Wednesday, December 18, 2013

"Radical Dollhouses & Girlpower Play" -- Q&A with Roominate Cofounder and Hapa Sister Alice Brooks

Roominate co-founders Alice Brooks (left) & Bettina Chen (right) [image source]

by Sharon H Chang
for ParentMap ~
Can toys inspire the next generation of female technology innovators? That's what Alice Brooks and Bettina Chen, two engineers trained at M.I.T. and Stanford, believe. Brooks and Chen are the founders of Roominate, a company whose products, wired dollhouse building kits, are designed to spark young girls' interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) through creative play. I recently had the privilege of chatting with Roominate CEO and co-founder Alice Brooks about the roots of her interest in engineering, her favorite playthings as a kid, and what drove her to co-found Roominate, which prototyped, tested and launched its product line last year...
"Bettina and I met in grad school at Stanford. We became friends right away and started talking about why there weren’t more female engineers. We realized things we had done when we were younger planted that seed of loving engineering. When I was 8 years old I asked my dad if Santa Claus could bring me a Barbie and I got a saw instead. We were both playing with things that weren’t really traditional girls’ toys. The hypothesis we had was that if we could design something that could bring similar experiences to more girls then we’d be able to inspire more girls to think about engineering or other fields. We knew a lot of girls were already comfortable with dollhouses but we also saw that these dollhouses were so static. So [we thought] if we gave them the tools and circuits of building, they could actually design cooler things and have a lot more fun with it...
I think that for little kids there’s a lot of social pressure if you are interested in things like math and science. There’s a lot of being seen as the 'nerdy' kid. Then at MIT, even though they have done a really good job of recruiting more women, there’s still this undercurrent of bias against females in sciences and engineering. One time someone asked what major I was and literally went through 10 other majors before I just told him. That was a moment that stuck out in my mind; that it would be so hard to grasp that I would be a mechanical engineer..."
read the full article

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Where's My Tea Cakes? Missing (Hi)stories of Resistance for AAPI Children

Tea Cakes for Tosh [image source]

by Sharon H Chang

A few weeks ago I read a book with my son that I just can't get out of my head. Tea Cakes for Tosh by author Kelly Starling Lyons and self-proclaimed artistrator E.B. Lewis is about an African American boy named Tosh, his beloved grandma Honey, their treasured visits together, and her tasty golden tea cakes; a recipe from his great-great-great-great grandma Ida who was a plantation slave. But more poignantly and importantly, this book is about the way an elder connects a younger member of her community with his ancestors and passes down a history of resistance through stories and food, a human love of things simple and profound.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A Dedication

From my graduate thesis, now in its final revisions (yay!)... 

A Dedication


"This project is dedicated to my young multiracial Asian son and all young multiracial Asian children growing up today to become tomorrow's future. May we learn to better see, hear, and understand you; that you may one day soon be recognized for what you truly are -- 
crucial and valuable members of our increasingly diverse world."

Monday, November 18, 2013

Where "Old" and "New" World Color Meet in Multiracial Asian America

[L'Oreal's White Perfect skin lightener image source]
"Rare indeed is the Asian American who has not heard an aunt or grandmother say something like; 'Don't go out in the sun. You'll get too dark'...[Asian countries have] had long-standing preferences for light skin, especially in women."
-- Is Lighter Better? Skin-Tone Discrimination Among Asian Americans

by Sharon H Chang as seen on Racism Review

In my continued research examining the lives of young multiracial Asian children, it has become pretty clear pretty quick that colorism (skin color discrimination of individuals falling within the same racial group) is a major theme. This isn't a surprise to me, a multiracial Asian woman who grew up constantly scrutinized and measured as more European looking against other Asian peoples. I launched an Amazon hunt and as usual, found very little. In fact almost nothing; only one book addressing colorism in the Asian American community: Is Lighter Better? Skin-Tone Discrimination Among Asian Americans by Joanne L. Rondilla and Paul Spickard (2007) (if you know of more, please send to me).

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Meet My Anti-Bias Children's Book List!

I'm sure many of you know I have a growing list of AAPI children's books on this blog. But how many of you know that I also have a broader working list of Anti-Bias Children's Books on Pinterest? "Long ago" before I ever had a child of my own, I was a preschool teacher. And I tried very hard to be a certain kind of preschool teacher. One that embodied open-ended, progressive and anti-biased early learning. It sounded so idyllic and beautiful - plus it looks pretty good on paper, right? I laugh at myself a little now. I was so romantic and idealistic about it at the time.The truth is (and what I discovered pretty quickly) that kind of teaching/learning is much easier said than done. There were so many depressing barriers that came from so many unexpected places. I could write a whole other blog post on it (and probably will some day). Ultimately I decided preschool teaching wasn't how I wanted to fight the "good fight." And frankly I was way too tired from having a baby at home to give a damn after a while anyway. Yes of course I left a little (or a lot) more jaded and maybe a little more cynical. But there were a handful of powerful ideas I got to add to my tool belt too. One of the most important, and one I have come to stand by and champion powerfully, is the power of children's literature to address messages of bias.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Mixed Heritage and Knowing We Still Have Work To Do

"When I think of heritage, I don't think of race"

"I'm just Japanese"

"I'm just mixed"

"I consider myself mixed within the context of Mexico"

"I just feel whole because I'm human"

"I'm confused. What box do YOU want to put me in?"

*  *  *
 by Sharon H Chang

My head is swimming as I sit here wondering how to begin. On Saturday night I had the distinct honor of sitting as a panelist for Mixed Heritage at Seattle's Union Cultural Center along with youth speaker Saiyana Suzumura and Jabali Stewart, Director of Intercultural Affairs at The Bush School. The event is part of an annual series Dialogues of Resistance & Healing funded by a recently awarded 4 Culture grant. The dialogues are a forum for folks to come together around issues, conversations and art forms that are important to the community but often underrepresented. That formally and technically said, these are no ordinary dialogues. You won't find yourself sitting in a conference room with stock commercial carpeting and fluorescent lights; over-warmed, under-cooled by artificial air and a central system; eating bagels and cream cheese, muffins or veggies off a Costco party platter.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Are We Really So Different?

(Source: Exhibit at Museum of Man -
by Sharon H Chang
for Racism Review ~ 

Did you know there’s a national exhibit that’s been traveling the US since 2007 entitled RACE: Are We So Different by the American Anthropological Association (AAA)? When I heard about it my thinking went something like this, “Oh good. A credible entity getting behind race discourse. Oh no. Why are they asking if race really makes us that different?” As a multiracial woman often scrutinized for being “ethnically ambiguous” my experience of race is of something absolutely differentiating at the same time I find myself constantly butting up against people who deny its salience. So I felt invalidated then worried that an exhibit choosing to lead with the question, “Are we so different?” might prove unhelpful. Studies have found that when misinformed people were exposed to corrected facts they (a) rarely changed their minds, (b) often became even more strongly set in their beliefs, and (c) did so without recognizing how their own desires influenced them. We live in an era when undoing racism means battling avoidance, denial and the inability to understand another point of view. If people see what they want to see, might a national science exhibit questioning the salience of race run the risk of reinforcing rather than challenging the colorblind ideologies that plague us today? Here’s what I mean…

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Did You Want the Boy Scooter, or the Girl One?

My son on his big kid bike. Recent hand-me-down from an adored 6 yo (girl)friend.

©  Sharon Chang, Oct 6, 2013

Yes, I encourage my son to explore the color pink. No, it's not his favorite color. No, it doesn't make  him gay (though if he is gay I won't love him any less). And no, I'm not pushing my agenda on him. My son loves this pink bike because a beloved friend gave it to him. He prefers his pink helmet because it fits best. I never force, but I do always ask. I ask my son to consider things that fall outside his ascribed gender role (e.g. pink, skirts, dresses, dancing, talking about feelings, dolls, dollhouses, cooking, nurturing, etc.). And I would do the same for a daughter (e.g. blue, pants, sports, legos, cars/planes/trains, being smart/strong, working, wage-earning, having a career, etc.). Why? Because in our family we don't believe anyone should be caged in or should cage others based on physiology.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Meet 3 Wonderful Women

I am thrilled and honored to introduce to you the 3 amazing women who have agreed to serve on my thesis committee. Please take a moment to meet them. These women are not only beautiful and intelligent, but powerful allies; academics/professionals invested and interested in listening to our stories. They bring an incredible range of personal/professional experience and expertise to the table in helping me refine and move my research towards publication. They are fabulous and I am deeply grateful for their contributions...

Sheila Capestany
Sheila Capestany has over twenty years of experience in nonprofit leadership, strategic planning and policy work. In addition she has extensive experience in bringing multiculturalism and anti-oppression work into systems and organizations. Sheila holds a Master of Public Health and a Master of Social Work from the University of Washington. She currently serves as Executive Director of Open Arms Perinatal Services, a community-based nonprofit whose purpose is to provide community-based support to pregnant women and their families. Sheila has served in positions with the Seattle City Council, Seattle Human Services Department, Public Health Seattle & King County and Big Sisters of King County. She is passionate about community work and the well being of women, children and families. Sheila and her husband have three children.

Dr. Wei Li-Chen
Wei Li-Chen was born, raised, then worked and had her undergraduate education in China. After she came to the United States with a one-year UNICEF fellowship, Wei completed her Master’s and Doctoral degrees in Early Childhood Education in University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, where she met her husband who also came from China and contributed the “Chen” part in her current last name. Personally and professionally a main focus has been parenting her two U.S. born children to be bilingual (Chinese/English) and bicultural persons (Chinese/American). Wei lived in the Seattle area for 11 years, served as a Core Faculty and Academic Director of Human Development Program for Pacific Oaks College Northwest, and was the Lead Researcher for Asian/Pacific Islander Child Care Needs Assessment in King County, 2000. Following, she lived and worked in Shanghai, China with her family for 8 years. Wei currently lives in Southern California.

Lu Pilgrim
Lu Pilgrim has been active in the field of Human Development most of her 78 years as a student and a teacher, occupations that, from her point of view, tend to intertwine.  Her formal education, B.A. and M.S. was completed at Utah State University and the University of Utah, the places she found herself when the time was ripe. A number of other institutions of learning contributed to those degrees along the way over a period of 40 years.  Her vastly more important education she says, has been life long and springs from life experience, nature, observation, self-reflection and mentors of the moment, of whom there have been many. Lu is currently a faculty member at Pacific Oaks College. She has lived in many places but presently makes her home near Ann Arbor, Michigan where she gardens, experiments with recipes, writes, mentors students who are pursuing ongoing education, and enjoys the companionship of family, friends and pets.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

It has begun...

(image source)

A few of you know (but most of you don't) that I am not only a mom blogger -- but a researcher and scholar as well. For the past year I've been studying multiracial Asian families with children ages 0-5. Over the last 12 months I have had the distinct honor of receiving many family stories full of joy and celebration, but also pain and trepidation. What started as a graduate thesis last October has now turned into something much larger. MY GOAL IS TO PUBLISH A BOOK!!!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

My 3 Year Old Has Experienced Racism (and yours probably has too)

(image by Tina Kugler)

©  Sharon Chang, Aug 26, 2013  as seen on Racism Review

I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news. But if there is a child of color in your life and if you ever read to them – then they have already experienced racism. 

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Didn't Go To Pista Sa Nayon, But Didn't Seem To Matter

(image from Lost Boot Media)

©  Sharon Chang and Multiracial Asian Families Blog, Aug 1 2013

Last weekend I took my son to an outdoor birthday party.  When we drove up to the park it seemed atypically crowded. My first thought of course, “Wow parking’s a nightmare. Crap. Can I convince my preschooler to walk 3 city blocks later after he’s run around like crazy and eaten too much sugar? How far could I really drag/carry him if I had to?” But then something distracted me from sliding down the avoid-tantrums-at-all-cost rabbit hole. Something familiar. What was it? I looked at all the people moving down the sidewalks. Double take. Triple take. Aha! Asians. Tons of Asians.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

"Asian" Eyes

(image from InCulture Parent)
©  Sharon Chang, Jul 20, 2013  as seen on Racism Review

I love my Japanese mother-in-law to the end of time. She is an amazing woman who has been (and continues to be) profoundly supportive when my own mother is notably absent. My son is also intensely close to her and identifies with her very deeply. But when it comes to race, there are clear differences in the way we think. Some of these differences are cultural. Some generational. Sometimes we find ways to talk about it (very powerful). But sometimes we don’t. One subject that has confounded me is the number of times she’s mentioned my son’s eyes. In the beginning she often observed that his eyes were Asian-shaped. Now, almost every time we see her she points out that he is developing an eyelid crease or “double eyelid” which he didn’t have when he was born. But she’s got me reconsidering myself on this one. Eyes are clearly something she notices right away and thinks about a lot. But I don’t. Or…do I? Because the truth is many people easily identify me as mixed Asian and I’ve always assumed it was mostly because of my eyes. And now it’s happening to my son. The trouble is, when I ask myself what it is about our eyes that would identify us, I can’t describe it. I seem to be avoiding. And it certainly gives me an icky feeling on some level. Why is that? And what exactly are “Asian” eyes anyway?

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Saying Goodbye to Movie Musicals

(image source)
 ©  Sharon Chang and Multiracial Asian Families Blog, Jul 3 2013

I grew up on movie musicals: Sound of Music, Wizard of Oz, Meet Me In St Louis, Carousel, Oklahoma, Mary Poppins, Sound of Music, Grease, Hello Dolly, Chorus Line, Tea for Two…you name it. My love of music and desire to sing/dance were centrally inspired by these movies. So unsurprisingly when I had my son and judged he was old enough for TV, I started showing him musical numbers from these films. Initially it was great. I swam blissfully in a sea of nostalgia as my little guy formed, what I thought, were golden music memories akin to my own. But then, a couple things happened. First, my son simply stopped liking the movies. He didn’t want to watch them anymore and would tell me to turn them off. At the same time, I was starting to research and reflect more deeply upon issues of multiracial Asian identity and parenting. Certainly being mixed Asian is a subject I’ve circled back to over and over my whole life. But now, it was cast in such a different light. Now I had not just my adult-self and adult-husband to consider, but a young child to support and guide. And not just any young child (as all of you who are parents know) but my own child, my heart and soul. The stakes felt very high...

Sunday, June 23, 2013

What Am I? I'm Batman

(image source)

 ©  Sharon Chang and Multiracial Asian Families Blog, Jun 23 2013

My son is now 3 and half and he’s just starting to experiment with ethnic labels. He’s heard us use them, so I suppose it’s only natural. For instance, about a week ago we were driving to preschool. In the back he played with two baby dolls and chatted to himself cheerfully. “This is Jack,” he said of one doll, “He speaks Chinese and Japanese, like me.” Then he held up his other doll, “This is Sade. She’s American and German. I don’t speak that.” A few nights later we were reading This Next New Year by Janet S. Wong about a half-Korean boy  (and here’s a great example of how children’s books are a launching pad for race discussions with children). I stopped partway through and asked, “Kazuo. Who do we know that’s Korean?” He said, “Me!” I replied gently, “No. You’re not Korean. Do you remember what you are?” He thought for a moment, “Japanese! Dad’s family is Japanese.” Then I also talked about him being Taiwanese and American (among other things), and his moment of clarity was completely gone...

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Book Review: "Does Anybody Else Look Like Me? A Parent's Guide To Raising Multiracial Children"

 ©  Sharon Chang and Multiracial Asian Families Blog, Jun 16 2013

Being a multiracial woman myself (and mother to a multiracial child), I was very excited about this book. As the author adeptly points out, there's really very little out there - practically nothing - speaking to the task of raising multiracial children. It is important and significant that Nakazawa tackled this subject and gave it presence. She clearly did her research and has included an incredible amount of good information.


Wednesday, June 5, 2013

What Does "Asian" Mean?

©  Sharon Chang, June 5, 2013  as seen on Racism Review

In my research and encounters with multiracial/interracial Asian families, I have been asked this question a lot. Everyone seems to have a general idea. But shine the spotlight on “Asian”, try to get a good look at it, and we all get confused. Everything is blurry. Why is that? What and who exactly is “Asian”? Well. It depends. Like all racial concepts, “Asian” has a long history of construction informed by race/power politics. It never comes into clear view because its identity is never static. Rather always fluid. Continually defined, dismantled, reclaimed and redefined.

Let’s start with geography. The well respected science that studies the lands, its features, its inhabitants, and the phenomena of the Earth. Geographers tell us there are 4 major landmasses on our planet. Eurasia, North/South America, Africa and Australia. These masses are also called continents.

Except for -

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Mirror, Mirror

 ©  Sharon Chang and MultiAsian Families Blog, May 15 2013  

 I’m 35, Taiwanese/Slovakian/German/French Canadian, and just realized I don’t really have Asian hair. I mean it’s dark, thick and straight. But it’s not black or almost-black. It’s a mousse chocolate brown. And it’s much finer than the coarse hair of many monoracial Asian women I know. I blame my husband. We were riding the Light Rail. An older Asian woman got on with a fabulous hairdo. I leaned over, pointed her out, whispered “Could I get away with that look?” “No,” he said frankly, “You’re hair wouldn’t do that. It isn’t course enough.” I felt kind of shocked. I sat back in my seat and thought to myself, HE’S RIGHT. And then over the months that followed, why didn’t I know that??

Sunday, May 5, 2013

The Race of Birth

©  Sharon Chang, May 5, 2013  as seen on Racism Review

The other day I was reading and came across this:

“Prior to 1989, the race on a newborn’s birth certificate was determined by the race of the parents. An infant with one White parent was assigned the race of the non-White parent. If neither parent was White, the child was assigned the race of the father. Since 1989, the race of the mother has been indicated as the child’s race on the birth certificate.”1

Of course being the mother of a multiracial Asian child, my curiosity was massively peaked. I didn’t remember identifying my son’s race/ethnicity after he was born. Did nurses mark it for us? What did they put considering both my husband and I are multiracial Asian too?? I rushed to find my son’s birth certificate. No race listed. End of story? Of course not.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Hard Times

 ©  Sharon Chang and MultiAsian Families Blog, Apr 18 2013  

After my son was born I developed co-occurring health issues that prevented me from working and required expensive medical treatment. My husband and I found ourselves in a stressful financial situation. For the first time in either of our lives, we applied for low-income help. Our son qualified for health insurance coverage and some food support. Although these services have been amazingly helpful, and of course we are deeply grateful, qualifying for them has been eye opening and a little shocking for me. I have now seen and experienced firsthand the stark, dividing racial lines that sill exist in this country; the way race clearly impacts income, access to healthcare, quality of healthcare, and treatment by others.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Mixed Race, Pretty Face

 ©  Sharon Chang, April 4, 2013  as seen on Racism Review

It was once thought multiracial children were destined to be confused, inwardly conflicted and maladjusted. “Think of the children”, used to be the warning used to discourage interracial couples from marrying. Mixed-race children often faced discrimination and prejudice. Experts worried that these children would suffer from poor self-esteem and lack of identity.1  The “tragic mulatto” archetype was featured prominently in American culture (Show Boat, 1951). Usually female, she embodied dislocation, incompatibility and confusion. Similarly we often saw the heartrending, Native American/White “half-blood” (Dances With Wolves, 1990) and in Yellow Peril fiction, the interracial love affair that ends tragically (Sayonara, 1951).2

Sayonara (1951) (image source)

Friday, March 22, 2013

Resisting Racism: The Anti-Bias Classroom

 ©  Sharon Chang and MultiAsian Families Blog, Mar 22 2013 

So what does an anti-bias classroom look like?? I’ve certainly thrown the idea around a lot. Here in Seattle “anti-bias” is also thrown around quite a bit by schools trying to speak to our increasingly diverse population. It’s become a sort of buzzword in education. Fashionable and trendy. But as I have mentioned before, many schools don’t practice what they preach. In fact, it doesn’t seem they even know how. And I sense from parents a total sense of bewilderment when they stumble across the term. They like the idea. Looks good on paper. But they’re not exactly sure what it is, or how to ask administration/educators about it. 

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Mongolian Spots

 ©  Sharon Chang and MultiAsian Families Blog, Mar 9 2013 

My son was born with a large bruise-like birthmark on his low back and buttocks. Not overly concerned, but curious, we asked our white nurse about it. She told us it was called a “Mongolian spot.” Both my husband and I must have had a visible reaction, because she quickly followed with, “I don’t know why they call it that. They just do.” A year later I recounted this story to a white family member (whom I am close to and love dearly). He didn’t see a problem. Thought I was overreacting. The conversation quickly deteriorated into a heated argument. Not knowing my history I was helpless to defend myself. Wasn’t “Mongolian,” he wondered, just a harmless - maybe even nice – reference to the people of Mongolia?

Um, no. 

Monday, February 25, 2013

A Strange Valentine's Day

 ©  Sharon Chang and MultiAsian Families Blog, Feb 25 2013

On Valentine's Day this year (which I forgot), I had a strangely racialized experience. My husband and I used to halfheartedly celebrate the holiday when we were a younger, newer couple. But over the years we've come to feel it doesn't hold much significance for us. So we often forget it. And truthfully, neither of us is offended. I suppose that's what can happen when you've been together over a decade. Anyways. I walked into an acupuncture appointment that morning. My provider is Chinese, from China. She tries to help me practice my Mandarin. She asked me a question in Mandarin which I didn't understand, then translated to English, "What are you doing later today?" The question was unusual because she never asks me about my plans for the day. I was confused and told her so. She elaborated further. In Mandarin. Again I didn't understand. Again she translated. Something along the lines of, "What are you doing for Valentine's Day?" I was like, "O! Uh...nothing. What about you?" She laughed. Told me (in mixed Mandarin/English again) she was working but she'd texted everybody "Happy Valentine's Day." I was definitely disoriented by our short conversation. Complete moment of bicultural weirdness. Here I am, the half-Taiwanese American, being schooled in my own culture by a Chinese immigrant. I should say, she was totally well-intentioned. There was no animosity at all. She just assumed I remembered the day's significance. She seemed confused that I was confused. And the language barrier didn't help. Very bizarre.

And I sort of chalked it up to that. Just a short, brief, bizarre conversation in passing. Until later that day. When my son came home from Chinese preschool with a huge box full of valentines, candy and a heart cookie he'd made in class. His other English-speaking (liberal) preschool, as far as I know, didn't celebrate the holiday in any largely noticeable way. At that point I couldn't help but pay attention. I suppose I laughed a little to myself. Sighed. Shook my head in - I don't know, bemused resignation? For weeks I debated whether this experience was even blogworthy. But at last I decided to write it up because it kept coming back to mind. On the one hand, it was very sweet watching my son excitedly show his "treat box"; the valentines given by friends. It brought back memories of doing the same during my own childhood. And what kid doesn't like getting candy? On the other hand, I didn't send him to Chinese preschool to learn about his American heritage (which he is inundated with every day of his life, every time he steps out the door - for better or worse). I sent him there to learn about his Chinese heritage but the school sometimes seem hellbent on being American. My son has told me about learning numbers. But when asked if his teacher counted in Chinese - he said no. He also recounted singing "Twinkle, Twinkle" in English. Which annoyed me to no end.

I was very specific about looking for a Chinese immersion environment for my little guy. I am familiar with the research and know that I don't need to worry about his English language skills. He will gain those naturally at home and in society at large. I also know that if he is to gain any sort of proficiency in another language, he needs full immersion. Despite these facts however, several Chinese preschools I contacted felt it extremely important to advertise the bilingual nature of their classrooms. They seemed to think I would be concerned about his English abilities. When I let them know I was disappointed about too much use of English, they quickly justified its use by claiming the non-native speaking kids sometimes get confused and need a little help. One Chinese preschool I considered late last year has a full hour of English language instruction in the morning by a specially hired English teacher. They claimed it was because they didn't want the children to "fall behind." We're talking about 3 to 5 year olds here, by the way. Typically American children don't even begin focusing on reading and writing until kindergarten. There is much research now that supports the importance of play as central in early learning curriculum, discouraging too much emphasis on early literacy as developmentally inappropriate.

And so I find myself led back to reflecting on assimilation yet again. A theme that has been a constant in my life (being the daughter of a Taiwanese immigrant). In this case I think about the way it stubbornly persists through the generations, beginning with the youngest members of our society; diluting and disrupting the transmission of other cultural heritages that have so much poignancy and meaning for our youth and their families. I sense much regret on the part of older immigrants that their children and grandchildren have less and less knowledge of their mother and fatherlands. Yet at the same time, so many immigrants continue to adopt mainstream culture at the expense of their own. Though we have asked my mother-in-law repeatedly to speak to our son in Japanese. She frequently defaults to English. Thinking maybe she felt self-conscious speaking Japanese around us, we offered to drop our son off at her home once a week. She wasn't interested and said the good news was we still had "plenty of time." As the multiracial mother of a multiracial child living in America, I sometimes rely heavily on immigrants to teach me and my family something about the heritage we've lost through this assimilation. Yet its power persists in the form of a vicious feedback loop where even today incoming immigrants sometimes can't offer the full richness of their native cultures to successive generations of monoracial and multiracial Asian Americans because they are so worried about being "American" enough themselves.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Segregating John Stanford's "International" School

 © Sharon Chang and MultiAsian Families Blog, Feb 2 2013.

 About 15 years ago, John Stanford became head of Seattle Public Schools. He had a vision. Recognizing the demands of a global economy and an increasingly diverse student body, he proposed an international language school. Key components included: proficiency in English and at least one other language, global perspectives infused into all areas of study (rather than being “add-ons”), and partnerships with parents, community leaders, and international sister schools. His vision led to Seattle creating a network of international schools, featuring immersion programs and curriculum that prepare students to be globally competent in the 21st century. The first, John Stanford International School (elementary), opened in 2000 with two immersion tracks, Japanese-English and Spanish-English (Asia Society).

International public schools, now seen across the nation, are a huge departure from trends of the recent past which discouraged multilingual learning based on the assumption that it would be confusing for young children. Implicit in this assumption was an insidious message about assimilation to mainstream culture through fluency in English and abandonment of native tongues. Immigrant parents were led to believe their children would suffer, be slow, or “dumber” than their monolingual counterparts. Many Americans today are all too familiar with our history of educational pressure to conform, and can easily recount personal and painful stories about loss of heritage language and access to culture.

Research on dual language development has grown substantially since the 1970s. We now know there are actually many cognitive benefits for young children simultaneously exposed to more than one language. These children have greater brain activity and denser tissue in areas related to memory, attention, and language. They have performed better on measures of analytical ability, concept formation, cognitive flexibility, and metalinguistic skills. Evidence also suggests that children who continue to learn academic concepts in their native language while gradually learning English outperform academically and socially children who are immersed in English-only programs (

So did John Stanford lay the foundation for global elementary education in Seattle? Not quite. In her long awaited second book Can We Talk About Race?, Beverly Daniel Tatum, Ph.D., alarmingly spotlights the slow resegregation of our nation’s schools over the last decade. She shows how a series of recent legislations reverting school assignments to neighborhood have led to the undoing of much achieved by Brown v. Board of Education. Given that much of the U.S. is still severely divided across racial lines when it comes to housing, schools have naturally fallen back into segregated patterns. Seattle is no exception. After a decade of other unsuccessful efforts to desegregate its schools, Seattle School District instituted mandatory busing in 1977. reaching its racial-enrollment goals 3 yrs later. However the District ended busing in 1989 and the racial balance at Seattle schools began to unravel. In 2007 Seattle parents played a pivotal role in legislative resegregation in the Supreme Court case Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No.1. The Court prohibited assigning students to public schools solely for the purpose of achieving racial integration and declined to recognize racial balancing as a compelling state interest. For years, Seattle parents had been given wide latitude to pick and choose schools for their children. In June 2009 however, Seattle Public Schools adopted a new student assignment plan reverting to a community-based approach, sending students to schools closest to home. The plan was phased in from 2010-2011 (The Seattle Times).

2010 Census results indicated that more than a third of Seattle residents were persons of color. This population grew 26% from 1990-2000, and 32% from 2000-2010. The largest non-White racial group in Seattle is Asian and Pacific Islander living predominantly in the South end (International District, Rainier Valley, Beacon Hill) and outside the city in parts of Bellevue, Redmond, Kent, Bothell, Auburn, SeaTac and Maple Valley ( Despite these statistics, John Stanford’s visionary first International School and Japanese immersion program, is located in North Seattle, Wallingford. A predominantly White neighborhood. Originally parents from all over the city could apply to John Stanford. Children with Japanese heritage were given priority. But since the district reverted to neighborhood assignment, only students within the assignment zone may attend. According to the School District’s own annual reports (before 2010) and school reports (2010-), while John Stanford’s Asian student body remained constant at about 23% from 2004-2010, its White student body grew from 41% in 2004 to 56% in 2009/10. When the neighborhood school assignment was phased in from 2010-2011, John Stanford’s White student body jumped up to 61% while it’s Asian student body dropped to 13% (though 10% newly identified as multiracial and some may have been part Asian). This racial demographic shift certainly doesn’t reflect what is happening in the city at large. When I called the school to confirm, an impatient woman curtly told me that the drop in Asian attendees was not true and that the school had just added a kindergarten class. When I told her my own son has Japanese heritage and I was interested to apply, she told me I couldn’t because we didn’t live in the zone.

Is John Stanford International School teaching students to be globally competent in the 21st century? Or is it teaching them racial exclusion and preferences of old?

This article may also be seen on RacismReview

Monday, January 28, 2013

Multiracial Asian America: A Timeline

 © Sharon Chang and MultiAsian Families Blog, Jan 28 2013.

Historical amnesia allows us to forget this nation’s “race-mixing” past with its complex tradition of hypodescent, one drop rules, and “passing.”  Many complex relationships exist between our hybrid past and our multiracial present…


1848 – 3 Chinese Land in San Francisco Harbor
The first Chinese come to this country, lured by rumors of gold in California. Documented accounts list 3 Chinese arriving in San Francisco Harbor in 1848 (Lee 2008).

1852 – 20,000 More Chinese Arrive (Lee 2008)

1863-1869 – Building of the 1st Transcontinental Railroad
The Central Pacific Railroad Company begins building in 1963, but labor and financial problems persist. In 1865, the first Chinese railway workers are hired at approximately $28 per month to do the very dangerous work of blasting and laying ties over the treacherous terrain of the high Sierras. They live in simple dwellings and cook their own means, often consisting of fish, dried oysters and fruit, mushrooms and seaweed. The Chinese workers use techniques they had learned in China to complete similar tasks. Many workers risk their lives and perish in the harsh winters and dangerous conditions. By the summer of 1868, four thousand workers, two thirds of which were Chinese, had built the railroad over the Sierras and into the interior plains (Doolittle 1999).

late 1800s-early 1900s – “Yellow Peril”
Anti-Asian sentiments reach their zenith. The term refers to the skin color of E Asians, the belief that the mass immigration of Asians threatened White wages, and the fear that Asian standards of living would eventually take over and destroy Western civilization/values.

1882 – The Chinese Exclusion Act
As the number of Asian immigrants increases in the mid-late 1800s, their presence is increasingly viewed with hostility. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 includes anti-miscegenation provisions that prevented Asians from marrying Whites (Le 2011).

1921 – The “Ladies’ Agreement”
U.S. government passes law cutting off the immigration of “picture brides” from Japan. Anti-Asian forces on the W Coast want to stop the formation of settled Japanese families with American-born children, since only American-born Asians can legally purchase land (Nakashima 2001, 38).

1920 & 1930 – US Census, No Terms For Mixed-Race
The 1920 Census stipulates that any mixture of White and some other race is to be reported according to the race of the person which is not White. The 1930 census offers no terms for mixed-race people. Instead, the census enumerator decides on the basis of observation (Saulny 2011). Given the racial “ambiguity” of multiracials, many of these individuals are often misclassified (Espiritu 2001).

WORLD WAR II (1939-1945) TO 1967

1941 – Attack on Pearl Harbor

1942-1946 Japanese-American Internment
In response to the attack on Pearl Harbor, 110,000 Japanese Americans and Japanese who live along the Pacific coast of the United States are relocated and interned in “War Relocation Camps.” This relocation encompasses all people of Japanese ancestry, including those of mixed-race Japanese ancestry. Of all interned, 62% are American citizens (Wikipedia, “Japanese American Internment,” accessed 1/28/13).

1945 – The War Brides Act
Allows American GIs to marry and bring over wives from Japan, China, the Phillippines, and Korea. Their offspring became the first notable cohort of multiracial Asian Americans (Le 2011).

1946 – Immigration Ban on S Asians Ends

1950s-1960s – The Civil Rights Movement

1955-1975 – The Vietnam War

1954 – Brown v. Board of Education
U.S. Supreme Court declares state laws establishing separate public schools for Black and White students unconstitutional.

1964 – The Civil Rights Act
Bans discrimination based on "race, color, religion, or national origin" in employment practices and public accommodations

1965 – Immigration & Nationalities Services Act
Dramatically opens U.S. entry to immigrants other than traditional European groups.

1967 – Loving v. Virginia
U.S. Supreme Court finally declares anti-miscegenation laws unconstitutional (Le 2011).


1970 – US Census, One Racial Group
Expects Americans to designate themselves as members of one officially recognized racial group: Black, White, American Indian, Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, Hawaiian, Korean or “other” (Saulny 2011).

1977 – Seattle School District Adopts Busing Plan
After a decade of other unsuccessful efforts to desegregate its schools, Seattle School District institutes mandatory busing. Three years following, the district reaches its racial-enrollment goals (Shaw 2008).

1986 – Association of MultiEthnic Americans (AMEA) Forms
First nationwide (now international) group advocating for the rights of multiethnic people.

1988 – Vietnamese Amerasian Homecoming Act

Allows approximately 25,000 Amerasians (the children of Vietnamese mothers and American GIs who served in Viet Nam) and their immediate relatives to immigrate to the U.S. Multiracial Asian Americans see their numbers grow dramatically (Le 2011).

1989 – Seattle School District Ends Busing
Racial balance at Seattle schools begins to unravel.

1995 – Race is Biologically Meaningless
Newsweek publishes an article challenging racial categories as “social constructs,” and scientifically unsound. The article attributes this “assault on racial thinking” to the growing population of mixed-race people and to the recognition that the traditional categories, based on the rule of hypodescent, are no longer acceptable to many Americans. Shortly after, the American Association for the Advancement of Science confirms at their annual conference that racial categories are biologically meaningless (Nakashima 2001, 43).

1997 – Tiger Woods Wins Master’s Tournament
In April of 1997, golfer Tiger Woods wins the Master’s tournament at the age of 21, signs several multimillion dollar endorsement deals, and goes on the Oprah Winfrew show announcing himself to be a “Calinasian” – a neologism referring to his Caucasian-Black-Indian-Asian heritage. Suddenly, the discussion over racial classification explodes nationally, “mainstreaming” the debate around multiracial identity (Nakashima 2001, 45).


2000 – US Census, Allows More Than One “Race”
Efforts to get an accurate national count of multiracial Asian Americans have been previously stymied since respondents could not choose more than one racial/ethnic identity. However in 2000, for the first time, the Census Bureau reverses its policy and allows respondents to identify with more than one “race,” finally allowing researchers to get a reliable count of the number of multiracial Asian Americans in the U.S. (Le, 2011). The multiracial option came after years of complaints and lobbying, mostly by the White mothers of biracial children who objected to their children being allowed to check only one race. In 2000, seven million people – about 2.4 percent of the population – report being more than one race (Saulny 2011). In 2010, two point seven million people report being multiracial Asian (Ruch 2011).

2007 – Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1
The U.S. Supreme Court prohibits assigning students to public schools solely for the purpose of achieving racial integration and declines to recognize racial balancing as a compelling state interest.

2008 – Barack Obama Elected

2009 – Seattle School District Reverts to Neighborhood Schools
For years, parents had been given wide latitude to pick and choose schools for their children in the Seattle Public Schools. In June 2009 however, Seattle Public Schools adopts a new student-assignment plan which reverts to a community-based approach towards school assignments, sending students to schools closest to home.

2009-Present – The Post-Racial Era??
Is America moving into an era in which racial preference, discrimination, and prejudice no longer exist? Some believe that the election of Barack Obama as President and wider acceptance of interracial marriage signify our nation has entered this state. Others wonder if America’s recent “retreat from race,” is mostly a movement away from social programs designed to assist people of color in structural integration. Interestingly, those who espouse a color-blind agenda seem especially fond of arguing that interracial marriage and multiracial people support their position. The argument goes something like this: (a) the growth of our multiracial population proves that racism is on the decline and that race matters less and less (which means we don’t need affirmative action), (b) the growth of our multiracial population makes traditional racial categories outdated and inaccurate (which means we should stop using them, especially for programs such as affirmative action), and (c) racially mixed people are able to manipulate racial categories, thus making race-based policies easily corruptible (which means we need to dispose of affirmative action) (Nakashima 2001, 44).

Can we talk about race?”

Beverly Daniel Tatum, Ph.D.
Can We Talk about Race? And Other Conversations in an Era of School Resegregation