Authenticity & Identity Lesson

In my ELL classes we have been talking about words nationality and culture, exploring what they mean to us, having discussions in and outside of class, interweaving stories and perceptions from other people around the world by way of clips, Ted Talks, and reading about perspectives outside of Hawaii. Today’s discussions were exceptionally meaningful. Maybe because we have already been discussing these matters, so the kids have been warming up? I have been learning to ease into projects, and expose them to as much as possible before dropping the project rubric on them.  We watched Ted Talk by Hetain Patel entitled Who am I? Think Again. In his talk he has dancer Yuyu Rau translate for him until he finally joins her in speaking something other than the repeated Mandarin paragraph he “learned by heart” during his visit to China He proceeds by using various accents, emphasizing his many experiences and suits of culture he has tried on for himself, bringing him closer to his own authenticity. Throughout the lesson we looked at the transcript, discussing words like assume, assumption, authentic and authenticity. Other words were gone over and of course each class was differentiated in our explorations, according to who was in class and what questions they had. (I had little to no input in discussions). Here are the highlights:

  • One boy, who is Vietnamese, said he is assumed to be Chinese when he goes to Chinatown with his aunty, and sometimes he will be spoken to in Chinese. He also said in a different part of class that he thinks more people in younger generations have a harder time answering questions about where they’re from or what their culture is.
  • One girl expressed how she wishes she did know more about her culture, often feeling left out in one group, then not completely a part of any single group. Springing from this we talked about what it feels like to not belong, and how there must be so many people in the world who feel this way.
  • In all classes, speaking about the word “assume” surprisingly brought on discussions about what we assume when we meet people, and why we construct those assumptions. The classes came up with clothes, skin color and then of course accent and language being main causes for our assumptions. We started to then go into why these assumptions are made and why they are different for each of us.

I split the class into groups of 3, having one person as recorder, one artist, and one leader. They had a blank white sheet of paper, a computer, and markers. Going through the transcript on the Ted Talk, (which also can be translated, and which was helpful for my Chinese, Korean and Japanese students) they had to record and illustrate all of the things they found that make Hetain who he is, authentically. Collections of visuals, quotes and words were written and drawn on the sheet such as “Born and Raised in England” “Bruce Lee philosophy” and “Indian clothes not COOL” and they each had to share their creations with the class.

Overall this was an interactive way to explore components of culture and discuss ways we’re authentic because of experiences, as well as the small and large pieces that make up our culture and identity.

hetain patel

Educating with Mindfulness in Hawai’i

I no longer say “Micronesian” when referring to any group in anyway; I list Chuukese, Marshallese, Kosraean, Yapese, Pohnpeian, Palauan, Woleaian, and there are probably more I’m missing. These are different languages, customs, traditions, and even dialects within the languages that sometimes don’t understand one another. As educators in Hawai’i we need to be more mindful and aware of the way we talk to, refer to, and handle decisions which affect students from these islands. We have to be careful we are not putting them al into the same “box”. We have to be careful about how we are making them feel about themselves. These kids are hurting for various reasons, from being separated from family members, being homesick and feeling suddenly deprived of all familiarity, then being mistaken for an identity they don’t understand. Some say they’d rather be referred to and thought of as “Polynesian” than openly share they are anything “Micronesian”. We have to take the time to learn about their thoughts. There are students who were raised here and speak English perfectly fine, yet they’re assumed to speak no English and are not called upon in class, or even challenged to rise to the occasion. I have had students tell me that upon arriving to their schools, their counselors immediately placed them into ESL classes without talking to them to find out if that was even needed. Students have shared that counselors question whether they passed classes in previous schools, and gave lower levels of math and science based on assumptions. Most students just let these kinds of things slide, eager to get by and not bring any attention to themselves. We have to take time to connect and get to know people we are handling and working amongst, despite the deadlines and procedures that surround us. The connection is what we are here for. When some first arrive, they are the kind of pure spirit that smiles and dances upon impulse, without shame or hesitation. They often love fishing, dancing and singing, and if you tell them to sit and work on something, it won’t be long before they’re looking out the window into the beautiful trees and at the birds. When they learn how to study for something, or understand a math concept for the first time, you’d be surprised at how they take that new understanding and run with it, excelling farther than you imagined. The structure of school does not allow them to show you everything they’ve got. Let’s change the way we lift them up and help them in a world they’re unfamiliar, (yet sometimes very familiar) with. Let’s let them be themselves and let them be proud of where they’re from. Let’s say their names right and over-applaud every small and big thing they accomplish. Let’s let them teach us. Let’s be real with them. Let’s simply love them and allow their innate desire to learn, express and excel simply be, without testing them with empty standards within a system which have no sincere meaning.

The above text was written after a particularly challenging week, and with a heavy heart about the way my students viewed themselves, and how many are being treated in and out of school. The following are links to articles with more information and depth into the issues they are facing in Hawaii.

This first link is from an article written in 2014 on Marshallese activist and poet, Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, expressing views of being from these many islands of Micronesia, and growing up in Hawaii. 

Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner

The second link is one I shared with my students, because I feel she is an excellent role model and example. It is her WordPress site, which includes her reciting her poem for environmental justice at the United Nations Climate Summit.

Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner at UN Climate Change Summit

The third link is an article written by Civil Beat on the history, and complexity of their situations for leaving their homes and coming to Hawaii. 

Civil Beat on Civil Rights of Micronesian Immigration in Hawaii

This fourth and final link is revealing just how open the public seems to be about their disapproval and racist remarks, to where at one point it was openly shared on the radio. I still hear comments and jokes made like this today, sometimes in the fun way we joke about ourselves here in Hawaii, but sometimes with intentions of being vicious, whether conscious or subconscious… It just needs to stop. 

Racism in HI