After a Wisconsin school board committee decided not to include a novel about the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II in its curriculum, more than 100 protesters rallied Monday to support the book.
Local community members, organizers and educators gathered for a ‘teaching’, just before the Muskego-Norway school board meeting, to protest a committee’s decision last month not to include the novel “When the Emperor Was Divine” in an English Literature Course. Speakers also discussed the subject of the book, sharing details of the events surrounding the unjust imprisonment of 120,000 people of Japanese descent during World War II.
“Asian Americans are invisible to so many people. Our history has really been erased from so many curricula,” said Kabby Hong, an Asian American and Wisconsin 2022 Teacher of the Year who took the speaking at the event, to NBC Asian America.”We thought that instead of a traditional protest, what we wanted was for it to be a teaching one so that we could help educate and also share our stories.”
School board president Christopher Buckmaster did not respond to NBC News’ request for comment.
More than 100 people, including locals and Asian Americans from surrounding areas, attended the event hosted by the Coalition of Asian American Pacific Islanders of Wisconsin. Organizers also handed out free copies of the novel, written by Julie Otsuka, which Hong said were all taken at the end of the event. Among the most powerful moments of the event, Hong added, was a speech given by Ron Kuramoto, president of the Wisconsin chapter of the nonprofit Japanese American Citizens League.
“Ron shared a very moving story about his own family, being housed in stables, and how it still resonates with him today,” Hong said. “It’s different when you hear the story through someone’s lived experiences.”
The teaching comes weeks after the council’s Educational Services Committee, made up of three members who approve teaching materials before they are purchased by the full council, decided not to go ahead with it. Otsuka’s novel.
Parent Ann Zielke previously told NBC News that she contacted two board members for the reason. She said she was eventually told that adding the book — alongside the existing inclusion of “Farewell to Manzanar” in the class, a separate memoir about the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II World – on the program was creating an “unbalanced” narrative of history and that they would need perspective from the US government.
Buckmaster previously said in a statement that the book was presented to the committee but was never presented to the full board. He also wrote that “at no time was this book banned or denied by the board committee or the full board.”
“Instead, district staff recommended that he be put through the staff committee process again,” he wrote.
Zielke maintains that the board members were clear in private and public conversations about their disapproval of the novel and made no indication that the book would undergo another review.
Kuramoto said one of his main goals in speaking at Monday’s event was to emphasize that diverse perspectives have the power to enrich students’ educational experiences. If readers dig deeper, he said, they would see that the official US government “perspective” is that the imprisonment of Japanese Americans during World War II, in hindsight, was a grave mistake. . And in 1987, then-President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act of 1987 and issued a formal apology.
Going forward, Hong said organizers and community members will continue to champion the book. They plan to hold a virtual event with Otsuka later this year. And dozens of community members have expressed interest in forming a book club, with the novel being the first topic of discussion. Regardless of what the board decides, Hong said, people deserve to have access to the book.
“For some children, [books] serve as a window through which they can look at the lived experiences and life of someone who is very different from them,” Hong said. “It allows children to develop a sense of empathy for others. And when I look at the world we see today, I think we need more empathy.