For the past three years I have been working to create the first dual-language, Vietnamese-English preschool in Washington State. The goal of the preschool is to strengthen bilingualism among children, promote cross-cultural learning, and empower underserved families. According to a 2007 paper by the National Council of State Supervisors, childhood bilingualism increases academic progress, narrows the opportunity gap, enriches cognitive development, and promotes cultural awareness. Full disclosure: I was also hoping to enroll myself in the preschool so that I could improve my Vietnamese.
Despite this amazing achievement for the community, I’ve received anonymous, grammatically questionable, emails from vocal critics who threw all sorts of hate toward the preschool.
- This is America and we should start acting like it!
- If you want you [sic] kids to speak your homeland language, teach them at home.
- The idea is ridiculous. If Vietnamese individuals wish to live in a Vietnamese culture then they can pay for a private school, or move to Viet Nam.
- This is the United States, the United States culture is what should be taught in the United States.
- What the schools should be focused on doing is integrating legal immigrants into our culture and making sure they speak English and can participate fully in this society.
Even though Asian-Americans have been living here for over a hundred years, there remains a wide spread perception that we are foreigners and don’t belong in the United States. It was incredibly frustrating since I am as American they come—born in California and grew up in the suburbs of Seattle. I like to drink PBR, love recycling, and, on occasion, shop at Target. My identity, while decidedly mainstream, has also been uniquely shaped by my Vietnamese heritage and experiences as an Asian-American.
My first instinct was to respond and clarify the advantages of a dual language education for all children, regardless of ethnicity or cultural background. But I was also weary of engaging with these anonymous people—who will not likely change their minds, and instead drag me into a digressive, time-consuming conversation where I could, inadvertently, add more fuel to the fire (like throwing water on a grease fire, it seems like a good idea). Besides, I had way more important things to do that day, such as training our staff how to properly use the dishwasher; it is not a drying rack! I decided to close my inbox and get back to work.
To be clear, while ignoring these anonymous comments was the right decision, we should never be silent when we see racism or intolerance. Racism is like an alien embryo that eats at you from the inside. If you let it fester, it will eventually burst out of your chest. Blood will spew everywhere and you will scream louder than you’ve ever screamed before because there’s an ugly, freaky, alien staring at you. Then it eats you and you’re dead. Sure, a lucky few might be resurrected in a sequel thanks to the miracle of science fiction. But racism isn’t make-believe; it’s real.
We (and by we, I mean, you) must speak out on racism, oppression, sexism and other forms of hatred and prejudice. We have to channel our inner Richard Sherman and rant whenever we witness injustice. We must call out bigots and use our voice and power to spread tolerance and compassion. Otherwise, you’ll end up a bitter, grumpy person with nothing better to do than post anonymous comments online about a preschool. I’m convinced these folks have never attended preschool themselves; otherwise they would have learned that if you don’t have anything nice to say, you shouldn’t say anything at all. Full disclosure: I went to preschool.
Later that day, I opened up my email and found more messages about the preschool. “Ugh, I can’t take anymore,” I thought.
- Congrats. Big accomplishment for the education of future generations. A step in the right direction.
- That is awesome!! Looks like a great program.
- Wonderful! Educated bilingual citizens growing up on America.
- OMG James, you are the smartest, most kindest, most wonderfulest Vietnamese, nay, human being, to ever grace this planet.
Thank you everyone, for your kind words 🙂 I feel grateful and inspired. Full disclosure: I made up that last comment.
PS. I’m working with a local artist to add comics to the PlayingAsian.com. This is our first collaboration and I’d love some feedback on it! What do you think of the comic?