Address Anti-Asian Racism Through Reading

May is AAPI Heritage Month, and an opportune moment to address anti-Asian racism in the classroom through ELA and SEL curriculum. By incorporating reading that offers representation for AAPI students while telling important stories from the AAPI community, teachers can guide meaningful discussions that nurture a greater common understanding. For grades 4-6, you’ll find this in the book Front Desk by Kelly Yang. 

Using this highly acclaimed book will cultivate empathy for the immigrant experience touching on racism, poverty, injustice and inequality, while also showing the importance of love and family. The Reading with Relevance Teacher’s Guide for Front Desk provides a series of thoughtful lesson plans with discussion questions, journal prompts, assessments, a map of Common Core Standards addressed and more.

Front Desk tells the story of 10-year-old Mia Tang and her family who live and work in a motel. Every day, her parents clean the rooms while she manages the front desk. Her parents moved from China to the United States to have greater freedom; however, life in America presents many challenges. 

Mia is a strong, resilient girl from whom the readers can relate, and learn. They will also be inspired by Mia as she tries to address injustices in her community using the power of writing. There is ample opportunity for students to discuss their own experiences with hope, disappointment, injustice, and brainstorming ways to create change. 

Students will read about real-world scenarios of the hardships faced by immigrants including extortion, fraud and racism – all told through the lense of a 10-year-old. It also reinforces the power of love, family and community who give their support to Mia whenever she stumbles.

The story possesses some autobiographical content from the author, as she spent her own childhood working in three different motels with her parents who were also Chinese immigrants. Later, she went on to UC Berkeley at the age of 13, and Harvard Law at the age of 17. After law school, she pivoted toward education and became a writing teacher and children’s book author.

Yang said of this book: “Often during tough times, the first instinct is to exclude. But this book is about what happens when you include, when, despite all your suffering and your heartache, you still wake up every morning and look out at the world with fresh, curious eyes.”

While May is certainly an appropriate time to use content that fosters inclusivity and empathy toward Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders, it’s also important to expand diversity learning throughout the school year. By regularly incorporating these stories into the classroom and normalizing experiences that otherwise push the AAPI community into being the “other,” it further enables students to thrive in a multicultural world with respect and tolerance.

Download a sample of the Reading with Relevance Teacher’s Guide for Front Desk here.