August 2009 Archives

The Multicultural Minute #2: Interculturalism

Presenting Episode 2 of The Multicultural Minute, in which educator Myriam Met talks about Interculturalism.

Questions? Ideas? Put 'em in the comments!

Happy Jack Eats Features Cora

Jacqui at the blog Happy Jack Eats has posted a gorgeous feature on Cora Cooks Pancit, including shots of the interior of the book. Happy Jack Eats is a food blog, and Jacqui is Filipino, so she reminisces about her own childhood in the kitchen. She also thinks of the next generation:

"I can't help but think of my niece, Mira, standing on a stool and stirring macaroni and cheese, the peas and pasta spilling out of the pan, and that little girl oblivious to everything except for the happy fact that she's with her daddy and they're cooking together. I can't wait to give her this book the next time I see her, and to cook pancit with her for the first time, telling her fun stories of her Lolo and Lola in the Philippines."
Thanks, Jacqui!

Visions: Chinese History Stories Proofs Arrived!

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Chinese History Stories proofs arrived, and they exploded all over my desk!
Everything has been OK'ed and we're good to go to print!
I thought it would be a fun project to create a humble little video on my favorite subject, multicultural children's literature! And publishing, and other ideas, and discussions in related areas, of course. So I am very excited to present the first episode of The Multicultural Minute, in, you got it-- one minute chunks. It's not much, but I hope to have fun with it, and I hope YOU will have fun with it too! If you have questions you'd like me to answer or issues you'd like me to address in future episodes, let me know in the comments. Enjoy!

Books mentioned in this episode:
The Golden Sandal
The Korean Cinderella
My Chinatown
Throw Your Tooth on the Roof
Sushi for Kids

Multiculturalism vs. Interculturalism

Last weekend I found myself at the 2nd International Conference on Chinese Language Pedagogy in Berkeley, CA. I was there to help my mom at her vendor table for Chinese Books for Children, which was in the conference room where the keynote speech was held. I like it when the vendors are in the same room as the speakers, because then I get to listen!

The speaker that morning was Myriam Met, the Director of the National Foreign Language Center at the University of Maryland. She talked about the importance of teaching foreign cultures in addition to, and perhaps separately from, teaching foreign languages.

While she shared a lot of her insights into the complexity of cultural transmission and the question of cultural education's goals, one idea of hers particularly stood out to me because I had never encountered it before: Interculturalism.

Myriam defined the term "multicultural" as being simultaneously a member of more than one culture. However, she then said something that surprised me. She said that she did not think it was a reasonable expectation for someone to become multicultural through education. No matter how much we learn about a new culture, we will always be cultural outsiders, and not a true member of the culture. (She did not address the issue of immigration or long-term residence in a new culture, which I believe could result in true cultural assimilation. I believe she was speaking only on the subject of education and curriculum in a classroom setting.)

A more reasonable objective as an alternative to true multiculturalism, Myriam believed, was "interculturalism." Interculturalism is being able to communicate with, collaborate with, and befriend people across multiple cultures. Rather than trying to become a member of a foreign culture, we should strive to understand the cultural/historical perspectives of behaviors, and learn how to communicate effectively with these perspecives taken into account. For example, if we learn that the Chinese value community well-being over individual well-being as a result of thousands of years of Confucian ideals, we can approach our personal and business relationships with this in mind. We don't necessarily have to believe in the same ideals, but knowing where others are coming from will certainly help form friendships and business relationships.

If our goal, then, is to become intercultural, then our cultural education, the stuff that is tacked on in our foriegn language classes, has a more concrete basis for curriculum development. To the teachers in the audience, she suggested that they ask themselves what the goal of each cultural lesson was, and if it strengthened true intercultural understanding and relationships.

This idea is, essentially, not too different from what our intuition would tell us. However, I like the idea that there is actually a difference between multliculturalism and interculturalism. I also think that separating the two would make it easier to develop cultural curricula aimed at teaching students to be good world citizens, rather than simply throwing out undifferentiated cultural trivia.

What's in a Title? (Or, Eek! It's a Foreign Word!)

One of the great things about living in Los Angeles is that people visit from all over the world, and there are always events going on that bring people in. This past weekend was the annual SCBWI conference in Los Angeles, and I took the opporunity to finally meet the illustrator of The Prince's Diary, Elizabeth Dulemba. I also got to see Holly Thompson, the author of The Wakame Gatherers, who was visiting all the way from Japan to attend the conference.

Holly and I got to talking about multiculturalism at the SCBWI conferences, and somehow the subject of using foreign words titles came up. When she originally submitted the manuscript for The Wakame Gatherers, she was fully prepared for her publisher to change the title. She had been warned that publishers were loath to use foreign words in titles for fear of scaring off readers. When she mentioned that to me, I immediately assured her that I would not be changing the title, and I had no problems with using "strange" words. Can you imagine if the book had been called, "The Seaweed Gatherers?" Ugh!

Using a foreign word in the title of the book may be akin to depicting a person of color on a book's cover. The recent furor over the cover of Justine Larbalestier's book, Liar, which depicted a white teen even though the book is about an African-American girl (causing Bloomsbury to redesign the cover), reminds me of the inherent beliefs that publishers have about what will sell and what won't. Bloomsbury didn't come out and say so, but we can all see that someone in marketing believed that a book with a black girl on the cover wouldn't sell as well.(The Ya Ya Yas, on their blog, show the same cover bias for books about Asians.)

I would venture to say that titles are treated equally by the publishing industry. The unspoken argument is, if the customer sees a word that they don't know in the title, they won't buy the book. The problem is, if we never introduce new words and concepts to the marketplace, there will never be any new understanding or change in the minds of readers. We need to reach a place in our culture where foreign words and new ideas impel readers to pick a book up and look at it, not drive them away.

Frankly, "The Seaweed Gatherers" would drive me away if I saw that title on the cover of a book. Eew. But "The Wakame Gatherers" might make me think something vaguely Japanese. It might subconciously remind of that Japanese restaurant I love, and, drawn in by curiosity and a vague sense of adventure, I might take a closer look.

The truth is, so many of our book titles include foreign words and names (Selvakumar Knew Better, Angkat, Abadeha, Jouanah) that the word "wakame" never even registered in my brain as worthy of being replaced. I was actually surprised for a moment when Holly asked if I wanted to change the title. It had never occurred to me.

papertigers.gifPapertigers has published a review of Cora Cooks Pancit in their August online issue. Here's what they had to say about it:

Dorina K. Lazo Gilmore adds another sensitive book about the immigrant experience for children to her growing catalog that includes Children of the San Joaquin Valley and Stone Soup: A Hmong Girl's Journey to the United States.  After a few generations, it is clear that Cora's Filipino-American family is right at home in the United States and proudly maintaining cultural heritage as part of their identity.

Kristi Valiant's warm and colorful illustrations invite readers into Cora's clean and welcoming suburban home to share the sunny afternoon with Cora and her mother.  The walls are brightly painted and adorned with paintings of tropical fruit.  Brightly colored ceramics line cabinet shelves.  The sun coming through the windows evokes a peaceful feeling, and personality is beautifully expressed in the clothing and gestures of the characters.

Cora Cooks Pancit is a lovely story about home, family, food, culture, growing up, and how all those things fit together.  A glossary of terms and, of course, Lolo's pancit recipe are included at the end of the book, making culture come alive in the kitchen while empowering kids to participate.
Click here to read the entire review at

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Blog Contributors

Renee Ting is the President and Publisher of Shen's Books. She is the author of The Prince's Diary and the blog, Renee's Book of the Day.

Emily Jiang is a writer of children's and YA literature. She also blogs at TLeaf Readings.

Shen’s Books is a publisher of multicultural children’s literature that emphasizes cultural diversity and tolerance, with a focus on introducing children to the cultures of Asia.

Through books, we can share a world a stories, building greater understanding and tolerance within our increasingly diverse communities as well as throughout our continuously shrinking globe.


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