AAPI and Muskego Community Groups Rally for Muskego School District Blocked Book

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By Karen Stokes

Author Julie Osatku (Photo/Philadelphia Free Library)

The Coalition of Asian American Pacific Islanders (AAPI) of WI and Muskego community members gathered outside the Educational Services Center building in Muskego on Monday night for a ‘teaching’ on behalf of Asian Americans and a book that the Muskego-Norway School Board did not get approved for an Accelerated 10 High School English course.

The book, “When the Emperor Was Divine,” is a 2002 historical novel by Julie Otsuka based on the experiences of her own family. The book, winner of the American Library Association’s Alex Award and Asian American Literary Award, tells the story of a Japanese-American family uprooted from their home in Berkeley, California, and sent to a refugee camp from different perspectives. internment in the Utah desert.

The story, told from five angles, Otsuka’s novel details the experience of a Japanese-American family in a World War II internment camp.

Otsuka said, “I think if you limit what can be taught to students, you end up with a generation of really unprepared students.”

Muskego-Norway School District Does Not Approve ‘When The Emperor Was Divine’ For High School Curriculum (Photo/Goodreads)

The group distributed free copies of the book, expressed support for teachers willing to teach it, and called on the nearly 100 people in attendance to share their voices with the council.

On February 19, 1942, shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor by Japanese forces, Japanese internment camps were established during World War II by President Franklin D. Roosevelt by his Executive Order from 1942 to 1945. Hundreds of Thousands of Japanese Americans were massed incarcerated.

The last Japanese internment camp closed in March 1946. President Gerald Ford formally repealed Executive Order 9066 in 1976, and in 1988 Congress passed the Civil Liberties Act. That law gave surviving Japanese Americans $20,000 in reparations and a formal apology from President Reagan, according to nationalww2.museum.org.

The novel has been part of the high school and college curriculum for years.

Kabby Hong, Wisconsin’s first Asian American teacher of the year, was a speaker at the rally.

English teacher Kabby Hong, Wisconsin’s first Asian-American state teacher of the year, speaks at the AAPI rally in Muskego (Photo/Verona Press)

“We need more of these stories in our schools, not less,” Hong said. “Books serve as both a window and a mirror for children. They serve as a window because they are able to see the lived experiences of someone who is different from them. Books also serve as a powerful mirror for children to see themselves in the program, often for the very first time.

Board members said their decision not to approve the book last month had nothing to do with its content, but because it was not submitted according to district policy.

A statement reads in part: “Our policy states that the selection of instructional materials shall not discriminate on the basis of characteristics protected by federal or state law.

Concerns have been expressed about compliance with this policy. To ensure that the policy is followed, staff will re-evaluate their recommendation and start the process over again to ensure that a fair and non-discriminatory process is used to select a book for this class.

The superintendent says the teachers’ committee is reevaluating the book recommendation and restarting the process to make sure it’s fair.

The next school board meeting will be in August.


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