“Ethnic Studies is vital”

This is something I have heard, thought, and embraced so much throughout my career. Throughout my own K-12 education, the only times I ever learned anything about my own culture’s history and legacies were at home and during the one-week Kamehameha summer camp that is a tradition in my family.

Perhaps you are in the same boat as me. Far too often, the history and learning of communities of color are left out of the classroom. If we are “lucky” enough to learn a drop of the ocean that is this history, it is usually mistaught or hyper-focused on oppression (i.e. only teaching slavery when the African American community has a rich history in Africa and beyond slavery).

Ethnic Studies is “the critical and interdisciplinary study of race, ethnicity, and indigeneity with a focus on the experiences and perspectives of people of color within and beyond the United States.” (UC Berkeley, 2014). It is not just culturally responsive teaching and multiculturalism. An ethnic studies classroom uses an anti-racist lens to teach true history focusing on the history and experiences of people of color.

The benefits of ethnic studies include increases in: empathy, engagement, identity safety, self-esteem, civic activism, and graduation rates (Sleeter, 2010). It is not just for students of color, but for every student!

This week, I have the honor of facilitating different workshops for the first Seattle Ethnic Studies Institute at the John Stanford Center for Educational Excellence. In addition, I am also holding the first-ever Colorful Pages table where we are promoting our resources and giving educators ideas of different diverse books they can include in their own lessons and library! We are so excited to reach more educators and families through this event!

Therefore, I wanted to create a post about some of the books we have on display at the 2019 Seattle Ethnic Institute for our virtual followers. The following titles are books that educators, librarians, and families can use to build their ethnic studies lessons and libraries! We will cover three books for elementary and three books for secondary.

Elementary Books for Ethnic Studies

We Came to America, by Faith Ringgold [Picture Book]

On The Spectrum of Multicultural Literature, We Came to America is a Conversation Book because it discusses immigration through a more equitable lens. I have written this book into many Ethnic Studies and Black Lives Matter at Schools lesson plans.

My Chinatown: One Year in Poems, by Kam Mak [Picture Poetry Book]

On The Spectrum of Multicultural Literature, My Chinatown: One Year in Poems is an Exploration Book because it explores different cultural elements of Chinatown based on the author’s experiences. I just discovered this book at the Wing Luke Museum and was excited to find a book of poetry that is perfect for elementary school students.

Kohala Kuamoʻo: Naeʻole’s Race to Save the King, by Kekauleleanaeʻole Kawaiʻaeʻa [Bilingual Picture Book]

On The Spectrum of Multicultural Literature, Kohala Kuamoʻo: Naeʻole’s Race to Save the King is between a Representation and Exploration Book because it is an oral tradition and story passed down within my Hawaiian culture. My little brother actually gave me this picture book for Christmas because it represents our Native Hawaiian culture and is bilingual (it has ‘Olelo Hawai’i on one side and English on the other).

Secondary Books for Ethnic Studies

How It Went Down, by Kekla Magoon [Chapter Book]

On The Spectrum for Multicultural Literature, How It Went Down is a Conversation Book because it details the injustice of a black boy being shot and murdered by a white man and the book delves into ideas of racism and racial justice. This is one of my favorite young adult books because of the importance of its story. This story needs to be read in every classroom in order to introduce conversations of racism and racial trauma on a community.

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood, by Marjane Satrapi [Chapter Book]

On The Spectrum of Multicultural Literature, Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood is a Conversation Book because it details a racialized history of the author’s experiences. This book is a beautiful graphic novel and will engage any reader.

Mexican WhiteBoy, by Matt de la Peña [Chapter Book]

On The Spectrum of Multicultural Literature, Mexican WhiteBoy is a Conversation Book because the main character’s identity is challenged by discrimination and self-discovery. It would be a great book to engage students in important conversations about race and identity.

I hope these titles help you think about different ways to integrate ethnic studies into your classroom and home. Your students and children need you to advocate for the true history. They need you to realize: Ethnic Studies is vital!

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