet, human, the elements—each as important as the other. Pak’s lovely, stylized watercolors bring readers close enough to see droplets on the roots of the kalo and then zoom out to see the whole sun-kissed island. Loomis writes in a gentle rhyme that undulates like the elements she describes so that readers will soon be murmuring along in sync. . . . this book does an admirable job of honoring the culture without cliché.” – Booklist, Starred Review
The Name Jar by Xangsook Choi
“Readers of this charming picture book may find that they are able to directly connect with Unhei, having once been the new student, or instead they may connect with the minor characters of the story being that they have experienced meeting a new classmate from a different culture. Either way the author makes it easy for any young learner to visualize themselves in the shoes of the characters. The story promotes plentiful opportunity for discussion of important multicultural and social issues, in which readers can contemplate collaboratively, problem solve, and connect to.” – The Children’s Literature Forum
When the Cousins Came – Katie Yamasaki
“Lila is excited for her cousins Takeo and Rosie to visit. They’re going to ride bikes, paint, and camp together. But when the cousins arrive, everything’s wrong: Rosie and Takeo are better painters than Lila, have skateboards instead of bikes, and don’t want to camp outside. Lila is terribly disappointed until the cousins make her a surprise: a big banner for their best cousin Lila. Inspired by the author’s own large, diverse family, When the Cousins Came is a sensitive story about insecurity, hosting, and friendship. Katie Yamasaki’s tale, paired with bright mixed-media art, reminds children that negative thoughts and anxiety over exclusion don’t always translate to reality, and that even when plans go wrong you can still have a good time together.” – Kirkus