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Looking Beyond Chop Suey : Selecting Materials On Asian Americans

Selecting materials on Asian Americans can be confusing. Take a look at a few universal themes involved in selecting books.

The term "Asian American" actually covers several cultures including Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Filipino, Cambodian, and several other less known groups. However, most of the children's and young adult literature written until recently deals with characters of Japanese, Chinese or Korean descent.

Asian Americans are the fastest growing minority group in the United States. According to an article in Reading Teacher (v46, n3, November 1992) in 1985 there were 5.1 Asian Americans living in the United States. It was projected that by this year, that number would double to 10 million. As educators we need to promote sensitive, accurate and positive portrayals of these cultures in our classrooms and our libraries.

There are certain "universal themes" that run through this literature:


* Outsider Theme--Main character's dilemma of "not fitting in" or always feeling bi-cultural. That is not quite "American" because of their different appearance, but not quite "Asian" because of their "American attitudes and opinions."

* Strong family ties. Always a parent, grandparent, or relative holding on to deep cultural background that causes problems for main character.

* Strong cultural and religious beliefs and longing for "sense of self."

* Perseverance and determination are positive character traits in Asian American stories.

Children's Books:

My First American Friend, by Sarunna Jin. A six year old Chinese girl moves to America to be with her parents. This is a true story.

The Last Dragon, by Susan Nunes. A Chinese boy buys an old dragon in Chinatown and fixes it up to carry in a parade.

Grandfather's Journey, by Allen Say. Japanese American man recounts his grandfather's journey and feelings of being torn by his love for two different countries.

Young Adult Books:

In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson, by Bette Bao Lord. A Chinese child moves to New York and has a difficult time fitting in until she discovers baseball.

Journey Home, by Yoshiko Uchida. After their release from an American concentration camp, a Japanese American girl and her family try to reconstruct their lives amidst strong anti-Japanese feelings which breed fear, distrust and violence.

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