In this story, Rives Collins, Assistant Professor at Northwestern University, recalls his work directing plays for children. He shares the discoveries the young people helped him make regarding the importance of representation on our stages and the significance of role models for our children.
Rives says he has two important teachers in the story. Who were those teachers and what did they help Rives discover?
What do you think Rives means by a ‘ME TOO’ moment? Why do you think they are important? What can happen if someone never experiences a ‘ME TOO’ moment?
Tell us about a time you experienced a ‘ME TOO’ moment. Has there ever been a time when you wished for such a moment even when there didn’t seem to be one?
Rives says he remembers the two important teachers to this day, but neither of them was a teacher in the traditional sense of the word. Tell us about a time you learned something significant from someone who wasn’t exactly a teacher? (a friend, a grandparent, a coach, etc.)
Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman Multicultural Scenes for Young Actors by Craig Slaight and Jack Sharrar
Education and Life Lessons
Stereotypes and Discrimination
Hi, my name’s Rives Collins. I teach at Northwestern University in the Department of Theater, where my specialization is theater for young audiences. So, this story, it’s going to take us back a ways. Back to the early 90s or so.
I directed a play for kids. “Androcles and the Lion,” is a crowd pleaser, the comedy. Androcles is known for plucking the thorn out of the paw of a lion and the lion later on returns that kindness. It’s a good story. It’s a story about friendship. And we were working with an organization called Urban Gateways. Urban Gateways would bus kids from underserved neighborhoods to our campus to see a play. And this student matinee was going really well. Kids were having a ball. They were laughing and cheering. And I remember, I noticed that all the kids in the audience, they were people of color and all the actors they were white. I noticed it. I didn’t think much of it. And then, ah, I had this thought. I thought maybe we’re sending the message to the children in the audience that someday they can grow up and come to Northwestern and be a student and be in a play and bring laughter to a whole new generation of kids. And I remember, feeling (and this is awkward to share this), I remember feeling, kind of self-satisfied. Like we were doing some kind of good deed. After the play, all the actors headed out into the lobby, still in costume, to greet the kids on their way to the buses. And when I got to the lobby I saw a huge crowd of kids had gathered around one actor. And I’m thinking to myself, “OK, so, which one of my actors has the charisma to gather a crowd like that? I think it’s probably Androcles. He’s the hero of the story. Nope he’s over there. So maybe it’s the lion. The lion’s the funny guy. He’s over there.”
So I’m wondering which one of my actors has the star power to collect a crowd like that. And as I walk across the lobby, I see. It’s our custodian. And he’s standing with his vacuum cleaner. And I want to be sure you don’t misunderstand. There’s nothing wrong with being a custodian. I believe there’s dignity in all work and not only was our custodian great at what he did, he took real pride in the fact that he’d helped his daughter through law school.
But as I saw him with all the friendly handshakes and high fives, I realized he was the only person of color that kids had seen since arriving at the university. And I understood that maybe I wasn’t sending the message that someday they could grow up and be a student at Northwestern. Maybe I was sending the message that someday they could grow up and they could come to Northwestern University and they could vacuum the floors. I never intended to send that message. Never, ever. But sometimes the things we intend and the things we actually do, they’re not the same.
Ok, so, fast forward with me a few years. I directed another play, “Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse.’ It’s based on kids books by Kevin Henkes and Lilly is a mouse. She likes to wear red, cowboy boots, to carry her purple plastic purse, she’s got a big imagination and she gets in trouble at school a lot. And the actress playing Lilly was a wonderful student, a college student named Niha. And after the performance, we had a question and answer period with the audience. And a little girl raised her hand and said, “I would like to ask the person pretending to be Lilly where she is from.”
And Niha told the truth, “I’m from New Jersey.” And she saw the palpable disappointment in the eyes of the child. So she added, “But my family came to America from India.”
And that’s when the little girl jumped up on her chair and she cried out, “Me too! Me too!” And the whole audience applauded and cheered.
And from this stage, Niha was beaming. And I learned something that stayed with me. I’ve worked to create those, “Me too,” moments ever since. I believe those moments of identification, they matter. It’s not enough to invite young people to our spaces as if they are tourists. As if they’re outsiders seeing a place where they don’t really fit in. I think instead, we want to create those empowering “Me too” moments that allow young people to imagine themselves being successful in this place. And helping them understand, in their bones, that they belong.
I’m grateful to two important teachers. One, a much loved custodian, and the other a little girl who once jumped up on her chair and cried out, “Me too!”
Of course, we want to introduce students to the wider world. But teachers have unwittingly introduced other groups and cultures as if those groups were the exotic others.
For example, schools hold International Festivals that have the flavor of “look at these unusual foreign people.” When groups of people are seen as exotic or patronizingly precious that are no longer “real” people.
Plus, the people of the world are not only international. They are here. They are Americans, Americans with a wide array of viewpoints and desires. They are people to recognize, appreciate, respectfully disagree with, live with, love with, work with and study with on a day-to-day basis, not just once a year.
Without intending to, we can keep a group of people at arm’s length while, at the same time, giving ourselves the false feeling that we are being inclusive.
We want to remember that as recent as the 1950s, people from other parts of the world as well as African and Native Americans were displayed in the U.S. as if animals in a zoo. The displays were often part of a continuum that ranked groups from apes to real people i.e. Europeans. Without meaning to, our study of other cultures can have a tinge of the same feeling.
It takes more time, thought and true connections with people with whom we’ve had less experience to be able to honor the complexity and variety within other cultures as well as understand our own cultural backgrounds with their unique histories, oddities and perspectives.
Hmong story quilts
will sometimes display
or scenes of war.
RaceBridges highlights a group of Asian American people who are rarely heard about but have much to say : The Hmong.
The Hmong people are an immigrant group to America. They came to the U.S. in the 1970s . The Hmong are an Asian ethnic group from the mountainous regions of China, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand. The brief ideas and activities below will promote further study, not only of the Hmong American community but of the arrival of the very many and varied groups of immigrants that have made up America.
What is it like to be an immigrant in America? Often, it is a confusing place to live. Laws and beliefs are different in a new country. Language becomes a significant barrier, and customs are critiqued by all. Below are some basic beliefs and behaviors of the Hmong culture. See if you can identify potential problems when not familiar with American laws and customs.
Hmong culture, in general, believes:
Girls are ready for marriage by the age of 13 or 14 years old, usually to an older man. American law considers this child abuse. .
Marriages are often done through Hmong culture and not through U.S. legal channels. This makes life difficult for Hmong women if there is a divorce or abandonment because it was not recognized as a legal marriage in the U.S. to begin with. There is also belief in polygamy in the culture – problematic all the way around. .
Girls who marry young will usually have children young, preventing them from finishing high school. This perpetuates the Hmong struggle for education. .
Hmong people value the family greatly, and desire for everyone to be together. Ten to twelve people may live in housing intended for 3-4. Rental housing in America usually has limitations on how many people can live in a specific space. .
Older generations of Hmong have the understanding that wilderness belongs to everyone, and is available for hunting or anything else. The concept that open land might be privately owned is a foreign concept to them. This can bring about great problems, due to simple misunderstanding and cultural differences. .
How do students feel about the Hmong population in America? How can schools and teachers learn about the cultural differences, and foster positive attitudes among students? Below are a few bits of information about attitudes toward the Hmong people, and a few tips for developing a culturally sensitive classroom.
Attitude toward the Hmong:
Americans find it difficult to distinguish Hmong from Vietnamese or other Asian groups.
Culturally Sensitive Classroom Tip:
Invite all students to talk about their cultural heritages. Encourage activities that blend the cultures and offer understanding.
Americans are perplexed by the rituals and music of the Hmong culture.
Set aside a cultural appreciation day, encouraging students to bring in physical objects and music of their culture. Share an instrument or a song in the classroom.
Allow students to share information about traditions of their culture or explain the meaning behind the ritual or music. Celebrate the uniqueness of culture!
Americans do not understand why or how the Hmong came to be in U.S.
Offer lessons that supply historical information about the Hmong contribution during the Vietnam War. Explain what happened during that time. Simply make the information available to students, as most probably have no idea of the historical background of the Hmong people or how they came to America.
Invite an elder of the Hmong community to share his/her experiences with the class.
Provide printed materials, photos or articles that give additional facts for students to absorb. Students thrive on “hands-on” activities.
Americans have little knowledge of the history or background of the Hmong culture.
Talk about the Hmong culture! Implement a lesson about the Vietnam War that includes the Hmong involvement in it.
Ask an elder of the Hmong community to share knowledge, rituals, traditions, beliefs, experiences, etc. with the class.
Americans view the Hmong people as hard-working and polite, but uneducated.
Stress the importance and value of being a hard-worker in the American society.
Being polite is equally valued, but is sometimes seen as a lack of assertiveness. With a large population of Hmong in Minnesota (the state where politeness is referred to as “Minnesota Nice” because the people are overwhelmingly polite), this quality is genuinely appreciated and valued.
Be open with students about the background of the Hmong people – that they came from Laos where there was simply no need for education. The people lived in the lovely countryside with family enmeshed all around. Great academic strides have been made for the Hmong. Celebrate their achievements.
http://www.everyculture.com/multi/Ha-La/Hmong-Americans.html. (2012). Retrieved 1 21, 2012, from Every Culture: http://www.everyculture.com/multi/Ha-La/Hmong-Americans.html
(2008, 9 13). Retrieved 1 21, 2012, from Asian Week: http://www.asianweek.com/2008/09/13/persistent-invisibility-hmong-americans-are-silenced/
Lindsay, J. (2012). http://www.jefflindsay.com/hmong-clash.html. Retrieved 1 21, 2012, from http://www.jefflindsay.com/hmong-clash.html
Searching for a resource for Japanese American experiences in World War II relocation camps? Alton Chung tells the true story of his journey and encounter with an 89 year old former internee who made her first visit after 66 years. This personal and challenging story is food for thought for all of us.
Alton Chung relates the true story of his journey to the Minidoka Relocation Camp site at Hunt, Idaho and of his encounter there with an 89 year old former internee. She was 23 years old when she left this Japanese American incarceration camp and this was her first visit back to the site after 66 years.
Touring the old camp evokes emotions and thoughts of loved ones and life at Minidoka during World War II. The internee shares personal memories of that time and how the internment affected her life. The story provides a view of relocation camps that allows us to experience the difficulties encountered and, hopefully, encourages us to think differently about others.
Create a webquest (an online scavenger hunt) for students to uncover information about incarceration camps
Visit a WWII museum
Write journal prompts for students to respond to daily.
Watch the video now
Explore our many other RaceBridges videos for
Asian American Month or any other time of the year.
We already know that Columbus did not “discover” America as there were people already living here. But what if some of the first to settle in the northern hemisphere weren’t even First Nations but Asians?
A team of Danish scientists have uncovered a tuft of dark brown hair in Greenland that has led them to theorize that 4000 years ago there was a tribe of humans that trekked from North Asian to settle into what is now called Greenland. The DNA collected from the hair traces back to Asians, not Native Americans or the Inuit people who live there now.
This suggests that the first humans to colonize the American Arctic were Asians/Siberians, distinct from the first people who arrived in America more than 14,000 years ago.
Of course, the research goes on but the theory suggests that the travels of early Asian groups may have been wider than previously considered and that perhaps there were multiple migrations from the Bering region into the American Arctic.
A Short Video Story
by Anne Shimojima
Have you ever wondered what life would be like if the government had imprisoned your entire family? For Anne Shimojima, this was the experience of her grandparents and their children. In this touching story, Anne tells of what life was like behind the barbed wire fences and the inadequate housing. Looking past what is unspoken, Anne reveals details of life for Japanese Americans in incarceration camps during WWII.
Curious as to her family’s experiences in incarceration camps during WWII, storyteller Anne Shimojima explains how she uncovered details to her family’s past. For whatever reason, many Japanese Americans do no talk about their experiences during this time. Anne was able to dig into her family history and speak with relatives who then shared details of what life was like in these camps.
Armed with a deeper and more personal understanding of what her grandparents had endured in the incarceration camp, Anne reveals a hidden world when she is able to describe the camp itself. She explains how she was brought closer to her grandparents and better understands the indignities they suffered, the sacrifices they made, and the hopes they had for future generations.
Invite grandparents of students to come to class and share a story from their life
Explore geneology or create a family tree
Watch videos or read literature the helps students to better understand historical events..
Watch the video now
Explore our many other RaceBridges Studio videos and lessons
Immigrant Story: a Chinese Family in the US
A Short Video Story by Nancy Wang
RaceBridges pays tribute to the many Asian Americans who have helped build and enrich America. Nancy Wang paints a true life picture of her Chinese American immigrant family’s struggles and ingenuity in the Monterey, CA area. This story is a great resource for understanding the contributions of Asian American immigrants to America.
This story follows the journey of Nance Wang’s ancestors who arrived in California on a junk boat in 1850 and the adversities encountered along the way to America. Upon arriving, Nancy’s family started the fishing industry of the Monterey Peninsula, which proved to be lucrative but not without opposition. Both legal and illegal violence ensued against them for generations.
Although America was a land of opportunity, unfair regulations and restrictions caused great difficulties for the hard-working Chinese Americans. This story reveals how a group of immigrants rallied with resilience and ingenuity so that the 7th generation of Chinese Americans thrives today.
The unimaginable challenges faced by Nancy’s family in this true story are thought-provoking and provide insight for us to appreciate our differences as well as make changes in how we think of others. With understanding, we can feel their pain and change our world for the better.
“We are a country of immigrants. Almost all of our citizens have roots in other countries. Unless you are a full-blooded Native American, either you or one of your ancestors journeyed to the United States. Maybe it was your parents. Maybe it was someone 300 years ago. But someone in your family, for whatever reason, was uprooted from home and culture, and traveled here, making the United States his or her new home” (Gretchen Morgan).
America is the great melting pot of culture and diversity. That is how our country started, and continues to become more and more diverse as time goes by. We must celebrate our many cultures and our many stories of the journey to America. Schools and teachers need to recognize that students come from a wide array of backgrounds. The more these backgrounds are embraced, the greater the learning will be.
Below are a few links to find stories of immigration. Share them with your students. Encourage them to write and share their own family story of immigration.
Listen to these Women Stories
in your classroom . . .
Bearing witness to the heroic
actions and words of women
Telling inspiring stories
that are little known
and rarely told . . .
Listen to these stories and use the lesson plans with your students
of moving stories of inclusion and exclusion, loss and hope, past
and present. Use these stories in your classroom to inspire and
challenge your students to reflect on their world-view and to broaden
Use these stories as discussion starters for a faculty in-service session
to prompt and animate discussion about race-relations and inclusion.
These lesson plans come with complete text as well as audio, teacher guides,
student activities and further resources on related themes. You may also find
corresponding videos on our sister site, RaceBridgesVideos.com.
These units are also suitable for young adult group discussion as
springboards on the subjects of race and racism.
Japanese American Storyteller Anne Shimojima tells her original story Hidden Memory: Incarceration: Knowing Your Family’s Story and Why it Matters. About her family in the United States, especially during the time of World War II when some of her family were sent to the Japanese-American incarceration camps. Explores in an engaging way xenephobia, racism and being “unseen” in society.Courage and resiliance in a story that is rarely told.
Latina Storyteller Olga Loya tells excerpts from her original story: Being Mexican American : Caught Between Two Worlds – Nepantla. Growing up Mexican American in Los Angeles. Caught between the Latino and Anglo cultures, she realizes that she might belong to an even wider family and community and that perhaps there is a way to live with them all. Warm and spirited.
Native American storyteller Gene Tagaban remembers Elizabeth Peratrovich, Tlingit woman, of Petersburg, Alaska. She attended Western Washington State University. When she returned with a new husband to live in Juno, no one would rent her a home because she was native. This was the limit to Elizabeth. She said: “No more signs. We need better housing, good jobs and good education for the people. And the right to sit wherever we wanted.” Gene Tagaban lovingly remembers the life of Elizabeth Peratrovich through the stories told to him by his own grandmother. The story remembers the shining day, after much struggle and bigotry of the passage of the Alaskan Anti-Discrimination Bill in1945, 20 years before Rosa Parks refused to sit in the back of the bus. This account is part of Gene Tagaban’s longer story of identity and belonging : Search Across the Races : I Am Indopino … Or How to Answer the Question : “Who Are You?”.
Native American storyteller Dovie Thomason tells her true story: The Spirit Survives: The American Indian Boarding School Experience: Then and Now. This story weaves together personal narrative and historical accounts about the Indian boarding schools to reveal how they were used to decimate native culture and how some Indians stood up to them. Shocking and Inspiring.
African American storyteller Linda Gorham tells two stories. One is I Am Somebody : Story Poems for Pride and Power. This an upbeat and moving celebration of Linda’s family tree and heritage. The lesson plan guides teachers to invite “pride poems” from their students. In her story Rosa Parks : One of Many Who Sat Down to Stand Up Linda personalizes the words and actions in a story of the famed Rosa Parks. The lesson plan explores the many other heroes of the civil rights movement who “sat down’ to stand up for justice. Self-worth, dignity and courage come alive.
Celebrating Women : Bridgebuilders and Storytellers
Ideas for bringing the universal subject of Women into your classroom.
RaceBridges honors Women’s History Month each year in the month of March. But gender equality is an important diversity issue that can be explored at any time. So we re-publish here our lesson plan for Women’s History Month in this Resource format. We remember that any time in the school year is a good time to explore the struggle for women’s equality and the ideals still not yet
fulfilled. We trust that these ideas, classroom activities and recommended links will be of help for you and your students in exploring this subject.
Interested in knowing what life was really like for Japanese Americans following the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941? Take a journey with storyteller Anne Shimojima as she tells not only her own personal family experiences of the event, but relates the difficulties faced by many Japanese Americans at the onset of WWII.
With honest and detailed reflection, storyteller Anne Shimojima tells the personal story of the forced evacuation of her grandparents following the attack on Pearl Harbor. While setting the stage with warm recollections of who her grandfather was, she interlaces historical facts to build a foundation of awareness.
Relating hardships faced my many Japanese Americans, Shimojima explains how prejudice and discrimination resulted from unadulterated rumor and fear. She recounts the bitterness that she saw in the faces of her loved ones, and how their experiences in the forced evacuation profoundly affected her family. Listen as she brings a new understanding to a long misunderstood and overlooked aspect of American history.
Invite a guest speaker who experiences persecution to come to share stories with students
Watch the short film The Wave to show students how people are easily influenced when fear and rumor are involved (film is easily found online)
Create a set of interview questions, and have students interview an older family member or friend.
How much do you and your students know about Asian Americans? Do they know the discrimination Asian Americans still face today?
Research shows that Asian Americans are one of the fastest growing victims of hate crimes in America. 17% of Asian American boys in grades 5 through 12 reported physical abuse, as compared to 8% among white boys. 30% of Asian American girls in grades
5 through 12 reported depressive symptoms, as compared to white girls (22%), African American girls (17%), or Hispanic girls (27%).
14% of Asian Americans live below the poverty line, compared to 13% of the U.S. population.
In addition, while jobs pay Euro Americans $522 per every additional year of education beyond high school, Asian Americans make $379 per every additional year of education. According to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Asian-American men born in the United States are 7 percent to 11 percent less likely to hold managerial jobs than white men with the same educational and experience level.
The artistic textile tradition of Paj Ntaub (“Flower Cloth”)
of the Hmong culture.
Although a large population of Hmong is centralized in the mid-west and California, the background of this culture is often a mystery or is misunderstood by many Americans. So, who are the Hmong people? How did they arrive on American shores? What are their hardships?
Below is a brief bit of history of these courageous people, highlighting some struggles of both their past and present circumstances. Included also are some tips for teachers when working with Hmong students and families.
Who are they?
The Hmong are often mistaken as being Chinese or Vietnamese..
Mainly from Laos, the Hmong in the U.S. came as refugees after the Vietnam War..
They have religious beliefs in animism (the use of shamans for guidance, healing, and ceremonies)..
Asian Hmong have backgrounds in agriculture..
They are relatively new to the U.S., as Hmong arrival to the U.S. was only around 30 years ago..
How and why did they come to America?
Much of the older Hmong generation fought for America in what is known as a secret war, recruited by the CIA to battle powerful communist forces..
When America left Vietnam (after the Vietnam War), the Hmong people were left behind. Trusting the U.S. promise that they would be taken care of because of their service to the U.S., the Hmong felt abandoned when America left. The North Vietnamese marked them for extinction. What followed were torture, murder, and desperation..
Many simply fled for survival, and many perished in the harrowing escape. Others were trapped in the hillsides and mountains of the country..
Arrival to America meant safety for the Hmong, but new challenges immediately emerged..
What are their struggles – past and present?
The older generation of Hmong carries with them chilling tales of survival and horror of life before coming to America..
Upon arrival, many Hmong endured neglect in refugee camps and separation from family members..
Culture shock only added to the scarred and tragic background of the new arrivals, as Hmong culture is vastly different from that of American culture..
Language is a significant obstacle for the Hmong people in America..
The older generation fears the loss of Hmong heritage as they try to fit into American culture..
Most Americans do not know the story of how/why the Hmong people arrived to the U.S., and many are insensitive to the culture..
For Teachers and Leaders working with Hmong students and families:
The language of the Hmong people is very different from that of English. The language itself is a tonal language, and it is not known if there was ever a written language of the Hmong. Because of this, words and sentences are formed unlike that of English. Plurals, articles, and others nuances will be noticeably misplaced in writing samples. It is a language issue, not an inability issue..
Have translators available for school functions: phone calls home, conferences, meetings, etc..
Understand that family is vitally important to the Hmong, even at the cost of education. Older generation members often have had little to no schooling prior to coming to America..
Many of the older Hmong feel that their heritage has been (or is being) lost as a result of fleeing to America. Try to bridge this gap by welcoming families to the school/classroom. Have a cultural day, and invite families to school for the day..
Encourage the sharing of stories, as this is an essential aspect of Hmong culture..
Recognize that English will likely be a second language to students, and that it will likely not be spoken at home. Homework will be difficult to complete at home, as parents will probably not speak that language or be familiar with the work..
Check out these websites for further information about the Hmong people:
The stories offered here—Immigrant History and Mom’s Story—come from Chinese American storyteller, Nancy Wangs longer story Bittersweet: A Chinese American Daughter’s Legacy. In this story, Wang explores the history of her own family, beginning with the immigration of her great-great-grandparents from China to the United States in the mid-nineteenth century.
This lesson plan uses two stories by Nancy Wang, a dancer, storyteller, playwright, and practicing psychotherapist. Wang studies ethnic dance and has written plays focused on Asian American themes. The stories offered here—Immigrant History and Mom’s Story—come from her longer story Bittersweet: A Chinese American Daughter’s Legacy. In this story, Wang explores the history of her own family, beginning with the immigration of her great-great-grandparents from China to the United States in the mid-nineteenth century. Through this story of her own family history, Wang uncovers the generations of discrimination against Chinese immigrants—both stealth and legally sanctioned—as she explores the relationship in her family, including her own relationship with her mother.
This unit comes with a teacher guide, text of stories & audio-download of stories as well as student activities.
To expose students to the experience of Chinese immigrants in the 19th century.
To explore the little-known history of exclusion of and discrimination against Chinese immigrants and Chinese Americans during the 19th and 20th centuries.
To examine the connections between family history and personal development.
By the end of this lesson, each student will:
Be familiar with the tension among immigrants in California in the 19th and early-20th century.
Understand why marginalized groups might exploit and oppress each other rather than working together to achieve their rights.
Need help to download the MP3 Story Excerpts? Click here for directions.
About Storyteller Nancy Wang
Nancy Wang, together with her storyteller husband Robert Kikuchi-Ynogo founded Eth-Noh-Tec in 1982. This is is a kinetic story theater company based in San Francisco, weaving [tec] together distinctive cultural elements of the East and West [eth] to create new possibilities [noh]. Eth-Noh-Tec produces and performs contemporary presentations of traditional folktales from the many countries and cultures of Asia through storytelling, theater, dance, and music. Nancy Wang is available for performances in schools and colleges solo, or with her husband as Eth-NohTec.
As spring settles in and the school year winds down, it is important to consider the amazing contributions of some very significant leaders in the Asian American community. May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, and there are many notable Asian Americans worthy of study. Their dedication to discover and to strive to reach the stars proves that anything is possible, and that dreams do come true. Teachers and schools should take the opportunity to celebrate and honor their accomplishments.
Below are a few names to start with and what they are known for. Create a research project for students. Study the names as a class. Make up a guessing game or quiz that gets the students actively involved! Share the names with your students, and see how much they know!
Have you ever wondered what America would be like without the creativity inspired by other cultures? Ours is a nation of diversity. We have the unique capacity to design and create, to dream and build, to explore and experiment – all because we have so many different people, customs, cultures, beliefs, talents, and backgrounds on our shores.
Let’s all take a moment to celebrate our Asian American citizens and their tremendous accomplishments. Share these not so common facts below with your students, and see how many facts they recognize. Make it a trivia contest or a game!
Where it Came From
The story of Cinderella
Chutes and Ladders Game
Rock, Paper, Scissors Game
created by a Japanese-American
Compact Disc (CD)
Cotton and Calico
How did you do – how many did your students recognize? Can your students think of any other items in our country created by Asian Americans?
During the month of May, America celebrates Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. Honor these brilliant people by encouraging your students to dream big and work hard.
This list is written for RaceBridges by our colleagues from Ethnohtec Story Theatre
1. “Asian Americans are nerds, geeks”
Not so. All you have to do is recognize Jackie Chan, kung fu actor and comedian. There’s Bruce Lee, martial artist actor, Kristi Yamaguchi and Michelle Kwan, gold medalist ice skaters. There are also other medal winning skaters Kim Yu-na of South Korea, and sister-brother team, Danvi and Vu Pham, Vietnamese – to name only a few. Like in any population, Asians are a broad spectrum of personalities. There are many more Asians who could not be nerds or geeks even if they wanted to be!
Stereotypes ? What is this based on? A biased attitude, seen from a narrow point of reference, and personal preference.If one looks at characters and images in movies, magazines and on TV, what is reflected is the creation of a white male industry portraying what is to be considered ‘sexy’, and it is is usually white. Asian women are chosen to fit that white stereotype with an added racist Asian-woman-seductress element. It’s all made up by a few white men and all of us, not just Asians, have been hypnotized by it. How can there be no ‘sexy’ Asian men? Statistically this is impossible. And the same goes for Asian women. All Asian women are ‘sexy’? Please. No more than all white women are ‘sexy’!
Like any population, there are many sizes. Sure many Asians tend to be shorter, but not all. There are many Asians peaking beyond 6 feet tall. Anyone can gain weight! Take a look at Japanese Sumo wrestlers or for height, there’s Yow Ming, Chinese basketball player at 7’6” and his girlfriend Chinese basketball player at 6’2”. Asians are 60% of the world population and in these populations there is a mixture of many faces and sizes just like in other groups.
The data tells a different story. In fact, Southeast Asians have the highest high school dropout rates in the country. 33% of Asian Americans students in public high schools drop out or do not graduate on time. 24% of Asian Americans over age 25 do not have a high school degree. The illiteracy rate of Asian Americans is 5.3 times that of non-Hispanic whites. http://www.asian–nation.org/model–minority.shtml
5. “Asian Americans have made it to the mainstream and have become part of the accepted American ‘melting pot”
In fact, Asian Americans in the first hundred and more years of living on American soil (as early as 1849) were singled out and victimized by discriminating behaviors and laws by European settlers. They were lynched, murdered, rounded up and marched out of communities. They were not allowed by law to stand witness against any white man in court, could not own land, were forbidden to immigrate, imprisoned in government internment camps, forbidden to marry out of their own ethnic group and more.
All the above is even more alarming since there is evidence that the Chinese first arrived on the western shores of America as early as 2500BC and the eastern shores years before Columbus in the 1400s. Filipinos arrived in Louisiana in the 1700s. Many Asians were earlier Americans than Europeans. But this does not count.
Today, research shows that Asian Americans are the fastest growing victims of hate crimes in America. 17% of Asian American boys in grades 5 through 12 reported physical abuse, as compared to 8% among white boys, and 30% of Asian American girls in grades 5 through 12 reported depressive symptoms, as compared to white girls (22%), African American girls (17%), or Hispanic girls (27%), 46% of Asian American households do not have anyone over age 14 who can speak English well.
6. “Asian Americans are economically stable and successful”
In fact, 14% of Asian Americans live below the poverty line, compared to 13% of the U.S. population. In addition, while jobs pay Euro Americans $522 per every additional year of education beyond high school, Asian Americans make $379 per every additional year of education. In California, almost 40% of all Vietnamese refugees are on public assistance and in Minnesota and Wisconsin, an equal number of Cambodians, Hmong, and Laotians also receive public assistance. In New York City, 52% of Asian American births in 1999 were paid for by Medicaid, indicating that their mothers are poor or near poor, more than double that of 1990(22%). According to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Asian-American men born in the United States are 7 percent to 11 percent less likely to hold managerial jobs than white men with the same educational and experience level.
7. “Asian Americans are passive, compliant and weak”
Well, there’s Mao. There’s Chinese mothers! American film most often depicts Asians as being mysterious, passive,China Dolls and as usual casting non-white men as being unattractive for women. Look at all the Hollywood pairing of Asian women and white men: Pierce Brosnan and Michelle Yeoh in the James bond movie “Tomorrow Never Dies”; or look at all the female Asian newscasters, but rarely an Asian male newscaster; or the movie ‘The World of Suzie Wong” – a prostitute who is paired with William Holden, a white business man. The women are either Dragon Lady types and the men ugly fierce gang or martial arts murderers, or they are the unattractive passive and weak. Asians are rarely portrayed as just regular human beings. Too often in films, the Asian passive beauty is set as the standard as to how to attract and keep a man. And never is an Asian competition to romantically win the leading man or woman.
The above list is written for RaceBridges by our colleagues from Ethnohtec Story Theatre : www.ethnohtec.org
We hope this list will energize you to explore the role of Asian Americans in this month of May, Asian Pacific American Heritage Month..
This list is not meant to be all-encompassing. All Asian-Americans are not all from Pacific Asian origins. The continent of Asia is vast. We hope the above list will stimulate discussion and exploration of an American ethnic group that we often classify with one name, but has many splendid and shining differences..
These stories of triumph, resilience and persistence speak of the many gifts that the Asian American peoples have brought to America.
There are many forms of laughter: discomfort, joy, fear, amusement, sarcastic, etc. What type of laughter would you attribute to the students in the library? What dynamic did it set up between them and Diane? What are a few responses you would have had to the situation?
Invisibility is a much-desired attribute among superheroes. However, there are times when we, too, search for the cloak of concealment. When have you ever wanted to be “invisible”? In what situation and for what purpose?
The themes of belonging, identity, shame, and protecting one’s self can be found in the story of each human being. What other themes did you connect to in this story? Did the story help you to remember something that is or has happened to you?
Every Tongue Got to Confess by Zora Neale Hurston
African American Folk Tales for Young Readers by Richard Young and Judy Dockrey Young
Pink and Say by Patricia Polacco
African American/Black History
Education and Life Lessons
Family and Childhood
Stereotypes and Discrimination
Taking A Stand and Peacemaking
Hi, my name is Diane Macklin and this is a story, Just Hair.
If you’re driving down Route 82 in Hopewell Junction, New York in 199… in 1986, you would go past this ranch white house with green shutters, and you would think it was just a house. No indeed. This was the place where anyone with African roots could get their hair done by my mother. And that was me because we were the second black family to move into our neighborhood. My mother was the oldest of 12 children, and she did everyone’s hair. So, my hair was always done perfectly. There was no need in town for a Jet magazine or even anyone who could do anything with my hair. But it didn’t matter.
And as I grew up, well, things started to change a little bit. In high school, I no longer wanted the perfect parts, the braids, the ponytails. I watched this show on TV called The Facts of Life. My favorite show and there was this character Tootie. Now she would roll around on her rollerblades. She had these cute little pigtails and she had a brown complexion like me but she looked young. But then there was Blair and she had this flowing blond hair. And she was sophisticated; she was so much older. I wanted to be like Blair. So, one morning when my mom was doing my hair I said, “Mom, can you do my hair so it’s out. This is my ninth-grade year, Mom. I really want to wear my hair out.”
Now, my mom is from Mississippi. She’s from the South. She never says, “No.”
She goes on about her back. She goes on about this, that and the other until you’re saying, “No, Mom, that’s ok, that’s ok. Don’t, don’t worry about it.”
But she looked at me. “No.” I thought maybe she had a bad night at work. Maybe she woke up on the wrong side of the bed. That was okay because I could wait her out. I did wait a couple of weeks.
“Mom, I was thinking that maybe you could do my hair so it’s out today.”
But, again, she looked. “No.”
Now, I’m in high school, ninth grade and I ride a bus. It takes a while to get to school. I knew that if I took my hair out on the bus, and remembered where she had parted it, how she had braided it (whether it was over or under), I could take out my hair on the bus and put it back. She’ll never know.
So, one morning I got on the bus and I scooted down in the seat and started to take out my hair. Now, my friend across from me saw what I was doing and she just watched, and watched. And then we pulled up at our high school. Now always in high school, you did not go inside until the bell rang. Whether it was snow, sleet, hail, rain, everyone stood outside the building until the bell rang. But as soon as the bus pulled up and stopped, I stood up. And I heard, “Aah!” ’Cause back then no one had seen hair like mine, this rich hair, out because you didn’t even see it on TV. You didn’t even see it on commercials, and I felt like a million dollars.
I even had my own music playing, my own soundtrack, ’cause as I walked on the bus everyone just followed me. “Uuh!”
And I was going, “Oom, aah, and, Oom, aah!” I just felt… I had never felt like that before actually. And I struck a pose before I got off the bus, and they just sat there staring. They couldn’t believe it. I walked off the bus and then, who0om, everyone parted like the Red Sea and my friends came over.
“Can I touch your hair? Can I touch your hair?”
“Are your hands clean?”
And all day, I rode this cloud nine. And then, towards the end of the day, though, I had to go to the library to get a book out for research purposes, and I saw that there were some lower-class rooms from the middle school. They were visiting. They hadn’t seen my hair. So, I walked in, I struck a pose, and they no longer stared at their teacher. They stared at me.
“Yeah! They never saw hair like this.”
I walked in and then I heard, “Ah, whoo, whoo, whoo, ha!”
It wasn’t quite what I was expecting. Then the whole class broke out in laughter. Then I started to hear the words. “Afro Puff. Brillo Pad.”
They were talking about my hair. And there were other names, that, even now, I don’t want to repeat.
I couldn’t remember what I went in that library for but I wasn’t going to care. I went to the shelf, picked up a book, checked it out, walked out, had my head up high, looked at them, so they knew they didn’t get me.
But as soon as I left that library, my head dropped. On that bus, I remembered how she parted it. I turned my head a little to the window because, you know, how you do sittin’ down, it’s easier. A few tears fallin’ down. I went inside. It was as if I never took my hair out.
And I decided, I was going to wear an invisible armor and from that day on, I did. I pr… constructed an armor that you could not see me. Worked so well that, one day I was at the grocery store, and I was juggling more groceries than I needed to in my arms and there was a woman and her daughter. Her daughter looked, and young people can see past the invisible armor. They have a special vision. She saw that if she moved her groceries up, on the conveyor belt, I could put mine down. That’s what that young lady did. But the mother turned around and, well, I had my invisible armor on and she couldn’t see me, because she took her arm and she moved those groceries back in place, so I could not put my groceries down. The young lady, she turned beet red. She looked embarrassed. I tried to let her know it was okay because she didn’t know, I was wearing my armor. I wore it for many years and then one day, I was in that store and I heard someone comin’ up behind me. And this time I was smart; I did have a cart.
“Young lady, young lady.” But no one talked to me in the store.
“Young lady, young lady.” But no one talked to me in store.
I turned around. There was a woman with a rich, mahogany complexion like mine.
“Do you know where you’re from?”
“No! Where you’re from in Africa?”
My school didn’t teach us anything about Africa. And even during Black History Month, there was maybe a book in the library, on a shelf, but that was about it.
“You need to find out where you’re from ’cause when I saw you, I said, ‘She looks like a Mandingo warrior woman.’ Do you know that the Mandingo have warrior women?”
I didn’t know anything about Mandingo. I didn’t even know what to say. I was speechless.
“You need to find out where you’re from?”
And she turned the corner. And I stood there for a moment absorbing what she told me and then I went to find her ’cause, clearly, she knew more than I did. And she was gone. I couldn’t find her anywhere.
And to this day, I feel like she was a little angel, came to send me a message because now I could take off that invisible armor. And I now have as my defense, as my weapon of choice, to love, to love through story, as a storyteller.
What is it like to be so immersed in a culture that a lady on the bus becomes your adopted “Aunt” and a bus driver your “Brother? While Arianna Ross travelled alone through Indonesia, she discovered that sometimes family is defined by a connection and not blood. Many days Arianna lived with only the support of total strangers. Witness the similarities and differences between Arianna’s culture and theirs.
How do the people in the island of Banda Aceh, Indonesia define family?
When the police stopped the bus that Arianna was on and searched people, what were they looking for and how did “strangers” protect Arianna?
Folk Tales From Bali and Lombok by Margaret Alibasah
Folk Tales from Indonesia by Dra Aman
Education and Life Lessons
Living and Traveling Abroad
Taking A Stand and Peacemaking
My name is Arianna Ross and I am a storyteller who has lived all over the world. During this journey, this story, I was living in Indonesia. It was two o’clock in the morning and I was exhausted.
The police officers had been getting on our bus every 30 minutes on the dot. I was taking the bus from Banda Aceh all the way to Medan and every 30 minutes the bus would stop. The doors were open. A police officer would get on the bus. He would walk up the bus. He would walk down the bus with his AK 47 in his hands and then he would walk off the bus… and the bus would begin again.
Usually the bus driver, he would check the people on the bus to make sure that we were OK. He would smile. He would nod his head as if to say, “Are you ok?”
I always responded with a nod back, “I’m fine.”
At two o’clock in the morning, I pulled my sarong over my hand and I leaned up against the Plexiglas window and I fell asleep for one hour.
Suddenly I felt this stabbing sensation in my arm. I heard the sound of my name being shouted and I heard the sound of a man speaking to me in a language I didn’t understand Acehnese. (I spoke Indonesian). Then suddenly, a soft voice broke through the screams. It was the woman sitting in front of me; she was saying, “It’s ok, my child. He just wants to see your passport.”
I took the sarong off my head. I reached inside my money belt and I handed my passport to the man. He swung his AK 47 in front of my face and he reached out to grab my passport, flipping through it, reading out names of countries I’ve been to and then he threw my passport back at me and turned and walked off the bus.
The bus driver, before sticking keys in the engine, he turned and he looked at me. “Are you OK?”
And I responded, “I’m fine.”
All of the people on the bus, they all seemed to be looking at me asking me with their eyes and their smiles, “Are you OK?”
And I responded, “I’m fine.”
The woman sitting in front of me, she was in full burka, black from head to toe. She smiled, her eyes peeking through her face, masked by the black. “It’s ok, my child, your Indonesian family is here to protect you.”
I reached inside my money belt and I took out a tiny turtle, one that was made out of seashell and coconut shell and I held it in my hand. I closed my fingers around it and I took a deep breath in… and I let it out…
I remembered what my adopted brother had told me. You see, I had been living on the island of Pulau Weh, just north of the city of Banda Aceh. I had been living in a home right next to my adopted little brother. He became my adopted little brother because his mother used to feed me on a daily basis. She invited me to their home for breakfast, lunch or dinner and the last night I was there, she cooked all of my favorite foods.
She made coconut soup, pumpkin curry and a special sticky rice dessert. And at the end of the meal, he took me out to the beach and he handed me that turtle. “Look down! What do you see?”
“Uh, uh. Family! A connection! If you ever need anything at all, just think of us. Hold that turtle in your hand and take a deep breath in and let it out.”
I held that turtle in my hand all night long as I packed, even as I walked the next day to the docks where I was taking the boat to Banda Aceh to catch the bus. I sat down in my seat and I thought to myself, “Saya mau sendirian. I wish to be alone.”
I managed to be alone for approximately 30 seconds before I felt this soft tapping sensation on my arm. I turned and I looked. It was this woman, she was in full burka, head to toe, in black. She held in her hand a dragon’s egg. Not a real dragon’s egg. It’s a type of fruit from Indonesia. The outside is a thick, hot pink leather and the inside, a delicious white fruit. “kau mau mau makan,” she said to me.
“No. Saya mau sendirian. I wish to be alone.”
“Kau mau mau makan. you wish to eat!” I realized that there was no arguing with her so I began to share her fruit. And before I knew it, we were talking. And then she looked at me. “You look exactly like my daughter.”
Huh! I was wearing khaki pants and a tie-dyed T-shirt. “How did I look like her daughter?”
“My daughter, she’s the first one in her family, in my family to go to Banda Aceh University. She is now an English teacher.” Before I knew it, we had actually reached the city of Banda Aceh.
We stepped off of the boat and I reached down to grab my bags and say goodbye. When I felt this hand on my arm, this grip on my wrist. “Come, I take you to the bus stop!”
“No, it’s okay. I can go by myself.”
“T, t, t, t, t, t, t, t, I take you!”
I followed her down this long maze of roads through the marketplace. We stopped in a sarong shop. She needed to buy something for her daughter. In the end, she just bought one item… for me. It was a beautiful sarong with flowers all over it and then she handed it to me. She told me, “It’s for your daughter.”
“I don’t have a daughter, Auntie!”
“You will; one day you will have a daughter! This sarong is blessed by the imam, the highest of holy men in the mosque. He does not care that your child is not Muslim. He blesses all children.”
I packed that sarong neatly in my backpack and I followed her out the marketplace to the big bus stop to the ticket shop where I bought my ticket. The woman, Auntie, she explained to the man selling the tickets that I was her daughter and it was his responsibility to sell me the correct bus ticket. He explained to me that for his sister, he would do anything. He also explained that the bus wasn’t leaving for another four hours and if I so desired, I could sit next to him and wait. I didn’t have an opportunity to respond.
Auntie, she grabbed my hand and said, “Come, you eat dinner with me!”
Huh?” I found myself being dragged onto a little bus. I found myself getting off the little bus in what seemed like the middle of nowhere and there appeared to be a group of houses to the right and jungle to the left. The houses didn’t even look like they were complete. Auntie, she explained to me that her husband’s job was security. He watched all of the houses and when they were finished, they would move to a new location where he would protect the rest of the unfinished houses in Banda Aceh.
I had to duck in order to enter her house.
I noticed that there were no pictures on the walls. Just one poster in Arabic. I asked her what it said and she smiled. “It is a phrase about family, that strangers should be family and always welcome in your home.”
I asked her where exactly all the photographs were. I was used to my mother’s house where there are photographs everywhere. She pointed underneath the bed. There was a box. I took the box out and I started looking through the photographs and I found one of her daughter at her daughter’s graduation.
I asked her how her daughter was doing today and she grinned. “My daughter is perfect. You keep that photo.”
“Why would I keep this photo, it’s yours?”
“T, t, t, t, t, t! You keep the photo. I have the memory.”
I put that photo in my money belt. Before I knew it was time to catch the small bus back to the big bus stop.
She waved down a small bus and she explained to the small bus driver that I was her daughter. He nodded his head and said for his niece he would do anything and he did. He, actually stopped his bus at the big bus stop, something I never seen before. He got off the bus explaining to all the passengers that they would have to wait as he escorted me to the big bus stop.
He explained to my bus driver that I was his niece and that he, my new bus driver, was to make certain I arrived in Medan safely. The big bus driver nodded his head and explained to me that for his grandchild, he would do anything. Just before the bus leaved, just before he stuck the keys in the engine, he turned and… me… looked at me. Without any words, he seemed to ask me, “Are you okay?”
And I responded, “I’m fine.”
About three years later, I was sitting on my grandparents’ bed in Florida – Tampa, Florida, to be exact, when a news flash came on the television. News flash – tsunami hit Banda Aceh. I wrote down immediately the phone number at the bottom of the news flash.
I ran to the telephone and I began to call and call and call and call until, finally, I made it through. And when I did, the woman’s response was, “We have no idea if the island of Pulau Weh (that tiny island I lived on just north of Banda Aceh), if it even existed anymore.” And in terms of Auntie and Uncle, unless I had their address, there was no way that she could help me. I simply had to wait.
I couldn’t, wouldn’t be able to know what happened to Auntie. I didn’t have any way of communicating with her. No cell phone number, no nothing. But I did send an e-mail to my friends at Pulau Weh and I waited.
I finally received an email one month later. When the ground began to shake, the people in Pulau Weh ran up to the highest point on their island. Only one man died. He was trying to rescue his fishing boat. The rest survived. I went into my keepsake box and I found the turtle and the photograph. I put them together in my hands. I took a deep breath in… and I remembered and I had hope that Auntie was okay.
As the new Protestant Chaplain at the largest men’s prison in Maryland, Geraldine quickly realizes that the midweek Bible service has been overrun by the Crips – a violent, largely African-American gang – and that if something isn’t done quickly the Correctional Officers will close down the service. Going to the root of the problem, Geraldine meets with the head of Crips in her office, but she soon sees that as the two of them are so completely different she will have to establish some common ground before asking for his help with the problem. Will telling him a story of a thug-filled six-week bus trip from London, UK to Delhi, India, that she took decades before, be enough to win his trust? Can the midweek Bible service be saved?
America has more people incarcerated than any other nation in the world (both in number and per capita). Why do you think this is?
According to an FBI report, in 2011 there were approximately 1.4 million people who were part of gangs, and more than 33,000 gangs were active in the United State. These numbers have since grown rapidly. What do you think has happened in this country to allow gangs to flourish?
What do you think that you as an individual can do about both of these problems? What do you think that we as a nation can do about both of these problems?
The Outsiders by E. F. Hutton
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander.
Living and Traveling Abroad
Stereotypes and Discrimination
Taking A Stand and Peacemaking
Hello, my name is Geraldine. Geraldine Buckley. And in 2007, it never crossed my mind, when I was training to be the chaplain, at the largest men’s prison in Maryland, that after just a few weeks on the job, I would be sitting in my office, across my desk from the leader of the Crips, which is a largely African-American violent gang. And that I would be asking the head of the Crips for his help with a problem.
Well, when that day came, I did what I do best in those situations. After all, you’ve probably realized by now, that I was born and brought up in England. Well, I made him a cup of tea. But I really did have a problem. The midweek Bible service that had about 240 men and…, it had become a meeting place for the gangs, particularly the Crips. Now, the front of the service was fine. That’s where men were opening themselves up to the love and forgiveness of God. And so, they were able to extend that love and forgiveness to other people. Incredible things were happening. But it was just at the back of the chapel that I had such a problem. That’s where the gang members, particularly the Crips, were passing things and they were talking loudly. Well, goodness knows what they were plotting. But they were disturbing the service and I couldn’t have that. And there was another level to this problem, and that is, if the correctional officers realized what a serious gang problem we actually had, they’d close down the service and we might not get it back for months.
Well, I went to the, the head of the, the inmate leaders of the chapel. Ah, we had a church of 600 people behind the walls. And, ah, the leaders, many of them, had theological degrees and I asked them for their input and they suggested that I take all those Crip leaders off the list. In other words, ban them from the service. But I didn’t want to do that, because to my mind, unless they sat under the Word of God, what hope would they have of changing? So, that’s why I decided to go to the root of the problem, which is how I find myself in my office, across my desk from the head of the Crips. Let’s call him El Jefe. Well, he was about thirty-three years of age. He was African-American. He came from Baltimore. And I knew, I only had him in my office for 20 minutes because he’d arrived at half past two and he had to leave by 2:50 in order to get back to his cell in time for count. And if he wasn’t there, he’d be taken off to the segregation unit in chains. I thought, how am I going to establish any common ground, any mutual understanding, or any hope of cooperation, in such a short amount of time.
After all, we were so different. I mean, for a start, he was a man and I’m a woman. He’d been incarcerated for years and he’s got years to go. And I’m relatively new at all this. And then, he was a Crip and I’m a Pentecostal. And then, I had an idea. And I said, “Jefe, let me tell you a story.” I have, but first of all, I said to him, “Jefe, I think I have a really soft spot for gangs.” Well he was, at the time, he was slumped in his chair and he was gently tapping his fingers on the edge of my desk. And he was looking at me through half-closed eyes and I knew then that he was not buying it. So that’s when I said, “Jefe, let me tell you a story.”
“When I was 21, I went on a bus trip from North Finchley tube station in London to Delhi, India. It was called Budget Bus. It was bright pink. It was decrepit. It was held together with duct tape. But it was cheap. Now, I went for two reasons. First of all, I wanted something on my resume the following year, that would make me really stand out from my, my fellow graduates. And the other thing is I really wanted to irritate my mother.”
“Now, I was really concerned about who my fellow travelling companions were going to be because we would be travelling together for six weeks. We would be eating together by the side of the road. We’d be sleeping in tents together. So, we would in effect, be a mobile travelling capsule. And so, I was very concerned when I first stepped on the bus, and my immediate impression was one of a strong smell of unwashed bodies. Well, I tried hard to not let that show on my face but I looked to see where it was coming from. And it was a small group of men who were very thin, they had hollow eyes, and they had track marks up and down their arms. These were drug addicts. And one of them was going to die on a beach in Sri Lanka.”
Well, I looked over at Jefe, and I’d noticed that he’d stopped drumming his fingers, and he was sitting up straight. Good. I had his attention, so I carried on. “So,” I said, “of the other 25 or 30 other men and women on that bus, there was another man who immediately, I immediately, noticed. he was a small man. He was in his mid-20’s. He had shifty eyes. And he sat right at the back of the bus. And I knew straight away, he was Australian because of his accent, And I found out later that his name was Wayne. Well, from that very first moment of getting on the bus, he kept up a loud, continuous monologue of the filthiest language I have ever heard before or since.”
“And then, there was another group of men who stood out to me. They were wearing denim and leather and chains. They had shaved heads. They were covered in tattoos, and they had a really hard look on their faces. These were the Hell’s Angels. Now, it must be said, that these were English Hell’s Angels, so they were a little more refined than their American counterparts. But they were still Hell’s Angels, and they terrified me. Particularly, their leader who was called Grila. Now, Grila was an enormous man. He couldn’t read or write. He had his name tattooed on his knuckles. G-R-I-L-A. And he had this huge tattoo on his arm of a gravestone with the names of men in it. And I looked at those names and I thought, ‘Are they the names of the men he’s killed?’ Oh, that man, Grilla, absolutely terrified me!”
“Well, that bus was far worse than I could have ever imagined on that first day. Wayne and his new group of friends discovered that down the aisle of the bus, there was a trap door that went down to the road. And when the bus was moving, they would have urinating contests. And if anybody objected, they would turn the flow on them. And then, for some reason, Wayne thought it would be great fun to pick on me. And so, for hour after hour, he kept up another loud monologue describing, in vivid detail, what he imagined I did as extracurricular activity.”
“Well, I was only 21 and this went on for day, after day, after day. Well, one of those days, I was sitting near the back of the blus… back of the bus, playing Scrabble with Wayne’s new girlfriend. She and I shared a tent for the first few days of the bus. Well, he said something really crass to her. Really revolting. And, stupidly, I defended her. So, he pushed me back in my seat. And then, he picked up his big fist to hit me. When all of a sudden, over my shoulder, came an enormous hand and it grabbed Wayne’s wrist. And a voice said, ‘No, you don’t. You’re not hitting women. Not on my turf!’”
And Wayne just crumbled and he said, ‘No!’ He said, ‘Don’t hurt me! Don’t, don’t hurt me! Don’t hurt me.’”
“Well, I looked around to see who he was, who’d come to my help. It was Grilla! Grilla had come to help me. Well, that night I was sitting on the bus by myself. All the others were setting up the camp and, and Grilla came to find me. And he was shuffling his feet a bit, and he had his cap in his hand, and he was twisting it, and he kept his eyes on the ground, And he said, ‘Geraldine, I’m really sorry I didn’t do more to help you on that bus today.’ He said, ‘But if we men start eating each other, someone’s going to get killed.’”
“Well, several things happened from that incident. The first thing, was that Wayne kept really quiet at the back of the bus, which was wonderful. And then, that was the first time that I realized that, although it’s best for men and women to work together, sometimes you need a man to stand up and do what’s right. And when that happens, it’s like a key turns in a lock and evil turns to good. And then the other thing that happened was, that Grilla and his group of Hell’s Angels friends, they took me under their wing. And I became the little sister the gang. All very innocent.”
Well, at that moment I looked over at, ah, at Jefe and his eyes were as big as the bottom of s… of buckets. And I said, “I know, isn’t that incredible, Jefe, that a woman who was not long out of a convent boarding school, would end up being the little sister of a gang of hens… Hell’s Angels. But what that meant was, that I got to spend time with them. I got to see who they really were. And I saw that they, they really cared for each other. They had each other’s backs. They were family.”
“So, one day I asked Grilla about that enormous tattoo on his arm, the one of the gravestone with the R.I.P. and the names of men. And he said, “Oh, Geraldine.’ He said, he said, ‘They’re my fallen comrades. They’re my dead friends. If we don’t look out for each other, who will?’”
Well, at that moment, a shadow came across the glass in my office door. It was the correctional officer. And he opened the door. He said, “Chaplain, you’ve got three more minutes with this man, and then he’s got to get back to his cell in time for count.”
I said, “Thank you, officer.” Three minutes. How was I going to get my last point across in such a short amount of time? Tick…tick…tick…And then, I had another idea. I said, “Jefe, you and your, your Hell’s Angels, your, you and your, your Crips friends. You’ve been teaching me such a lot since I’ve been here. You’ve been teaching me about gang warfare and streets and, and gangs. Now, tell me if this is right or not, but from what I understand, you’d never let another gang come in and take your street corner. Is that right?”
He said, “Oh, that’s right, Chaplain.” And he said, “That’s never gonna happen. Never gonna happen.”
I said, “Well, Jefe, this mid-week Bible service, this is our land. The leader of these, this chaplain and mine. And if you continue what you’re doing with your Crip friends, you’re going to draw the attention of the correctional officers. And if you carry on doing it, they’re going to take it away from us. Now, it would break my heart to take you and your fellow gang members off the list. In other words, ban you from the service. But if that’s what I’ve got to do, I’ll do it. Because no one is taking this land away from me.”
And we just stared at each other. Tick, tick. A shadow came across the door in the office and then, and then, Jefe said, “It’s all right, Chaplain.” He said, he said, “I get it. There’ll be no more trouble. I give you my word.”
And you know something? Jefe kept his word from that moment ’til the time I left, two and a half years later. There was no more gang trouble in the Protestant chapel. No more trouble on my turf.
Motoko tells a story about her own experience of sexual harassment in Japan, how she was trapped into silence imposed by her culture, and how storytelling helped her break the silence and heal herself.
For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:My-Long-Hair
As a teenager in Japan, Motoko had times when she did not feel safe. What kept her from feeling safe?
Do you feel safe? What precautions do you take for your own safety?
What can each of us do to help others feel safe and live safely?
Like a Lotus Flower: Girlhood Tales from Japan by Motoko. (Audio CD,www.folktales.net; 2009)
Unbroken Thread: An Anthology of Plays by Asian American Women edited by Roberto Uno
Family and Childhood
Stereotypes and Discrimination
Hi, my name is Motoko. As a teenager growing up in Osaka, Japan, I was not pretty or popular but my hair was. Yes. I used to have this long, shiny, silky, black hair, straight down to my waist. So much of it I would obsessively brush it to an arresting sign. During the school day, the rules dictated that I had to keep it in a single long braid. As soon as the school let out, I would untie my braid and the shake it loose into a simmering cascade. What a glorious feeling!
I was a good, studious, student. By the time I was in the 10th grade, I was attending what we call, juku, a cram school. After the regular high school, three nights a week, for extra math and English lessons to prepare myself for the college entrance exams. On those days, I did not get to let my hair down until much later because those classes did not finish until 9 o’clock at night. Then I would take the commuter train home, get home about 10 o’clock, eat dinner, and do my homework. One night I was on my way home, as usual the commuter train was jam packed with business men and laborers, some drunken and boisterous, others tired and sullen. A few of them leered at me, a girl in the school uniform with long hair in a single braid. I sat with my knees together with a heavy book bag on my lap.
By the time I finally got off the train, the crowd had thinned a little. I walked toward the bicycle lot at the back of the station away from the blaring music and the neon signs of karaoke bars and pachinko parlors. I found my bike and dropped my heavy bag in the red wire basket attached in front of me. With relief, I untied my braid and swung my head letting the spring breeze cool down my scalp. “Nice hair,” a man’s guttural voice from right behind, startled me. I spun around into reeky fumes, so hot, drunk breath. A stranger’s sneering too close, sallow cheeks and a stubby chin, a dark green shirt. The next thing he was grabbing my waist pulling me hard against him. No, I did not scream. I was too stunned to even make a sound. The whole thing seemed somehow not so real, like a scene from a silent movie. I struggled to free myself and the man suddenly let loose. I staggered back and bumped into my bike. The bike fell and I fell on top of it, scraping my leg against the pedal. My books are scattered everywhere. Then the man suddenly started to laugh hysterically as if he had never seen anything so funny. I ride at my bike and without looking back pedaled as fast as I could. When I finally reached my house, I realized that I had not breathed the whole time. I got off my bike and bent down to breath as if I had just sprinted a mile. My heart was beating so fast, in my head, I could not hear anything else. No, the man did not follow me. I only had two bruises and a long scratch on my leg. My blouse had come untucked, so I tucked it in.
I was OK. Nothing happened. I opened the door. The glaring fluorescent light and the smell of the dinner and the loud noise from the TV in the living room overwhelmed me. “Tadaima, I’m home,” I said softly, suddenly realizing that my throat was tight.
My mother came out of the kitchen and said, “What happened to you?!”
I suddenly realized that, I remembered that, I had left all my books scattered around in the bicycle lot. With trembling voice, I said, “Oh, some weird guy tried to grab me and I ran away. I’m ok,” as nonchalantly I could.
My mother looked on me and said, “Look at your leg! You are bleeding! Otōsan, please come here.” Now Otōsan literally means, father, but that’s how my mother used to address her husband.
My father came hurrying out of the living room. “What happened?”
“Some man attacked her on the way home,” my mother explained.
“Yeah, but I’m ok. Nothing happened. I just have a scratch. See!” And as I was showing him, tears came to my eyes. I hastily wiped them away.
My mother looked anxious, “Should we call the police?”
“No, we don’t call the police,” my father said with a grim expression on his face.
“But why not? He might have followed her. It’s very dangerous.”
“No. She’s ok. If you call the police, people will talk.” He looked angry. Was he angry at me? He looked at me and said, “Motoko, you should have been more careful. It’s your fault, coming home this late, swinging your long hair.” I blinked. Was he saying that I was to blame? My father scuffled back into the living room and turned the volume up on TV. My mother sighed, fussed over me, gave me some bandages to put on my leg. Then I went upstairs to the bathroom and I wrenched. No one ever spoke of this incident again.
The next day I went and got a haircut. I never wore my hair long again. I never forgave my father either until a few years ago when I started telling this story. After that incident, there was a long period of time when he and I just did not talk much. Then I moved away to go to college and eventually immigrated to the United States. When I became a storyteller and started sharing my life stories, I discovered that many women in the United States have had a similar experience to mine. By listening to those women, I learned how sharing helps us heal. And it takes honesty, courage, and wisdom to speak up for ourselves and not be cowed into silence. Telling this story also made me realize that, my father’s gruff voice directed at me, was actually his way of acting out his anger at the man in the green shirt. And his frustration for not being able to protect me. In any culture, storytelling is what breaks the silence.
A Goddess inspired story of the adversities faced and overcome by Archana’s family as they move form India to America. This is a story of identity, assimilation and race relations that ultimately honors different paths of healing and different religions. Overcoming health issues and life and death challenges, from Darkness to Light describes the embodiment of the Indian festival of Lights/Diwali that welcomes in the “new” in each and every one of us in a beautiful way.
Hi, my name is Archana Lal-Tabak. My family is from the Pakistan side of India before the partition in 1947. In fact, my father was born in Burma and my mother was born in Kashmir and yet they had to flee again when they were young children. Burma is right by China on the east side of India, and near Tibet is Kashmir, which is in the northern state of India. They were persecuted there by the Muslims and the Communists and so they had to flee again in their young adolescent years. And they went to central India, north central India, a place called Kanpur. This is where they eventually met.
My father was there teaching medical school and my mother was a student at the medical school. And the patients all around were noticing that this gentleman was following my mom around and they said, “See that doctor who is looking at you?” And she had not noticed that he was looking at her. But, finally, he asked her out for an ice cream, which she could not really, even have because her stomach had been upset for many years and this is what had taken her into medicine. It turned out that later on, my father diagnosed that she had a retrocecal appendix many years later. And it must have been a sign of true love that he kind of knew what was going on and she was struggling. For two people who loved medicine, this was a true love story.
Actually, theirs was a love marriage. Back in those days, people in India did not cross over into different social castes or social hierarchy. They found that they were in north central India, however, and here people of different castes and different social status would, actually talk with each other and there were many faiths present. Finally, in this part of India they were able to practice their Hinduism without oppression and persecution. It turned out that my father, being rather poor in India, moved several times and I, myself, moved ten times by the time I was 13 years old. I was in Vietnam, in India, in America and back in India again.
And it so happens that one of those times when I was in India, I was about nine years old in 1972, staying with my favorite auntie and uncle and it was my favorite festival. This whole oppression of darkness to light, of… that my parents had been through reminded me of this festival Diwali, the Indian New Year, the Festival of Lights. And this festival was going on at the time that I was visiting India with my aunt and uncle. And at this beautiful festival, it turns out everyone decorates all of their houses with little tiny diyas – little tiny lights. They’re little ceramic pots that are decorated and they’re decorated with ghee or clarified butter inside with a little cotton wick coming out. Beautiful, beautiful lights and the whole house is decorated – inside and outside.
I was just totally amazed and intrigued by this beautiful festival. And I was playing with all the diyas, all the candles, all the wax, all the… all the little tiny tea lights and then, all of a sudden unbeknownst to me, I had been lit aflame. My uncle came over and put out my dress. I had, apparently, set myself on fire. And if I had not been careful or mindful and my uncle had not been watching, I would have been a burning girl somewhat like those women in India that used to throw themselves in their husband’s funeral pyre, back in the old days. Something I cannot even imagine. Now it turns out that this beautiful festival of Diwali, with the whole house is decorated, it’s cleaned, you’re wearing new clothes and eating delicious foods – complete multisensory experience – comes after these nine days of darkness. This nine days of the dark goddess Durga. And the goddess Durga is nine days of honoring how we ourselves transform internally from darkness to light. And there’s actually a ceremony where this huge statue that’s wooden and paper mâché of the evil god Raman, it’s burnt. This demon is burnt, publicly, like a huge burning man. And it, it’s amazing to me how many people were involved in all this when I was growing up. Pretty amazing!
Now when I was in India, I went to many different schools. Mostly, I went to the rector convent and different convents like Catholic schools run by nuns, that were English medium. But there was one time that I was in an Indian boarding school and in this school, the matron was a Sikh woman. It turns out that my father’s oldest brother was a Sikh as well. Apparently, in India, the oldest Hindu brother becomes a Sikh to protect the border because Hindus are mostly pacifists. Even though they have four castes and one of them is a warrior caste, they still have more pacifist tendency. So, the Sikhs protect the border. And I would sit with my matron in my boarding school and meditate with her and pray with her, with her Punjabi texts, just the way I used to sit and pray and meditate with my grandmother, Mummy Ji. Ji is a sign of respect in India, so often we’ll have names after a Ji. Mummy Ji and I would meditate and pray and so did I with this beautiful Sikh matron.
I loved looking at different cultures and religions. I went to the synagogues with my Jewish friends. I went to churches with my Christian friends and, of course, beautiful temples that were 5000 years old in India itself.
Now eventually my family moved to the states and we came here when I was 13 in 1977. When we came here, I went to a public school, which was a very interesting experience, culturally, as well. And I dated a few, maybe just a few Christian and Jewish men, you know, because Indian girls were supposed to have arranged marriages and not date. But I did. And I, actually married my first husband, who was Jewish, and then later on I met my current husband Jim. And although Jim was Greek and Slovakian, he had been doing yoga and meditation for several decades and we had a lot in common. We were meant to be together. He, actually, prepared an ayurvedic meal for me on one of our first dates. Now how many American men cook ayurvedic meals? Not many. Ayurveda, actually, is the knowledge or science of life in India. It is 5000 years old and I’ll tell you more about that in a minute.
But, basically, what I found was that through the oppression and the persecution that many, many generations and cultures have gone through, often that is transmitted in the families. And my own family, I found, had suffered a lot of adversity and several had died way too young. In fact, in my 20s, I, myself, suffered from debilitating illnesses including a serious autoimmune illness. And, at that time, I was led to studying Indian medicine and the western field of psycho neuro immunology. My family is all physicians. They’re all trained in western medicine and I found that I was able to completely heal myself through the psycho neuro immunology using some natural lifestyle factors, which I later learned were present in ayurveda.
And when I did workshops and this, my mom would come and say, “Well, that’s how we live. We eat this way, we dress this way, we behave this way, we walk like this.”
And it’s, basically, so much a part of the Indian culture. This knowledge or science of life is a part of the whole Indian culture, part of the Hindu religion so that the people would do it. So, they have fasts for detoxification during Navaratri, which was that… the goddess Ji I told you about. And then they have celebrations like Diwali with the multisensory experience of eating. In fact, my mom always said, “Make sure there’s every color of the rainbow in every meal.”
And it turns out, holistically, that is the best way to eat to get all your anti-oxidants, to get all your nutrition. Now I hope that as I’ve raised my son who is now 17 years old and (his name is Anand, which means bliss) that I can teach him some of these things that I have learned.
And we have raised him with yoga and meditation and some new thoughts, Christian traditions and other traditions. And, in fact, since we are cross-cultural couple and interfaith, we really honor all paths. And at our son’s school, we’ve often tried to take in the Hindu culture and the foods and the multisensory experience but often met resistance, at times, because people didn’t understand that the Indian Diwali, Festival of Lights, the Indian New Year was similar to Kwanzaa and Hanukkah, and even similar to Christmas and the winter solstice. It was a winter festival of light.
I imagine that someday, perhaps, people would understand this more and they would be a little tiny stamp just like those other stamps for the New Years and the festivals of light, that there would be a Diwali stamp, as well, a stamp that would have a little tiny diya, beautifully decorated with a little cotton wick in the ghee coming out to celebrate the Indian New Year and the Festival of Light.
I often find that when I need some help, I turn to the goddesses because in India, people have many gods and goddesses. It’s polytheistic, pantheistic. There’s a god and goddess for everyone. And even as I was developing this beautiful story for you, I found that I was stuck at times and I needed some prosperity, abundance, inspiration, creativity. So, I called in the goddesses. I had goddess Durga helping me from the inaction and darkness and paralysis of the trauma that my family went through to the light. I had goddess Lakshmi with prosperity and abundance that is celebrated during Diwali. And I had goddess Saraswati and she was the one with the creativity and the arts, came in to help me with the story. So, in India we embody all these gods and goddesses and thank goodness for Ganesh, the elephant god, who removes the obstacles along the way. And I’m so grateful to be here with these gods and goddesses today, embodying them and honoring the divine in all of us. Thank you.
The true story of a Vietnamese teenager who makes it to America after a harrowing boat journey and refugee camp. At a commemorative storytelling event honoring Vietnamese Americans, Sue witnesses the transformative power of story as this young man shares his American immigrant story. The community of listeners that storytelling creates makes a new country feel like home.
America and Canada represent a moral ideal for some people in other parts of the world. What is that ideal?
Even in miserable surroundings people seek friendship; what does this say about our human need for connection? Neal and Tom were friends, yet Neal had no idea of his friend’s torment. How do we choose what to share and what to keep private from our friends?
Why had Neal had not told Tom’s story before the storytelling workshop? How did it help him to share his story?
The Vietnamese 1.5 Generation: Stories of War, Revolution, Flight and New Beginnings by Sucheng Chan
Family and Childhood
Living and Traveling Abroad
Taking A Stand and Peacemaking
Hi, my name is Suzanne O’Halloran and I started to learn what home could mean to people on a whole other level when I was involved in an oral history project in 2005. April, 2005 was the thirtieth anniversary of the fall of Saigon, the end of the Vietnam War. And I was hired by the Society of the Divine Word to collect stories from some of their brothers and priests… about 25 folks who had escaped from Vietnam after the war. Well, the story gathering was gonna happen in the day and then in the evening, we were gonna have a public concert… part of our Just Stories-Storytelling Festival. Now, the first man I interviewed, his name was Neil. When Neil was 16 years old, his family helped him escape from Vietnam. But, unfortunately, he wound up, he ended up, in a not so nice refugee camp that wasn’t run by the U.N. Neil said that the guards were mean. I mean, they could just throw you in the blockade, no due process whatsoever. Neil, every night in a platform tent with 27 other people, like, lined up like sardines. And they would just get a little bit of food… like a bowl of rice, maybe a little fish, couple of vegetables and that had to last for several days. And most of all, you had to be really careful that nobody stole your food. But Neil made a friend, a boy a couple years older than him named Tom.
Tom had escaped Vietnam when he was 14 years old. And Tom and Neil met in a Bible study class. And as they got to know each other, Tom slowly told his story to Neil. Now, Tom escaped as well, in the bottom of a boat; 64 people hiding at the bottom of a boat. And this captain put fishing tackle, you can imagine all the smelly things, on top of them to hide ‘em. And they motored out this channel and they stopped. And everybody was so scared. They figured they must have paid off some guards, ‘cause they kept on going. Now, they got out to sea and things were going pretty well. It was just a day or two trip over to Thailand. And then the motor died. And there they sat for two days. Now they hadn’t brought food. People escaped with what they had on their backs. Now luckily the captain was bringing some hot sauce to a friend of his in Thailand. And they had that case of hot sauce. So each day, a couple a times a day, they’d lined up to get just one little dollop of this hot sauce to lick and that was it. No water, nothing!
Well, finally, they saw a ship. They were so excited! “We’re over here! We’re over here!” But when that ship came closer, they discovered it was pirates. We think of pirates like, you know, Peter Pan or something. It just means pirates at sea. And those men just hopped on board and they took… if people have watches, if they had any money on them, any food, and they even took that motor in case they could fix it. But worse than that, they stabbed all the people so there would be no witnesses and threw them overboard. So Tom found himself in the middle of the ocean. Now, he had the presence of mind, there he was stabbed and bleeding, to take off his pants; kind of like these pajama kind of pants so they had cloth to them. So he blew air in either and tied a knot in either end of the legs and used it like an inner tube to hang on. Now, he doesn’t know for sure ’cause he was in and out of consciousness but he knows he went through a night so he was probably hanging there for a day.
And then another day went by and he was having to fight off fish. And finally he thought, “This is it. I’m giving up.” And he let go, he started sinking down to the bottom. And he heard this voice inside him say, “No. It’s not your time.” So he kind of bobbed back up just as he saw this big, red, plastic gas can floating by. So Tom climbed up on that and he hung there for a whole other day. And then another ship came by and this time, thank God, it wasn’t pirates. It was Thai fisherman. But Thai fisherman had been told that if they picked up any more Vietnamese refugees, they would be in some big trouble. They would lose their license.
But what are you going to do if you see a kid hanging on a gas can in the middle of the ocean? Thank God, they did the right thing. They stopped and picked up Neil. (Tom) Now, he had hypothermia by then. They tried to warm him up and he were trying to tell them there were 63 other people. And they went around, they motored around, they couldn’t find. It seemed Neil (Tom) was the only survivor. So they got him as close to shore as they dare because they didn’t want to lose their license. They put him back in the water and Tom, I’m saying Tom, swam back to land. And all kinds of stories but he finally made his way to the same horrible refugee camp.
Now, when they got there, they’d be questioned. “Are you a Communist? Are you a spy?” Because, of course, he showed up with no ID on him. And how you got sponsored if you got out to another country, depended on how you answered these questions and, of course, with this kinda refugee camp, if you had a little money to grease the wheels. And Tom had neither so he had been there for 4 years already when Neil met him.
There’s this one day, right before Bible study and they were sitting there talking. And, well, Tom was really down but that wasn’t unusual. You can imagine, in this kinda refugee camp, people got very depressed. And Tom excused himself to go to the bathroom. Now the bathroom at this refugee camp was just a hole in the ground with little trees around it for a little bit of privacy. Well, Bible study started. Tom didn’t show up. Neil got worried. He went looking for his friend. And he found him. Tom had hung himself. He just despaired of ever getting out of that refugee camp.
And Neil said to me, “Well, they burned his body and sent his ashes back to Vietnam. He finally made it back home. He was caught in limbo all those years; he couldn’t go home, he couldn’t go forward. And Neil said to me, “When Tom died, it was like a part of me died.” And then he looked right at me and said, “I’ve never told anybody that story before. I have never spoken of Tom before!”
Now, this was my first interview, and like 25 more to go! And I heard these incredible stories of escape and family sacrifice, and idealism and loss. So we got an idea. That night was supposed to be the professional storytelling concert. So I asked some of these brothers and priests if they would be willing to share their stories. So that night the professional tellers did their marvelous, usual wonderful job and then these brothers got up and shared their stories. And I’m telling ya, they stole the show! There wasn’t a dry eye in the place. They got a standing ovation. And afterwards, Neil came up to me and said, “You know, it was very painful to share these stories today but important. I have been here for almost 20 years but because of the way this audience, these people, listened to our stories, I feel like I’ve finally arrived in America. I feel like I’m finally home.” And that is the power of sharing and listening to each other’s stories.
In 1804, Lewis & Clark crossed The Great Plains and dangerous Rocky Mountains to finally see the Pacific Ocean for the first time! One person who was part of this Corps of Discovery was an African American man named York. While York was not always credited with his part in the Western exploration, his contributions were a large part of Lewis and Clark’s success.
How did York’s experience of the Expedition vary from that of the other men?
How was York instrumental to the success of the Expedition?
What was Sacagawea’s impact on the success of the trip?
African American/Black History
First Nations/Native Americans
Stereotypes and Discrimination
Hello, my name is Bobby Norfolk and I’d like to do a piece from a one-person show called “Through the Eyes of York” based on the Lewis and Clark expedition.
Hello, my name is York. That’s right. Just York. Y-O-R-K. Born in Virginia around the year 1771, they tell me.
Now somebody asked me, “Why did they name you York anyway?”
Huh, huh! Good question. I was born New York town, New York County, near the York River. Now y’all do the math. Now my mama, her name was Mama Rose. My daddy. Huh, his name was Old York.
And I had no idea when I was a kid back in Virginia, I was the property of William Clark. You know, I was his body servant, fancy name for the slaves that worked in the house instead of out in the field.
While I was racing with William Clark one day, I was a fast runner, y’all, boogity, boogity, boogity. Ha, ha, I beat him. He got mad. “Mmm, I’mon beat you!” Hit me! Bam! Whoa! I hit him back. Boom! The overseer saw it.
“Boy, you hit Mister Clark’s son!” Hit me with a whip! Pi-yah! Oww! I ran to my mama. “Mama Rose, Mama Rose! That man hit me with a whip.”
“That man ova der.”
What did you do?”
“York, we are owned by the Clark family. We are their property. You can’t knock that white boy down. You gon get us all killed; are you a fool? Now, if you hit him, you better not come back to this house. You don’t hit him back!”
“Yes, ma’am.” I had to sit down and think about that. Property? Owners? I knowed you can own cows, pigs, horses and chickens. How can you own another human being?
But I grew up. William Clark grew up. Then we became young men in our early thirties and a friend of William Clark named Thomas Jefferson. Oh, yeah! He lived up there in Virginia with another man named Meriwether Lewis. Well, Meriwether Lewis got this letter from Thomas Jefferson said he wanted us to explore this new territory altogether. And so, Master Clark took me.
So, we started off. May 14th, 1804 exploring the Louisiana Purchase territory. Science lesson.
We put our keelboats and pirogues in the water. Splash-ah! Going noff against the mighty current of the mighty Missouri River and so we put our poles into the river and we pushed the pole south. The boat, we goin’ noff! Oh, it was back breaking labor! Kkk-kuh! And that mud was so thick, it kept getting my stick stuck. They call the Missouri River “Big Muddy” just because of that river.
Then, y’all, we got up into Noff Dakota. It was wintertime, ooh! Seven or below zero. We stayed with the Mandan Indians. The Mandan Indians did not live in tepees; they lived in earth lodges made out of earth and wood. So, they started to interpret back and forth to spend, ah, winter of 1804-1805 and, all of a sudden, the Mandan chiefs saw me. Unggg! They started pulling at me. I said, “What? What’s that? What’s their problem?”
They had never seen an African-American person before. All the thousands of years that the plains people have lived on this continent, York was the first African-American person they had seen and they thought my skin color was paint. They thought I painted myself brown. The bravest warriors, the most powerful warriors, the most courageous warriors in all the Indian villages would paint themselves with brown paint so they thought I were real brave. They thought I had been dipped in chocolate (pp – set to dry) ’til the chiefs tried to rub off my paint. At the interpreter, “What are they doin’ rubbin’ off paint. Heh, heh, heh, heh! Tell them this is skin.”
They rub harder. Paint! I say “Oww! You gon start a fire in a minute. This is not paint!”
And they thought, at that point, I was a supernatural creature. They thought I was a shapeshifter sent down by the Great Spirit of a great mystery to visit and they called me Big Medicine, Big Medicine. They started following me around like I was supernatural. Big Medicine, he’s the one. Lewis and Clark said, “This is gettin’ otta hand! They think he’s the leada. York, York! York, York!”
“Yessir, what’s up?”
“Tone it down, tone it down, boy! You gittin’ too big for your britches!”
I couldn’t tone it down too much because the Indians knew if I would ever attack them, it would be the end of the Indian nations! Big Medicine would retaliate.
Well, one time, y’all, we wa goin’ over the Rocky Mountains and headed down into the colder regions and down into Montana and, all of a sudden, a big huge storm broke out and that storm was capsizin’ canoes. And we started swimmin’ back and forth and I saved all them supplies and I got some respect from them white boys after that. I was not just a body servant.
It’s about da time we finally got to Astoria, Oregon, we had to vote to say where we would spend our campsite in. I got to vote. Sa-cag-a-wea, which some of y’all call Sac-a-jaw-ea, she got to vote. First time that an Indian and an African-American person had voted in a government sanctioned election.
But we returned back to St. Louis, September 23rd, 1806. Only lost one man in that whole expedition, from appendicitis. The men, they got 320 acres of land, double pay – thousand dollars. I went to Mr. Clark. “Sir, mission accomplished. I may not get land or money. What about my freedom from slavery?”
He said, “York, I can’t give you your freedom. You still my slave!”
I said, “Sir. I beg to differ. I’ve worked with you for two years to get over the Rocky Mountains, go through the Indian Territory, get back to St. Louis. Give me my freedom, sir!”
“York, back up off me, boy! Can’t give you your freedom!”
I didn’t back off. I got insolent and sulky, according to him. He had overseers tie me up and whip me with 50 lashes across my back. I say, “Well, let me see my wife, sir. I haven’t seen her in two years. I’m the only man that was married in the Corps of Discovery.”
“How ‘bout y’all go see your wife down in Louisville, Kentucky. Mo… By the way, she gonna be sold off to another master in Natchez, Mississippi so you will never see her again anyway. Find yourself another white boy. And if you don’t come back to St. Louis in two weeks, I will send the slave catchers after ya and send you down to a severe master in New Orleans, Louisiana.
York returned back to St. Louis and it took five years for William Clark to give York his freedom. Somebody said his wife was in Nashville and he went looking for her in Tennessee instead of Natchez in Mississippi. Other historians claim that he died of cholera in the big cholera epidemic in St. Louis.
But I tell you what, long after York passed away, the former governor of Missouri Bob Holden made York Honorary Sergeant in the Missouri National Guard. Before William Clinton left the White House, he made York Honorary Sergeant in the United States Army. We have the U.S. Constitution and in it, we have amendments to correct our flaws. Better late than never for York to enter United States history. Through the Eyes of York.
This is a true story written by Mako Nakagawa and told by Alton with her permission. A young girl wonders about the difference between “hakujin” (white people) and “nihonjin” (Japanese people) while in an internment camp in WWII. She speculates as to why hakujin do not onara (a euphemism for “passing gas”).
For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:Onara
You have been ordered to move out of your house in two weeks and can only take one suitcase weighing 50 pounds. You will be gone for an unknown period of time for an unknown destination. There are no stores where you are going, no Internet or cell phone or cable service, and very little electricity. What will you take with you?
Meals in the camps were served in large mess halls like the cafeteria in your school. What would be the advantages and disadvantages of serving meals in this way? How would you feel about eating in a cafeteria for all of your meals for the next year?
The incarceration (internment) camps were surrounded by guard towers, barbed wire fences, and soldiers with rifles. Do you think such measures were necessary? Why were they implemented? How would you feel if you had to live under those conditions? How do you think it would change you?
Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki
Years of Infamy: The Untold Story of America’s Concentration Camps by Michi Weglyn.
Education and Life Lessons
Hello. My name is Alton Takiyama-Chung. The story I have for you is called “Onara.” It was written by a woman by the name of Mako Nakagawa. It is with her permission that I can tell it. It’s in a collection of stories that I call “Kodomo No Tame Ni.” (For the Sake of the Children) Now, “Onara.”
For the first five years of my life, I grew up in Seattle and I was surrounded by friends and family, mostly Japanese people. See, we were Nipponjin, Japanese people, and I didn’t know much about white people or know very many of them. We called them Hakujin. And I knew there were differences between us Nipponjin and the Hakujin. I mean, they were foreign, “strange,” and very large!
Most of what I knew about Hakujins came from magazines or movies. I mean, they were filled with Hakujin people. But even as a child I knew that the Hakujins were the ones with the power. That became very evident when they came and took my dad and threw him in jail, after Pearl Harbor. And again when they took me and the rest of my family and put us in Camp Harmony in Puyallup, Washington in 1942. Later in Minidoka, Idaho and Crystal City, Texas.
All the teachers and all the guards were all Hakujins. We learned to be wary of them. One day about a dozen of us second graders were all gathered together making a sound of onara. Oh, we were having a wonderful time, making all these wonderful sounds using our hands and our fingers and our lips. We knew if the adults caught us, we would be in big trouble, but it was so much fun being naughty.
Each kid had a different sound and we critiqued each sound. we tried to imagine what kind of person would make that kind of sound. And then, Akira made what we considered to be, hands down, the best onara sound ever. We fell on the ground laughing, our sides were hurting. You know, “onara?” (Sound made through blowing in hands that sounds like gas.) “Onara!” And then one kid said, “How come the Hakujin don’t onara? Huh?”
Hmm. Half of us thought they did. Half of us thought they didn’t. I always wondered what it would be like, not to onara. One person said, “No no, no, they have to, they are human beings!”
“Oh yeah, if they did, wouldn’t they have an English word for it?”
“Yeah . . Hmm.” Since none of us could come up with an English word for onara, we concluded the Hakujins didn’t do it. Then my friend Janet said she thought she heard one coming from her teacher, but she wasn’t sure because her teacher moved her chair at the same time. Hmm, inconclusive. I mean, who could we ask?
The only Hakujins we knew were our teachers and the guards, and we didn’t think it was a really good idea to ask them anything. It seemed strange to me that they wouldn’t have an English word for onara. I knew there were differences between us, but we weren’t that different. I decided to ask my mom, see what she thought. My mom, she looked at me, and then she smiled and said she had no idea. I don’t think she wanted to know the Hakujins that well.
Anyway, one day, again, I was playing with my best friend Janet, and the whole idea came up again. We finally concluded that onara was the result of what you ate. Logical! And we knew that the Hakujins ate differently than us. Therefore, the Hakujin food must not produce onara. But when I was in camp, I ate a lot of Hakujin food and I still onara. I never discovered the non-onara-producing Hakujin diet, but I did discover the meanings for certain key phrases, such as “angel whispers,” “breaking wind,” and “cutting the cheese!” Hakujins did do it! That’s when I realized, maybe we’re not so different after all.
Many of us have ambivalent relationships with our mothers. In this story, Nancy dives into that ambivalence trying to understand what has been so difficult about it and why. Her journey is colored by the differences between Chinese and Western values and behaviors making it even more difficult to understand. But in the end, there is a final discovery that brings peace, love and reconciliation with her Chinese mom.
What are your ambivalent feelings toward your mom? Does she know about it? What would it take for you to sit down with your mom and have a talk with how you feel? What would be scary or uncomfortable about it? Are any of your challenges because of ethnic or generational or some other cultural difference?
Have you ever seen your mother cry? Do you know why she was crying? Was it surprising to you and, if so, why?
Can you imagine your mother as a child? a teenager? What do you think she was like when she was your age? Would she be a friend of yours?
Have you ever sat with your mother and asked her to tell you about one of the most wonderful moments in her life? or the saddest? or one that changed her life? What would your relationship with her be like if you began to hear her stories?
This story follows the journey of Nancy Wang’s ancestors who arrived in California on a junk boat in 1850 and started the fishing industry of the Monterey Peninsula. However, both legal and illegal violence ensued against them for generations. This story reveals how a group of immigrants rallied with resilience and ingenuity so that the 7th generation of Chinese Americans thrives today.
1.Why is it important for Nancy to read about her family in a book? What does that book represent?
The family originally emigrated from China for what reasons? And did they accomplish what they set out to do? Were there differences of opinion within the family toward their former and present country?
What was a Celestial? Why were the Chinese given that name? By using the term Celestial, how/why does this separate the Chinese? Were the Chinese different from other settlers moving into California? How?
The Chinese in America: A Narrative History by Iris Chang
Education and Life Lessons
Family and Childhood
Stereotypes and Discrimination
Taking A Stand and Peacemaking
1850, a hundred and sixty years ago, my great, great grandmother So Mui and my great-great grandfather Quock Po, like most of China, had heard about the gold rush in California. But they’d also heard about the anti-Chinese, unprovoked violence in California but China was plagued by famine, earthquakes, floods, droughts, civil unrest. So, there was very little to lose leaving China. And so, my great-great grandparents So Mui and Quock Po, who were married and just teenagers, with four other teenagers, would take a 30 foot chungs (a junk boat, a Chinese sailboat) across the Pacific, from the Delta River region in China all the way to California. Hugs and tears, family charms, a small red altar with incense, were given to the teens because, who knew when or if they’d ever see them again.
The voyage to this unknown would be four months, maybe five more months at the most if they were lucky. And they were lucky until they got to the foggy shores of California. There, they got caught in a storm. I can imagine the terror as the waves thrashed the boat about and the wind tore the sails and the, the, the tide rushed them towards the rocky shore. “Mung, mung! Tǔdì, tǔdì! There, there! A beach! Still there, there!” But the boat capsized, spilling the teens into the rushing waves. Now only by pure luck and probably the generosity of the sea goddess, they missed the rocky shore. They were pulled to dry land on the beach by the Rumsen Indians. They had gone south of San Francisco, passed right by it, and crashed into the Carmel Bay at Point Lobos which is right near Monterey, California. And one of the first things they noticed was… that in the bay and in the Pacific Ocean beyond, there were no sail… there were no fishing boats. And they were fisher people.
So, they started their very industry, the fishing industry that Monterey became famous for. They built their own fishing boats, they built nets and they fished out into the bay and the sea beyond. And they dried that fish. And they sold it to the Chinese miners, the Chinese loggers, the Chinese farmers, up and down California. And they sent hundreds and hundreds of pounds of this salted, dry fish back to China. And each year, their sales grew and each year the villages grew in size and numbers. And not only at Point Lobos now but at Pescadero Beach, at Maccabee Beach and that Point Alones. Monterey thrived with the Chinese doing all of this wonderful business. They built the very fish, fish canneries. The very first ones, despite the fact that from 1850 through the early 1900s, hatred and anti-Chinese violence was rampant up and down the west coast, and I’m not just talking about California.
There was a cry for extermination or deportation. The Chinese were being murdered and mutilated, robbed, set on fire. They would be rounded up; whole villages were rounded up and marched out of wherever they were for hundreds of miles, no matter what the weather, and sometimes only with the clothes on their back. They were rounded up by angry mobs of thousands of white men with clubs, and poles, and pipes, and guns. I could hear my great-great grandparents, now, “Oh! It is this time to go home. Go to China. We work so hard. Our hands never stop working. We give so much. I know Quock Po. I know. But we make good living right now. Everything going to be OK.” But everything wasn’t going to be OK.
As the European settlers increased, bringing their own broken-heart hopes and dreams, they began to use their anger by accusing the Chinese of taking their jobs. And then they turn that into anti-Chinese immigration, not their own immigration but our immigration. Even though the Chinese were fully employed, and the miners tax alone, which was only level… levied on the Chinese, was one-fourth to one-half of the entire California budget at one point. And as, uh, the Monterey people began to grow in numbers in terms of their European settlements, they began to be a little more personal. Now, we weren’t marched out, so we were a little bit better off than the rest of California. But we were, because we weren’t marched out, but the Italians did burn down our fishing cannery so they could build their own. The Portuguese ran their boats into… to ours over and over so that they ripped our nets, crippling our fishing capabilities. And the very politically savvy Irish men, well, they, they stirred up hatred group fury with the slogan, “The Chinese must go. The Chinese must go. America is for whites.” But we weren’t marched out. They began to burn our villages. A Chinese man was hung in Monterey for voting but we weren’t marched out. Who they marched out were the Rumsen Indians, who had been the original inhabitants of the area. And who they marched were the Mexicans, who the Spanish had deeded their land and their ranches to before most of the Europeans even arrived. But they didn’t march us out for some reason. And through all of that, the first generation gave birth to the second generation and the second generation continued to harvest the gifts of the sea; squid and seaweed.
And I say squid because at one point, the Monterey people began to pass their our laws encouraged by the European at the federal government that had passed laws that Chinese could know… could not testify against the white people in court. They couldn’t own land. And then there was the exclusion act that excluded only the Chinese immigrating to America. So Monterey began passing own laws. For example: Chinese not allowed to fish from shore. Chinese is not allowed to fish during the day. “Oh! Then we, we fish at nighttime. We hang lanterns on top of boat, attract squid, like in old country.” The Europeans hadn’t counted on our stubborn perseverance; our time was patience, and our ingenuity. So, the second generation started to dry that squid. And then within a few years, a new law: Chinese not allowed to dry squid. And if the Chinese couldn’t dry the squid, then they couldn’t preserve the squid. And if they couldn’t do that, well, they couldn’t ship it anywhere. And they thought, well, Chinese make no money, no more Chinese…they thought.
Because by then, a third generation began to figure out what next to do. They began to gather all the fish heads and the fish innards, and the fish tails that the Italian canneries had just thrown out onto the beach and they made fish emulsion, fertilizer. And they began to sell that up and down the California valleys to the farmers. But once again, in time, the Italians burned my grand-uncle’s fish emulsion factory. And when the locals also burnt yet another village, that was it. Here we been in the Monterey area for over 59 years, more than most of the European settlers. And there we stood outside the fence that was constructed around our burnt village so that we could not rebuild, while the white folk were inside the fence rummaging through all the ashes looking for our treasures to keep for themselves. Well, that was it. We began to disperse.
And I tell you, that still today we are here. We are. I am a fifth generation. My children are the sixth generation and my sibs have grandchildren who are the seventh generation. We are still here and we continue just like our forefathers to contribute to the success of this country called America.
An American family gathers for a reunion with laughter, memories, and good ol’ corn beef and cabbage. Suddenly, the father kneels before his family and sobs apologetically, “Your country has betrayed you.” With the launch of Executive Order 9066, the unconstitutional mass incarceration of over 110,00 citizens of Japanese ancestry begins. Now this American family, deemed the “enemy race”, must ask, “What will happen next?”
For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:Grandpas-Story
What did it mean that the Japanese boy was the second son and there was “nothing for him in Japan?”
Robert’s Grandfather aligned himself with the U.S. Navy as a cook and received an honorable discharge. Later, he cries before his family and apologizes that he has left them with “No country.” Is that true? Why or why not?
What sort of values and biases does America show towards its citizens during WWII? What does the redress movement signify?
Okay, so the great story about my grandfather. Well, my father has told me stories about his family, and I never knew my grandparents or my grandfather that well. In fact, I didn’t know my grandfather at all. So he told me one night that they were having the family come over. They haven’t seen all the younger brothers and sisters in a long time, and Jack, my father, is waiting, watching the clock kind of nervously. He’s got to get there before 8’o clock, because there is a curfew. And so the family is coming up the stairs, he’s grabbing the suitcase, the one suitcase they are allowed to bring, and his father—“Pops” he called him—is chugging up the stairs and grandma, she is of course coming up the stairs, too, and we’re helping everyone up. All of a sudden, all the family is there. The older brothers and sisters: Mari and Alice and Charlie, Emmy and Betty, Tom and Margie’s there, and everyone is there. Jack’s greeting them, he has been waiting, watching the clock, and he’s got the favorite dish there, the favorite meal that Pops Nakajiro my grandfather loved, it’s corned beef and cabbage, a real American meal. And here this Japanese-American family is sitting down together and all the sudden all the stories started coming out.
They grew up in a ghetto. They grew up in a waterfront, navy town ghetto of Vallejo, California where grandpa had his barber shop, and so the family is recounting playing as kids, playing baseball in the open field and swimming in that dirty old sewage of the bay, and they’re just reminiscing because they haven’t been together in so many years. And they are really very happy just to be together as a family and they don’t know what’s going to be happening next because well it’s a very difficult time and, in fact, they’ve been given notice that they’re going to be locked up in these concentration camps because they are Americans, but they happen to be the wrong race at the wrong time: Japanese-Americans. So, here they are celebrating as this family, the stew is ready to be served, and there is laughter filling the air, and little Tommy turns and says “Where’s Pops?” and they see grandpa, Pops, there sitting on the floor and he is kneeling there, his head is down and they say “Pops is crying? Why is he crying?” They all gather around, he finally lifts his head up and he’s sobbing. And here’s a man who came to this country as a teenager, he worked the whaling ships in Alaska, he went turtle hunting in Galapagos, an immigrant working his way up. He was a cook in the US navy on the USS Bennington and, in fact, he told his kids he was a hero because he saved the captain’s life when the boiler room blew up. So, he was honorably discharged, a US navy cook.
And when this small Japanese man, at that time he was sixty years old, a white haired man, lifted up his face was streaming with tears, he said, “You know, I came in to this country, I’m a good citizen, I wish all of you to be good citizens. You are Americans, when I came here to give you a country, but I am Japan, I am Japanese, and I always will be Japanese. But you, your country has betrayed you, and now you have no family, you have no country, and for this I apologize,” and he bowed to his family in apology, and it was just dead silent. And they’d seen this man who had been a stern authority figure for the family for all their lives suddenly break down in tears. For the rest of the evening it was very quiet, the curfew was in place, and for the days that followed, they were preparing to be shipped off to these concentration camps in America. So what followed after that period was being transferred on trains and going in to the camps, of course with the stress of having lost everything and Pops, grandpa, he lost his barber shop, had to sell all his equipment and Shizuko had to pack up everything in only one suitcase, and so that’s all they had. This is very stressful for this old man, who also had diabetes, and so when they’re in these hot trains with thousands and thousands of Japanese Americans, all sealed up, it’s hot and they’re going down the valley in this spring time heat. So, Nakajiro, my grandfather, gets a stroke; it’s too much stress, he is in a coma. So the officials say, “Okay, drop him off in the next city.” So, they stop and they take him off, the elders ask if they want to go with him to be with him, see how he fares. But the officials say, “Sorry, you guys get back on to the train. We got to leave him here.”
So, he was abandoned there in this hospital, they don’t know where or what city it was, the windows are all boarded up, and off they go off to the deserts of Arizona. And for the weeks that followed they had no clue where he was, didn’t know if he lived. In fact they heard where he was, and they were trying to write letters to him, no word back. Finally, he did make it back to the camp and he was half paralyzed and can hardly speak, but of course he thought the family had abandoned him. The letters they had written, no one had delivered them to him. They were by his bed side, but here’s a man who had suffered a stroke, who was half paralyzed, and all his family letters are right there bundled up, but no one had bothered to take care of him that way. So, he ends up living just a few more months and then, eventually from all the trauma and the stroke, he dies, and he is cremated and Shizuko my grandmother takes the ashes and places them in a small cigar box and places them under his bed.
The story goes, “Oyasumi nasai” “Good night.” every night she’d say that to this box of ashes that was once my grandfather and places them under his bed. So they’re there for a few more years. Eventually the older ones actually got out, the West Coast restriction allowed them not to be in the West Coast, but they can leave the concentration camp by going to Chicago and going to the East Coast. So they set up, establish themselves, and slowly they are able to get the family out of the camps. The years pass by and people have their own way of surviving and carrying on, and it’s 48 years later. Jack, my father, has become a doctor. He was really proud of his college years before it got interrupted, he was a boxer at the time, and so he thought maybe I’ll go down to the library and look at the year book. So, Dolores and he went down to the library of the college, and there’s no evidence. Of course, there’s no evidence because it’s the spring of 1942, and Jack was hauled off to the concentration camp, so he never got his leather jacket. Well, the librarian happened to overhear this and she said, “Let’s see what we can do about this.”
So, that spring in the year of 1990 at the San Francisco State sports award banquet they said, “Forty-eight years later and an unjust constitutional law that locked up Americans of Japanese ancestry should not be a deterrent for a man to receive his just award. So, Jack Kikuchi come up and receive your letter jacket.” So here’s this man, 78 years old goes up, the oldest man ever to receive his varsity jacket. So with standing applause, here it is San Francisco State, all the students and faculty, all the many races, giving him a standing ovation. And I always hold that picture in combination with what happened 48 years before that where Nakajiro is bowing before his family, apologizing and saying, “Sorry, I didn’t give you a future. I am sorry I didn’t give you a country,” but here it is 48 years later and you know he is successful, Uncle Charlie ends up writing a book, the first book about the experience in the concentration camps. Auntie Alice ends up working for Japan Airlines, which played a very important role in healing the relationship between Japan and America. So, in my mind I paint this pantheon of uncles and aunties in the face of that man who felt so ashamed, then bowing to their father and saying, “You did give us a country, you did give us a future. Arigato gozaimasu. Thank you.”
What if the U.S. went to war with your country of origin? Anne Shimojima tells of the difficult days following the attack on Pearl Harbor, when her Japanese-American family were forced to evacuate their home. Could it happen to you?
Imagine that your family had to leave its home in ten days. You can only take what you can carry. You may never return. What will you take and why? What will you have to leave behind that will break your heart to leave?
What can we learn from the experience of the Japanese-Americans at this time when Muslim-Americans face so much prejudice?
Being an American citizen gives us certain rights. If you lost your rights as the Japanese-Americans did in World War II, what are some of the actions you could take in response?
Densho: The Japanese American Legacy Project – The Densho Digital Archive contains 400 videotaped histories (fully transcribed, indexed, and searchable by keyword) and over 10,700 historic photos, documents, and newspapers. www.densho.org/
Personal Justice Denied; Report of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians. The Civil Liberties Public Education Fund and University of Washington Press, 1997. Available at: books.google.com and
How would the government treat your family if it went to war with your ancestors’ country of origin? Anne Shimojima describes life in an incarceration camp for her Japanese-American family during World War II.
For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Incarceration
Imagine that you were in an incarceration camp in World War II. How would you answer Question 27 and 28 and why?
How do you think the experience of living in an incarceration camp (when you have not done anything wrong) can affect a family and succeeding generations?
How do you think the lack of privacy affected the people living in the camps?
Japanese American Relocation Digital Archives – University of California – Teacher created lesson plans for grades 4-12 based on photographs, letters, diaries, transcribed oral histories, and artwork of the camps – www.calisphere.universityofcalifornia.edu/jarda/
Looking Like the Enemy; My Story of Imprisonment in Japanese American Internment Camps by Mary Matsuda Gruenewald
Family and Childhood
Stereotypes and Discrimination
Hi, my name is Anne Shimojima and this is an excerpt from a longer story “Hidden Memory: The Japanese-American Incarceration.”
In 1942, by executive order 9066, my grandparents and three of their four children ages 20, 23 and 28 had to leave their homes. They had less than two weeks to sell all of their possessions. They didn’t know where they were going or for how long. They had been… not been charged or convicted of any crime.
First, they were sent to an assembly center. The incarceration camps were not yet built so the government had to find already existing structures that could hold thousands of people. My family was from Portland, Oregon so they were sent to the Portland International Exposition Center. There, they lived in a horse stall. It was one stall per family – stalls that had barely been cleaned. They spent the summer there in the heat and the smells and the flies.
By the end of the summer, they were sent with 16,000 other people to Tule Lake, California. Tule Lake was one of ten incarceration camps created by the government. Most of the camps were built in dry, desolate, desert areas. I had gotten a map of Tule Lake and took it over to my aunt’s house, my father’s older sister. And we spread it out on her dining room table and looked at the rows and rows of the barracks, long wooden buildings built in such a hurry they had to use green and unseasoned wood, which dried and shrank, leaving large cracks in the walls.
The barracks were covered with tar paper – no insulation against the bitter, cold winter or the 100+ degree heat of summer. The buildings were 20 x 100 feet; each was divided into four apartments. Each apartment was one room of 20 x 25 feet; each room held one family. There were 13 or 14 barracks in a block; each block had a dining hall and buildings for showers, toilets, laundry, ironing… and there was a recreation building.
My aunt remembers that they lived in Block 4. She remembers internees were given a cot, a sack stuffed with straw for a mattress and there was a pot-bellied stove. No other furniture! If you wanted any other furniture, you had to build it yourself out of scrapped wood. There was no running water in the barracks. She remembers the communal shower room, the toilets all in a row – no partitions between them. There was no privacy. Each family was one thin wall away from the next. She remembers the lines for everything – lines for showers, for toilets, for meals. She remembers the dust that blew in through those cracks in the walls. The dust that blew over everything, everywhere! The dust they could never get rid of no matter how hard they tried.
She remembers the barbed wire. She remembers the search light that swept the camp at night. She remembers the guard towers for the guards holding guns that pointed in, not out.
Well, the people tried to set up some semblance of a normal life. There were schools, churches, a newspaper, stores, clinics, clubs and sports teams. The people planted gardens and helped to raise food. They also worked various jobs in the camp. The highest rate of pay was $19 a month for doctors and other professionals.
Family life and structure suffered terribly! My grandfather was no longer the head of the family, the breadwinner, the authority figure. At mealtimes in the dining hall, children ran off to eat with their friends. And the Issei, my grandparents’ generation, had poor English skills. They felt powerless.
Well, the following year, in 1943, the government decided that Japanese-Americans could serve in the military. There was a war on; they needed bodies. So the War Department developed a questionnaire to test the loyalty of those who might serve. Everyone had to answer the questionnaire, even my grandparents who were too old to serve.
Two questions became the focus of controversy. Question 27. Are you willing to serve in the Armed Forces of the United States on combat duty wherever ordered? And Question 28. Do you swear unqualified allegiance to the United States and will you defend it against any attack, foreign or domestic? And do you foreswear allegiance to the Japanese Emperor or any other foreign power of government or organization?
People agonized over these questions. The first asked men if they would be willing to serve, risk their lives for a country that had imprisoned their families behind barbed wire. First sons were especially torn because they have a traditional responsibility of caring for their aging parents. If they answered, yes, they would be leaving their parents to an uncertain future. And would they find themselves fighting a Japanese relative?
The second question was especially hard for my grandparents because they were not allowed to become U.S. citizens. If they gave up their allegiance to Japan, they would be stateless – people without a country. The controversy raged; people were angry, upset and scared. The vast majority of people did answer, yes, to both questions. We know my grandparents did because they were moved to another camp. Tule Lake became the place they put the no, no’s – as people who answered no to both questions were called.
My grandparents were moved to Minidoka in Idaho. They lived there until the camp closed in 1945. As the internees left, each was given $25 and a train ticket. $25 for three years of imprisonment, lost homes, lost businesses and a lost way of life.
We don’t know if my grandparents ever went back to Portland to collect what they left there. Eventually, they made their way to Chicago to a new life. My grandfather never worked again. He was 60 years old when he left camp. He thought he was too old to start over.
Well, during World War II, not one Japanese-American was ever convicted of sabotage. And the nissei men who fought for the United States, they proved their loyalty with their blood. They became the legendary 100th Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the most highly decorated unit in the history of United States military.
It wasn’t until 1976 that President Gerald Ford finally rescinded executive order 9066. It was President Jimmy Carter who signed legislation creating the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians. The commission held hearings, listened to testimony and, in its final report, declared that the evacuation had been caused by racial prejudice, wartime hysteria and a failure of political leadership. In 1990, the internees still living began receiving redress payments of $20,000 each and a letter of apology from the United States government.
My family never told stories about coming to the United States from Japan. They didn’t talk about World War II or what it was like to live in the incarceration camps. This was common among Japanese-American families. I don’t know if it was shame or embarrassment or just trying to forget a terribly difficult time.
So I’ve been researching my family’s story for the last few years. I interviewed my 91 year old aunt. I collected family documents and photos and I made a photo book. And then a DVD of slide shows for our four generations. I finished the DVD just in time for Christmas. I went to our family’s Christmas Day gathering and we all gathered in front of the television – aunts and cousins, grandparents and grandchildren. And I played the DVD for them and watched them watching the screen, laughing and smiling as the years passed before our eyes.
This moment was for my grandparents, a gift to recognize their gifts to us. The sacrifices they made, the indignities they suffered, and the hopes they had for our future. I wish they could have been there. But since they couldn’t, I tell this story now to thank them for their gifts and to honor their journey.