The Depiction of Asian Americans in Children’s Books Essay
The Ethnic Studies Movement that took place in the 1960s-1970s unveiled numerous issues Asian American writers, as well as Asian Americans (on the whole), had to face at that period. It turns out that even children’s books were not free from prejudice and bias. More so, these books can be regarded as the most efficient reflection of the society of that time. Thus, in children’s books, Asian Americans were depicted as aliens who had to assimilate and who also had a quite exotic and oppressive culture.
At the same time, Asian Americans, especially the second generation of immigrants, were quite different from the images created by authors. The reviewers of children’s books note that out of 66 reviewed books, only eleven books were written by Asian American writers. The rest of the books was written by white people. It is clear that this affected the way Asian Americans were depicted in the books, and it is also clear what challenges Asian Americans had to handle in the American society of the 1970s.
One of the major peculiarities of the books reviewed was the fact that they were influenced by orientalism. Reviewers, as well as Asian Americans, note that orientalism is outdated and cannot be used in the 20th century (Yu 13). Orientalism is a view of Asians and Asian Americans as very different people who practice Confucianism and have exotic festivals. This approach also implies that Asian Americans are minorities that are inferior to white Americans.
In the vast majority of books, Asian Americans are depicted that way. For instance, in picture books, the major focus is made on traditional clothes, food, and festivals (“Chinese American” 48). Asian Chinese are always wearing traditional clothes, and they often speak English poorly. These books are often full of dragons that seem to prevail in the life of Asian Americans.
Reviewers argue that such images are outdated. They are based on the approach that has to be abandoned as Asian Americans who live in the America of the 1970s are very different from those who were first, second, and third generations of immigrants.
People also stress that Asian American children should know the history and culture of Asian Americans as well as China, Japan, Korea, India, and so on (Yu 13). These young people have the right to know how their ancestors were treated in the USA. At the same time, they have to have an opportunity to find themselves in books. In other words, books should reflect the reality of the second part of the twentieth century.
Reviewers note that the books are often filled with ideas of assimilation, which is quite racist. Asian Americans are depicted as patient and polite people who often lack decisiveness and ability to act. Thus, in a story, a white boy becomes the driver of a change for an Asian American family and even community (“Chinese American” 51). It is necessary to note that the reviewers point out that some writers tried to depict true Asian Americans, but they often created even more biased pictures.
Attitude towards Assimilation
Importantly, the majority of books deal with issues concerning assimilation. Thus, in the book The Moon Guitar, everything associated with Chinese is seen as inferior, oppressive, and unattractive (“Chinese American” 52). Complete assimilation is seen as the only option for an Asian American who wanted to become a part of American society.
It is noteworthy that the vast majority of the books included an idea that Asian Americans were aliens, but they were quite exemplary aliens who managed to achieve certain respect of White Americans (“How Children’s Books Distort the Asian American Image” 45). The reader has a feeling that Asian Americans have to earn their place in US society by being hard-working, obtaining an education, learning English, and being polite and submissive. Those Asian Americans who are unable to do that are doomed to be lonely and neglected, like a boy from the book The White Horse (“How Children’s Books Distort the Asian American Image” 50).
On balance, it is possible to note that children’s books depict Asian Americans in quite a distorted way. These books (though written about Asian Americans and sometimes written by Asian American writers) contain quite limited information on true Asian Americans living in the American society in the 1960s-1970s. The books are full of bias and prejudice. It is clear that Asian Americans were seen as inferior aliens. These views haunted them in all spheres of their lives. Education was also an affected field as Asian Americans studied history and society without being able to find themselves in textbooks.
There was no place for Asian Americans (their actual problems and aspirations) in textbooks and fiction children’s books. Thus, the reviewers stress that it is important to make Asian Americans, finally, integrated into the society of the USA. Writers have to portray Asian Americans using facts and true (up-to-date) stories rather than prejudice and conventions existing in the biased American society.
“Chinese American.” Interracial Books for Children Bulletin 7.2&3 (1976): 48-56. Print.
“How Children’s Books Distort the Asian American Image.” Interracial Books for Children Bulletin 7.2&3 (1976): 45. Print.
Yu, Connie Young. “California Textbook Guidelines in Action.” Interracial Books for Children Bulletin 7.2&3 (1976): 12-14. Print.
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