New book teaches students solidarity

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New book teaches students solidarity

© HAWKEYE Lin Miyamoto

© HAWKEYE Lin Miyamoto

© HAWKEYE Lin Miyamoto

By Nathaniel Reyes, Hawkeye Staff

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American Born Chinese is a new graphic novel by Gene Luen Yang being introduced to the MTHS English 9 Honors curriculum. If approved, the book would be available for use in any of the district’s classrooms. The book was piloted last iyear by MTHS English teacher Vince DeMiero.

The book, DeMiero says, is a positive, if controversial, catalyst for the discussion of difficult topics, such as racism, stereotyping and cultural differences. He also wants parents to know that the students have received the book well and in a mature way. The book is well on the way to certification by the district.

DeMiero stumbled across the book one night a few years ago while looking at a website that contained English teaching resources. He was initially doubtful due to the fact that it was a graphic novel but went ahead with the pilot anyway. He eventually procured a copy, read it and loved it. After a recommendation from a student teacher, he began to develop lessons for it to be piloted.

The pilot took place during the early weeks of December 2018, with participation from all three periods of DeMiero’s English 9 Honors classes.

“I thought [the students] handled it really, really well,” he said.

According to DeMiero, students used the material properly and maturely and did not weaponize some of the slightly controversial elements, such as intense stereotyping and racist language.

American Born Chinese is a graphic novel comprising three fictional storylines that begin separately, but join together at the end. The first is about a Chinese-American boy who moves to a new neighborhood and has to deal with various forms of stereotyping and bullying. The second is a Chinese legend about a Monkey King who wishes to be equal to the gods. The third is about a Caucasian boy named Danny who has to put up with a horrifying Chinese cousin named Chin-kee who is an embodiment of all Chinese stereotypes. These stories neatly combine in the end to form a message of self-acceptance and solidarity.

Freshman Khe Bach noted that “[the stereotypes] are shown in a more humorous style instead of seriously.”

With this in mind, DeMiero wants to make sure parents understand that the book is being considered for the curriculum for a variety of reasons.

“I think that parents should know that we don’t always teach things that are easy. We don’t always teach things that are without controversy because part of a good, broad public education is being provided opportunities in safe places where you can have these conversations [about difficult topics] and find out who you are and what you think by having some of your thinking… and assumptions challenged a little bit,” he said.

DeMiero explained his reasoning in more detail, saying “like a lot of good literature, [the book gives] a context that provides… at least, in [my] classroom a safe opportunity to deal with difficult, sometimes awkward or challenging issues and questions that [students] need to be able to deal with and get experience dealing with them vicariously.”

[My] classroom provides a safe opportunity to deal with difficult, sometimes awkward or challenging issues and questions that [students] need to be able to deal with.”

— Vince DeMiero

This is not the first time this book has been used for education.

“[American Born Chinese] is a really highly regarded novel amongst book critics, educational curriculum, experts–so it has credibility in those circles,” DeMiero said.

He also pointed out that two other books already in the curriculum, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and To Kill A Mockingbird, have similar and controversial themes.

“I would put both To Kill A Mockingbird and Absolutely True Diary in the same sphere [as American Born Chinese]; all three of those books have problematic language, problematic stereotypes, problematic…vulgarity,” DeMiero said.

Freshman Kai Magbuhat believes that the book fulfilled its purpose in detailing an Asian-American experience.

“I definitely noticed [the stereotypes] as an Asian because a lot of these stereotypes I experience [myself] as an Asian…and I talked to some friends of mine and they also agree,” Magbuhat said. 

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