“Are you Chinese, Mr. Nguyen?”

“So you eat orange chicken at home?”

“Let’s play kung-fu!”

“How can you be Asian and Canadian at the same time?”

“Isn’t Vietnam in China?”

“How come you’re not a doctor?”

“Where are you really from?”

“Why are you here in Eastside?”

Most memorably, on our first day of school, a kindergartner pointed me out to his dad and said, “He looks funny.” The dad responded, “He’s some type of Chinese.” Fellow educators stood on the side, laughing.

It’s frustrating. Hurtful. Disappointing. Offensive. Demeaning. But in K-12 school where only 2 of us teachers (and a student) identify as Asian American & Pacific Islander, I’m called to bring our histories and narratives into the classroom. I may not be “American” on paper, but I’m here to support students as they navigate and contextualize their own intersecting identities and moments of injustice.

In reality, my students may never fully understand. They may not have opportunities to travel; or avenues to expand their social consciousness. But in an institution where the system has continually failed them, I will challenge my students everyday to recognize – and respond – to societal inequity.


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