By Laura Dumin, Ph.D., English
I am hoping to teach George Takei’s “They Calles Us Enemy” this spring. It’s a graphic novel about the Japanese internment camps in America. My hope is that by looking at this moment in time we might begin to discuss what it meant to look Asian/be Asian at that time. I’d like to talk about what it means to be an American; who gets to be American? Does it have to do with citizenship, skin color? There’s more here, like about how certain immigrants are “acceptable” and why (education level, country of origin, specific talent, etc.) and I am still thinking about how to do this well.
I’m also hoping to bring another 1 or 2 graphic novels about lesser-known diverse American history into the classroom. I have some books that I need to look at to decide what else might fit well here. The graphic novel about Tulsa doesn’t come out until Feb, so I’m not sure that I can work it into the class, sadly. That’s the one I was really hoping to also go with.
My hope is that by beginning to explore what it means to be American, we can begin to explore some of the problems with the concept of who belongs here. And, by doing it through graphic novels, 1) we can move faster through the material, and 2) the students can see visuals that begin to help make the ideas more real to them.
The book helped me to see some of the places where my white middle-class female upbringing could stand in the way of learning—like being too polite and trying to appease everyone. I’m also working on that one, like many others said in the last meeting. I’m working on getting students to confront societal biases that create racist problems, but I don’t want or need my students to feel guilty. I want them to feel empowered to change their behaviors and, eventually, as they move up through the ranks, empowered to change policies. I want students to see themselves as the source of doing something, not the source of marking time or standing by in fear of the repercussions. The last chapter with the ways that we can make a difference has some suggestions that I will keep coming back to as I work to strengthen my own presentation of information.