Teaching Asian American curriculum beyond APA Heritage Month

Image from "In No One's Shadows: Filipinos in America," a film distributed by CAAM.
An African American teacher in Alaska seeks ways to connect curriculum with her APA students.

A teacher from the National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Seminar reflects on why she wants to learn more about using Asian American film and literature in her classroom. Check out CAAM’s Films for Educators for more information about titles we distribute.

Hi! I’m Rhonda and I teach English as a Second Language (ESL) and English Language Arts (ELA), to 5th-12th grade students, in Unalaska, Alaska. Dutch Harbor, of Deadliest Catch fame, comprises the other half of this remote Aleutian island. The two bodies of water which surround the island are the Bering Sea and the Pacific Ocean. Whenever I look out of my classroom window, I can catch a view of the Bering Sea. Contrary to popular belief, all of Alaska is not frozen tundra. Our average winter temperature is in the low 30s (Fahrenheit).

I applied to this program because the majority of my students are from the Philippines and I want to become more familiar with their culture and to be able to offer them more literary works written by people who are intimately involved in their culture. As an African American, I have been annoyed – indignant even – over the practice of many schools choosing to discuss African American history only on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, or during Black History Month, in February. Yet, to my shame, I have been guilty of doing the same thing. I always make sure to include an “Asian” unit in May, during Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

It is extremely important that my students experience Asian American literature and films because they need to see faces which reflect their own. Cultural and racial pride can offer powerful stepping stones to students who are leery and confused about their own potential.

Just from this past incredible week, I know I will leave this program with a treasure chest full of materials and ideas which I can share with my students. I can hardly wait to get home and start working on my new, and culturally more sensitive, curriculum!