What is Asian Heritage Month? Why is it important to recognize?
Asian Heritage Month is a month to celebrate the contributions and successes of Asian Canadians. It is also a month to celebrate Asian culture, art, and history.
Since the 1990s, Asian Heritage has been celebrated, it wasn’t until 2001 when Senator Vivienne Poy proposed the motion to designate May as the official month to recognize the contributions of Asian Canadians. It was officially announced that May would be Asian Heritage Month in Canada in 2002.
As more and more Asian people immigrate to Canada, it is even more important to recognize Asian Heritage Month. Also, the rise of anti-Asian hate started to become very prominent at the beginning of the Covide-19 pandemic after news sources reported that the pandemic originated in China. More and more racism and hate towards people in the Asian-Canadian community arose, and it became more crucial than ever to remind Canadians that racism has no place in Canada. Learn how to fight anti-Asian racism on the Government of Canada site for Asian Heritage Month.
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How Can I Celebrate Asian Heritage Month?
One of the best ways to share Asian culture with your students is through reading. The Vancouver Public Library has a list of picture books to celebrate Asian Heritage Month. Decoda Literacy Solutions also has many lists and recommendations for the month, as well as a few selections that are read aloud by Asian-American voices.
The CBC has a list of first-person accounts of Calgarians talking about what it means to be Asian-Canadian in 2021. They also have lists of books for adults and children, media such as films and TV shows, as well as podcasts and much more that celebrate and bring awareness to Asian heritage. Preview these accounts before sharing them with your students to ensure the content is age appropriate for the grade level you teach.
Below, I will highlight a few books celebrating Asian heritage that would work well in the middle school classroom.
Watercress by Andrea Wang and Jason Chin
A young girl and her family are immigrants to the United States from China, and when the girl’s family spots a watercress on the side of the road and goes to pick it up, the girl is embarrassed. This is only until she realizes that the picking of watercress is something that connects her family to their heritage.
It Began With a Page: How Gyo Fujikara Drew The Way by Kyo Maclear and Julie Morstad
The story of Gyo Fujukawa and her desire and perseverance to share her art with the world, despite the difficulties thrown her way. When she learns of the opportunities her family lacked in Japan, she longs to go to art school and work for the Walt Disney Studios – until her family is placed in an internment camp. The story chronicles her determination to never give up her dreams.
Eyes That Kiss in The Corners by Joanna Ho and Dung Ho
This is a story of love and empowerment as a young girl realizes her eyes are not the same as other people’s, but they are the same as her mother’s and grandmother’s eyes. Learning to celebrate her culture, the young girl is shown that beauty draws from strength, and she gets that strength from all of the powerful women in her life.
Drawn Together by Minh Lê and Dan Santat
This Award-nominated book is the story of a boy and his grandfather who are frustrated by the language barrier when they come together to visit. But, despite the fact that they cannot understand one another, they find a common ground in drawing and proceed to communicate through art.
The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi
Embarrassed by the fact that no one can ever pronounce her name, Unhei decides she needs to change her name to something everyone understands, so she and her friends come up with a name jar so she can pick a new name. But when it comes to the day to announce her new name, the jar has disappeared, and so Unhei decides to choose her own name, a Korean name that she is proud of.
A Different Pond by Bao Phi and Thi Bui
A Different Pond tells the story of a Vietnamese-American family living in Minneapolis. The book is narrated by Bao (a young boy) who wakes up early in the morning with his father to go fishing at a nearby pond. During the fishing trip, Bao thinks about his family’s struggles and sacrifices to create a better life for their children. The story touches on themes of cultural identity, family relationships, and the immigrant experience.
Measuring Up by Lily LaMotte and Ann Xu
This graphic novel is about 12-year-old Cici, who longs to connect with her grandmother and her heritage through the Taiwanese food her grandmother cooked. To try and reunite with her grandmother, she needs to win the kids’ cooking contest at her school.
The Magic Fish
All Tien wants to do is connect with his Vietnamese family, but there is a language barrier, and he doesn’t know how to tell them the important and personal things he needs to share. Through fairytales, the book shows how we are all connected.
How To Use Asian Heritage Month Books in the Classroom
- Stations – Gather together the Asian Heritage books in your library and create stations for students to rotate through. They can then complete graphic organizers about what they have learned. They can use graphic organizers such as an informational text organizer or a non-fiction organizer.
- Read Alouds – Incorporate Asian Heritage books into your read-aloud schedule not just for May, but throughout the year.
- Non-Fiction Event Study – Look at the different events covered by these books. Have students read through some picture books and then create a presentation about the real-life event(s) that inspired the novel to share with their peers.
- Biography Study – Have students select an important and/or influential person to learn about this month. They can then complete this Biography Symbolism Assignment to showcase their learning to the class.
Asian Heritage Month Videos
Use these videos with your students to help them learn more about Asian Heritage Month.
- Author Mark Sakamoto reflects on what it is like to be a Japanese Canadian
- The Asian Heritage Society of Manitoba – What is Asian Heritage Month
- Canadian Heritage shares many testimonials from members of Asian communities reflecting on the importance of the month
- TBS Canada shares some of the many Asian languages used across Asia
Other Holidays and Celebrations Resources
This Article of the Week Non-Fiction Articles Holidays Bundle contains 13 non-fiction articles and post-reading activities to assist with reading comprehension and cross-curricular learning.
- 13 high-interest non-fiction articles
- 3 post-reading activities per article
- 7 Reading Strategies graphic organizers
- 5 Summarizing graphic organizers
Celebrations in the bundle include Chinese New Year, Groundhog Day, Valentine’s Day, Daylight Saving, St. Patrick’s Day, April Fools’ Day, Earth Day, Ramadan, Halloween, Diwali, Hanukkah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa.