May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. Like me before researching for this blog post, you might not know what that means. According to the official website, in 1978 President Jimmy Carter signed a joint resolution that instituted the first Asian Pacific American Heritage week. The entire month was given permanent honor each May in 1992. Why May?
The month of May was chosen to commemorate the immigration of the first Japanese to the United States on May 7, 1843, and to mark the anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869. The majority of the workers who laid the tracks were Chinese immigrants. (source)
At Live It Learn It, we are all about bringing learning to life for students and my first thought was, I wonder if we could take students to see a section of the transcontinental railroad? But alas, the rails ran from San Francisco to Omaha, a few too many thousands of miles west of DC to work for a half-day excursion!
There are, however, many ways to celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month near the District. We have highlighted three activities (two excursions and one for use in the classroom or at home) that would be great ways to introduce children to new cultures. You can also check out a curated list of opportunities presented by the Smithsonian here.
Here are 3 ways you can celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month:
- Read a great book. The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi was recommended to me by Andrea Kim Neighbors, the Education Specialist at the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center. It is a story about being the new kid at school–in a new country, with a name that most people cannot pronounce correctly. Nearly every student I have taught in DC can relate to one or more of those circumstances! As great children’s books do, this one illuminates complex themes (i.e. identity and difference) in student-friendly ways; I think any elementary-aged child could access it, especially through a read-aloud and class discussion.
Bonus: Compare The Name Jar to Nigerian-American actress Uzo Aduba’s story about her name.
2. Hike around the Asian Collections at the National Arboretum. You don’t even have to leave the city to feel like you have left the country! Plants native to Japan, China, and Korea cover 13 acres of rolling hills that overlook the Anacostia River. If the landscape looks familiar, it is! According to the Arboretum’s website:
Asian plants are fascinating not only for their diversity, but also because they bear a close resemblance to our native Eastern United States flora. This close kinship is a result of the Bering Sea land bridge that once connected our native flora with that of Eastern Asia. Until the seas and climate change cut the temperate forest into two distinct pieces, the two areas shared a common flora. Many of the plants in the Asian Collections bear a striking similarity to our native trees and shrubs.
Plus, hiking is one of the most popular hobbies in Korea, so you will connect with this national pastime during your visit.
If you have extra time (or desire a less strenuous exploration), check out the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum at the National Arboretum. Bonsai is an art and ancient Japanese tradition wherein one or more trees are strategically grafted, pruned, shaped, and styled to evoke full-size trees on a much smaller scale. You won’t want to miss seeing the nearly 400-year old white pine bonsai that survived the bombing of Hiroshima!
3. Visit Chinatown’s Friendship Archway. This is one of DC’s most recognizable landmarks, located in one of DC’s busiest neighborhoods. Did you know it was dedicated in 1986 and designed in the same traditional style as Ming and Qing dynasties’ gates? Believe it or not, the archway’s seven roofs were constructed using NO NAILS! Instead, they are supported by interlocking wood brackets, an important ancient Chinese technique in architecture called Dougong. This article shares more about the history of the neighborhood and the gate.
If you have the opportunity to take students or children to Chinatown, you might consider having them first read about Chinatown circa 1880 and then compare what they read with what they see today.
(By Postdlf from w, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3712098)
Our friends at the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center have graciously offered to give away two different resources:
- A set of 12 posters based on APAC’s traveling exhibit, “I Want the Wide American Earth”
- A copy of a recently published graphic novel
If you are interested in receiving one or both resources, please send us an email at theLILIpad@liveitlearnit.org and we will hook you up!