By Nancy Wang
Research says that prejudices, including racism, start at a young age. Imagine the young and open mind of a toddler eager for information, eager for new words, eager to learn anything new, and then surrounded by hateful language, hateful stereotypes, and most important, the angry and disgusted facial expressions accompanied by very negative energy.
Like a sponge, the child absorbs it. What chance has that child to form a different way of looking at diversity?
So many of us Asian Americans want to do something to stop the anti-Asian hate, to find a way to counteract these destructive beliefs and their resultant destructive behaviors. But, where does one start?
Enter Asian American storytellers. Storytellers are persons who engage in the ancient oral tradition of telling stories. There are storytellers everywhere in the world making a living as professional storytellers.
So, are there Asian American storytellers? Yes! And, due to the shelter-in-place pandemic, in March 2020, a group of Asian American storytellers came together from across the country and in parts of Asia for support, for comradery, and to talk about the issues of this restrictive time like how to keep working and making a living. But soon, the pandemic was not the only issue. With anti-Chinese rhetoric coming out of the White House, there was something affecting us even more personally: Anti-Asian racism and violence.
Each of our tellers has experienced at some point in his or her life being told to ‘go back to China’ or ‘go back where you came from’. Some of us have had even more racist experiences – bottles thrown at us, being called names, being mocked, and worse, assaulted.
As Asian Americans, first to fifth generation Americans, none of us tellers have escaped being treated as forever foreigners or otherwise invisible.
As professional storytellers, not only are we positioned to tell the stories of our experience, but like all good stories, find something of value to help listeners through a difficult time. And, we are well aware of the power of storytelling to enter minds and hearts to make a difference. We are aware of the inherent values and messages in ancient folktales and myths, in a good story. We know when we perform for children (and really adults as well), our audiences settle into some sort of trance, some kind of transporting into another ‘once upon a time, a long time ago, in a far and distant land…’.
As anti-Asian violence increased three-fold in 2020, and with no let-up in 2021, our group, Asian American Storytellers in Unity, made a decision: to break up stereotypes by engaging the young through fun activities and stories from Asia presented by Asian Americans. Asian yes Americans! Here we hoped to impact racism and the confusion of who we are as Asians in America on a very person to person level as a complement to the work being made on an institutional level.
And so, we put our heads together and came up with a solution we were capable of!
At least we hoped so.
Because children are being inundated with computer screens during school at home, we wanted to create a series that was short, exciting, and engaging. We have now developed 15-20 minute segments that contain two folktales and one activity for children to participate in, to try at home. Folktales from India, China, Japan, Philippines, Malaysia, and other Asian countries are told with energy, facial expressions, rhythm, gestures, and more. Activities include how to make a kite, or fold an origami crane, introducing Asian traditional instruments, and even how to make a rice ball wrapped with seaweed, and many others.
In addition, we made the decision to be very precise in our introductions to our stories, folktales, mythologies and activities. Who are we? We are Americans. Some of us have lived in this country for 30 years while others have ancestors who arrived here as far back as 170 years ago.
We look Asian and we are Americans.
We introduce ourselves clearly in the following way:
1. Our name. 2. Our heritage. 3. That we are Americans having lived in this America for x amount of years or born here. 4. Where in America we live now.
Our free program on our Youtube channel is called Asian American Storytopia.
Asian American Storytellers in Unity intend for our Asian American Storytopia to make a difference in the homes, schools, libraries and museums that care about our young and their minds and hearts. We Asian American storytellers intend to make a difference in an America that embraces diversity as an American value. And, as a result, impact the young and open minds of children with positive realities of who we are as Americans.
Our mission is to promote and celebrate Asian and Asian American culture and heritage through the art of storytelling. Our vision is for the world to embrace and celebrate diversity where all peoples are respected and treated equally.
For more information: contact: Nancy Wang, Robert Kikuchi-Yngojo of Eth-Noh-Tec *
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