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04/06/21

Navigating Trauma with Stories

My grandmother immigrated to the United States in 1956 from a small village outside of Hong Kong. With an enormous amount of perseverance, she raised five Chinese children in Hell’s Kitchen, NY, where every day was a battle with racism and violence. I grew up hearing stories about situations where my grandmother felt it was safer to lie about her race than risk confrontation. Thanks to her, my father has been able to give me a wonderful life as a second generation Asian American. But with the recent national wave of racially motivated attacks, I find myself fighting the same battles today as my grandmother did almost 70 years ago.

While I’ve experienced racism throughout my life, I have never been more aware of my identity than I have been these past few weeks. I’ve read and watched horrifying accounts of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) being verbally and physically attacked, and it has caused me immense fear and heartache. Seeing victims that resemble me, my family, and some of my friends has inspired me to speak up about my experience. As a result of the pain I’ve been feeling due to anti-Asian discrimination and violence, I’ve been motivated to connect more deeply with my identity as an Asian American woman, and I’ve found myself turning to books about my heritage, diversity, and inclusion to navigate this traumatic time.

At Reading Is Fundamental (RIF), I have witnessed firsthand the power of books to help readers of all ages and backgrounds feel pride in who they are and find the courage to be themselves while learning empathy towards others. Whether you are a child or an adult, connecting with children’s books reinforces these important skills because stories have the unique power to navigate life’s most difficult issues and emotions in an uncomplicated, yet impactful way.

One book, recommended by a RIF colleague, that has helped me through these challenging times is Drawn Together, written by Minh Lê and illustrated by Dan Santat. It’s about a young boy who overcomes a language barrier with his grandfather through a shared love of art and storytelling. When I first read the book, it brought tears to my eyes, as I recalled the times I’ve felt guilty for not being able to speak my native language when spending time with my grandmother; but it also reminded me of the laughter we’ve shared, holding hands and watching Chinese Kung-Fu movies together. This children’s book not only gave me a greater appreciation for my relationship with my grandmother but also a better perspective on my identity as an Asian American – and the comfort of knowing that there are others out there who understand and have similar life experiences to me has been immensely empowering.

I can only imagine how AAPI parents and caregivers are feeling as they search for ways to navigate this horrible time with their children. Here are a few books featuring Asian characters and themes in RIF’s Literacy Central that I’d recommend to help children build resilience, bravery, and understanding.

Let’s battle racism together, one children’s book at a time.

Ashlina Chin
Marketing & Partnerships Manager
Reading Is Fundamental