Reading Yang’s American Born Chinese

Credit: Amazon

Even as it is told from the particular perspective of a Chinese-American boy, Gene Yang’s graphic novel has been lauded by readers and critics alike as a unique piece of young adult fiction that speaks to the universal teen problem of wanting to change something about yourself in order to “fit in.” I picked up the book last month with very high hopes but was left distinctly irritated by the time I got to the end of the work. I still can’t decide, however, whether and how I want to teach it.

To be sure, my discomfort with American Born Chinese is not uncommon. In an interview with Kartika Review, the author himself cites the Christian subtext of the plot as “the number two most controversial part” of the book (the first being the outrageous character Chin-Kee, who is an old Hollywood caricature come to life).

Credit: Acephalous

If we are honest with ourselves, the image is as funny as it is offensive, and I think that blogger and teacher Scott Eric Kaufman is right to warn educators that students may be very reluctant to dig into the taboo humor of the character because to do so would require confronting their own intimacy with the stereotype. But I also venture that by virtue of his exaggerations, Chin-Kee demands comment and can thus facilitate a provocative discussion on race.

What troubles me more than Chin-Kee is the racial subtext that is a bit more insidious, and which is directly related to the Christian subtext. To be clear, I don’t have a problem with the fact that there is a Christian subtext, but with how it informs the message on race/ethnicity. (more…)

Reading “The Shawl”

Lately I’ve been reading a lot of coming of age narratives—mostly from Coming of Age in the 21st Century, an anthology I would recommend to anyone interested in the topic. One story that really stands out for me is “The Shawl” by Louise Erdrich (you can download a pdf of it here). I’m definitely including it in the Dealing with Parents and the Past workshop within my Coming of Age program and I’ll probably teach it in the Critical Approaches to the ‘Family’ program that I’m developing. What really struck me about the story was how the narrator (and the reader does not immediately know that he is also the protagonist) manages to turn a traumatic family story—one that carries the tremendous weight of myth—into a narrative of heroic martyrdom. In the process, the protagonist also succeeds in redefining his relationship to his abusive, alcoholic father, who is all but destroyed by that past. (more…)

Finding your calling

In this economy millions of Americans would be grateful to be employed, but there are few people who could really say that it is their job that gets them out of bed every morning. True, we all know people with successful careers, but the happiest of all are those who find their work truly fulfilling. These are the people who have found their calling.

Some might argue that finding your calling is something for the lucky few who are either blessed by circumstance or extraordinarily talented, but I firmly believe that every young person has something inside him or her that is waiting to be tapped. We do not have to be veritable geniuses to give something valuable to the world. By virtue of being unique individuals, we all have special gifts or particular interests that can be transformed into fulfilling work. This may be a remunerated job, unpaid service in the community, or the tremendous task of raising kids. Short of saying that “anything is possible” (I loathe that sort of self-help babble), I do think that every young person should dream big. They may not immediately have all the resources they need, but they have time on their side. With a little systematic work, everyone can at least determine what he or she is called to do in life.

Below is an exercise I’ve designed for participants to work on in my Finding Your Calling workshop, which is also within my Coming of Age program. In the context of a mentoring workshop, I think it would be great if mentors worked with their protégés (“mentees” in mentoring parlance) in answering these questions. (more…)

Growing up means…

I consider the Rites of Passage workshop not only the centerpiece of my Coming of Age program but my entire Minds on Fire project because, intellectually, it was where I started when I first confronted the issue of how we get young people today to think about becoming adults. My Read more…

Rites of passage

One of the more exciting units in all my programs is a workshop on the topic of coming of age rituals. It begins with a warm up exercise where participants work on a definition of a “rite of passage” or “coming of age ritual” and come up with examples of Read more…