“My nine-year-old son asked me, ‘Mom, why are you doing this [organizing a rally to support Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders]?’ My answer was simple. I told him, ‘I’m doing this for you. It’s my job as a mother to protect you and your brother from physical and mental harm.’ I told him I didn’t want them and their generation to grow up the same way the people before them had.”
I was at a rally in the town where I teach, a town where our schools have a reputation as being some of the best in the state. That voice was the voice of the mom of one of my students. Later, students from the town’s award-winning high school spoke. What became clear through their stories of the slights, microaggressions, slurs and acts of bullying they had experienced was that those accolades and awards covered over some secrets that we need to address. What good is a strong academic reputation if these same schools are a place where racial and ethnic ignorance reign?
We have gaps in what we teach and discuss, and it leads to gaps in what our students understand. Those gaps, of course, extend to us, the adults. Connecticut’s Attorney General spoke at this event, too. As an Asian-American, he said that over the past weeks he’d been asked repeatedly how he was doing, what he was thinking about the events in Atlanta. He said he wasn’t sure how to respond at first, but the comment that pierced him most was when more than one person said, “I’m shocked that this could happen. Aren’t you surprised?”
No, William Tong was not surprised. On the contrary, what shocked him was that some Americans had no knowledge of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 that banned immigration from China to the U.S. What shocked him was that some (most?) Americans had no memory or knowledge of the murder of Vincent Chin a full century later, in 1982. It was a murder that got the brutal attackers probation and a $3000 fine.
I listened to each speech, each testimonial, each call to action, and realized this: it’s on me and my colleagues. If we can’t combat this virus of hate that has infected and injured so many of our students, then we are not really an educational paragon. We’re part of the system that permits and perpetuates racism.
Like my student’s mom said, “I don’t want this new generation of students to grow up the same way the people before them had.”
We need to learn history, including (especially?) unpleasant history, so we don’t repeat it.