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Lack of Asian Representation in Children’s Literature

1137 words (5 pages) Essay in Education

08/02/20 Education Reference this

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Diversify Asian Representation

Children’s literature should serve as a mirror for kids of all ethnicities and races. They should be able to see themselves being represented through literature as well as the world around them. More importantly, there should be a bigger diversity that’s being represented rather than limiting down to the popular and known; when it comes to Asia, most people think of particular regions but the continent consists of a large variety of countries and languages. As a result, Asian characters lack authenticity in children’s literature, the range of countries when referring to Asia aren’t being included, and the topic of exploring culturally specific voices and themes in Asian-American literature are being out of favor. With that being said, all Asian ethnic groups should have their stories represented in children’s literature.

The lack of Asian-American’s being authentically represented in children’s literature. This claim is factually because there are still books in school and public libraries that represent stereotypical images of Asians. For example, in The Five Chinese Brothers, the characters are illustrated to all have the same exact faces, which implies that all Chinese people look alike. The faces of the characters are illustrated with a bright yellow to mock their skin color. Another example of a book that provides inaccurate caricatures of Chinese culture is Tikki Tikki Tembo; the story presents a fake folktale about Chinese names and families. The actual story may come from an old Japanese folktale, and was misinterpreted to be Chinese; insinuating that they are identical cultures. The words in Tikki Tikki Tembo’s full name are not Chinese. Nor does the word Chang mean little or nothing, as the author mentions in the story. In Alvin Ho, which is a series about a young Asian-American boy, was applauded for its diversity, especially when children’s books typically feature Caucasian protagonists. But the book is overshadowed by stereotypical descriptions of indigenous Native American cultures, which should not be tolerable in a book written in modern times. Traditional native dress results into a costume for parties, and other traditions are mocked. Author Lenore Look, has been heavily criticized for perpetuating stereotypes of other cultures. In this regard, representation should be genuine in depiction and include considerate ways of expanding views about diversity.

The range of countries should be included when referring to Asia overall. It is relevant to understand Asian countries are assorted in geographical locations, ethnic experiences, and histories; from Nepal to Yemen, from Mongolia to Armenia. When it comes to Asians and Asian Americans in children’s literature, the countries that are represented are commonly Japan, China, Korea, and India. These countries are most distinguished in literature and are mentioned about most often. There are many different Asian cultures and experiences, and we should consider hearing more stories of Filipinos, South Asian Indians, Pacific Islanders, and many more. “A number of scholars observed that the Asian American identity is often overlooked by dominant society as evidenced by its lack of representation in the mainstream literature” (Cai). Aoki writes, “Asian Pacific American people have been separated from Asia and the Pacific by geography, culture, and history for more than several generations. We have more than 150 years of history in America, yet where are we in literature?” (Aoki 112-113).

Exploring themes and voices should be more in favor in Asian American literature. Some themes have been explored frequently in Asian American literature, while others remain marginalized. There are three popular story themes common in this genre: stories about the United States immigration experience as a result of oppression in native countries, stories about coming to terms with one’s cultural heritage while adapting to an American lifestyle, and stories about the prejudices immigrants face. The stories analyzing generational struggles, especially those that address differences in language and in lifestyle between the older generation exactly from the root country in Asia and an Asian American child, flourish.  Celebrations from Asian cultures such as Chinese New Years that are corresponding to celebrations in the popular culture are well known; yet other holidays deeply established in the Asian culture, often based on religious beliefs, that have no equivalence in prevailing culture are nearly foreign. Although the new ways of gestating those stories should continue to be advocated, at once, we should be mindful of the demand for stories that have not been told yet. For example, the stories about bringing home Asian babies to America that are only told from the perspective of the welcoming family. What about the perspective of the adoptees telling their side of the stories? Grouping Asians together in one uniform group, rather than giving them culturally specific voices can have consequences. So can generalizations across cultures.

Representation doesn’t mean looking for the ideally authentic book to represent a culture. It takes many books to create complex look at a culture. In pursuing a fair aspect, even within one culture, it is important to include a variety of genres, aspects, voices. For example, the book Grandfather’s Journey by Allen Say has the “immigrant” theme, but the story and illustrations are set in Japan and the United States, and explore what it means to call both places home. A large range of books about other Asian cultures will help build a more diverse understanding of what books correctly represent Asian American literature.

In conclusion, although there has been major progress in terms of the diversity of countries represented, the genres published, and the themes addressed, there is always room for more, because so much of the Asian world is still underrepresented. Nonetheless, all Asian ethnic groups should have their stories represented in children’s literature with more authenticity, larger ranges of countries when referring to Asia, and favoring the topic of exploring culturally specific themes and voices in fair perspectives.

Works Cited

  • Yokota, Junko. “Asian Americans in Literature for Children and Young Adults.” Teacher Librarian, vol. 36, no. 3, Feb. 2009, pp. 15–19. EBSCOhost,
  • Aoki, E. (1992). Turning the page: Asian Pacific-American children’s literature. In V. J. Harris’s (Ed.), Teaching multicultural literature in grade K-8. (pp. 109-135). MA: Christopher-Gordon Publishers.
  • Cai, M. (2002). Multicultural literature for children and young adults. USA: Greenwood Press.
  • Lee, M. (1993). If it hadn’t been for Yoon Jun. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
  • Say, A.. (1993). Grandfather’s Journey. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
  • Bishop, Claire H, and Kurt Wiese. The Five Chinese Brothers. , 1938. Print.
  • Mosel, Arlene, and Blair Lent. Tikki Tikki Tembo. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1968. Print.
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