The issue of xenophobia is not new, but it is important to discuss today. With the ever changing political climate, it is a scary world for many of the minority students in public schools. From Dictionary.com xenophobia is “fear or hatred of foreigners, people from different cultures, or strangers”.
Education and testing is the United States is extremely “white-washed”. Many assumptions are made about students at different grade levels and what they should know. Madaus and Russell in their article “Paradoxes of High-Stakes Testing”, that “[F]amily and cultural background influence the way students view and interact with tests” (p. 23), and yet high-stakes testing has not made changes to its word choice. Therefore, a student coming from another country may not know what bumper sticker or playground is when it shows up on a standardized test and that one word could completely derail their ability to answer the question correctly. Payne, in his article “Multicultural Education and Racism in American Schools” (1984), shows that many teachers and teaching programs show the idea of “multicultural education as a product” meaning that it is a “study of ethnicity; namely the contributions of, and the unusualness or surface aspects… of ethnic groups (p. 128). He gives examples of “pow wows, rain dances and piñatas”. These are base level associations with different ethnic groups and when applied to multiple but similar races they simply become stereotypes. Although multicultural education has come a long way, it is still prone to teaching common stereotypes and racist misconceptions about different races.
The topic of xenophobia and possible ways to overcome it is addressed in many different ways in many different books. These books can be shared with students to allow them to feel proud of their differences instead of feeling the emotional suffering that can occur when the topic is not addressed in a positive way. As “The Mob Song” from Beauty and the Beast states, “We don’t like what we don’t understand, in fact it scares us” (Menken, 1991) and this is apparent when interacting with people who do not take the time to learn about different cultures.
Students come from all over the globe: South and Central America, Europe, Asia and Africa. These students face some level of xenophobia from others based on the fact that they have limited English language proficiency. Teacher need to know how to appropriately accommodate for these students because of their language and sometimes cultural backgrounds, especially about those things we assume are universal. When students do not understand these “universal” concepts they are seen as inferior. Sometimes teachers just assume a student is lazy based on race and not that they are afraid to ask for help due to prior interactions with teachers. These students are very in tune to the tone, attitude, words, and help teachers give/use with them.
The Hispanic students in particular feel the added pressure of discrimination and racism. Within the last year, the pressure they are feeling has increased due to the changing political climate. While unaware of my students’ residency status, the added threat of deportation for themselves or family members surrounds everything they do. They find it necessary to work after school to save money “just in case”. In addition to the current political climate, they are facing racism and stereotypes every day of their lives both in school and out, both obvious and hidden. It is important for my students to know that there are other people facing the same difficulties with racism that they are. I think it is also good for my students to be aware that racism is not new and not strictly limited to their race. In addition, the books I will be looking into will also show how people can work together regardless of their cultures/backgrounds.
- Ada, A. F., & Campoy, F. I. (2016) Yes We are Latinos. Watertown: Charlesbridge.
This collection includes poetry and prose about the Latino experience in America. Each poem features a different Latino/a who have varying backgrounds and strive to demonstrate that they are more than just what they look like on the outside. The information following each poem goes further to discuss the history of each cultural and racial mix. For example there is a poem about two girls who are Latina and Asian. The prose following the poem addresses the presence of Asian culture in Latin America. This is a high quality book because is addresses the wide variety of Latino culture. It is an eye opening look at cultural mixing and not judging someone by the way they look. The authors have done a stunning job of creating poems based on conversations with students come from these different backgrounds. Parents and teachers can use this book to teach about the beautiful variety of culture. By teaching about different cultures, we are able to lessen the fear people develop about strangers. Parents and teachers can use this book to expose students to the differences around us, so that they do not judge people by their outward appearances.
2. Alvarez, J. (2002) How Tia Lola Come to Visit Stay. New York: Yearling.
This novel is about an assimilated boy with Dominican roots who has to face a relative who is everything he is ashamed of. Miguel, his sister and mother are dealing with moving to Vermont after his mother’s divorce. To help, mama invited her Tia Lola to come for a visit. Miguel has to put aside his perceived differences to come to accept this eccentric woman is family. This is a high quality book because it deals with issues that students in the United States are familiar. Many students adapt to American culture but it is also important that they remember their own culture. Miguel is also able to see the error of his ways and makes positive growth throughout the book. This book can be used by teachers and parents to teach about accepting the differences in others even if they are in your own family. Miguel is ashamed and embarrassed by his mother’s aunt who is different which many children may relate to.
3. Boas, J. (2009) We Are Witnesses: Five diaries of teenagers who died in the Holocaust. New York: Square Fish.
This text is a collection of diary entries from Jewish teenagers who did not survive WWII. Interspersed between their diaries, the author has also included relevant historical information about the Holocaust to expand on the view-points of the diary writers. This is a high quality text because it is authentic. Between the diary entries and the historical information the reader gets a first-hand account of the horrific situation that was the Holocaust. Parents and teachers can use this text to help students who are questioning the “why.” Why do these things happen to us? Why do they hate us? The diary writers have these same questions and discuss them as best they can with limited knowledge.
* Because of the nature of this text, it could be very emotional for a student to read on their own since all of the diary authors did not survive.
4. Bridges, R. (1999) Through My Eyes. New York: Scholastic.
This is the autobiographical story of Ruby Bridges and her experience of being the first African American girl to go to an all-white elementary school in 1960. She spent much of the school year as the only student in her classroom as the battle for integration continued. In addition to Rudy’s story, this book includes quotations from relevant documents (new articles, court cases) and people. As a non-fiction text this is certainly high quality as it is full of historical facts, photographs, quotations and insights from the people who were actually there. This Jane Addams Children’s Book Award winner is a reflective work by Ruby Bridges looking back as an adult and trying to understand what and why things happened. Parents and teachers can use this book to discuss the actions of the racist and xenophobia segregationist in the South during the Civil Rights movement. The book addresses the laws and legislations surrounding the integration of southern schools in addition to Rudy’s own perspective. Rudy’s reflections are a powerful insight into how the world was changing and reflect the feelings of other students who feel “different” because of the color of their skin. This book lends itself to deep discussions about differences and the effect fear has on people.
5. Cervantes, A. (2015) Gaby, Lost and Found. New York: Scholastic.
This is a fictional story about a girl whose mother is deported and she is left with her father in the United States. While volunteering at an animal shelter through school, Gaby begins to write ads for each of the animals and doing so causes her to reflect on her own situation. This is a high quality text because the characters and situations are so relatable. Not only does Gaby have to deal with her mother’s deportation, but snide comments from peers and the “shame” of having to get food from a food bank a couple times a week. This book was also the winner of the International Latino Book Award for Best Youth Chapter Fiction Novel in 2014. Parents and teachers can use this book to address so many different issues. If involved in any way with the local Latino population, you know that the threat of deportation is never far from their minds regardless of if they are here legally or not. The fear is ever present for whole families and individuals. This book would allow for a discussion about these fears that are real for so many because of the xenophobic feelings still present in the country.
6. Davis, A. (2016) From Hatred to Healing: Eight racial reconciliation poems [Kindle Edition]. Retrieved from Amazon.com.
Alicea Davis writes her poems as a way to heal from the racially charged hatred she has felt. She prays, thanks, forgives, questions, educates, reconciles, preaches, and heals through her poetry. She uses her personal, cultural and national history to write her poems about overcoming the labels put on African American people. This is a high quality text because it is full of reflections and calls for peace. The reader is able to feel the author slowly letting go of her pain as she grows and reflects in each poem. Parents and teachers can use this text to teach growth. Davis’s poems are about peace not war. It is important to teach students that violence cannot be overcome with more violence. Temperance and not revenge is a lesson that need to be taught when dealing with the different aspects of xenophobia.
7. Fleischman, P. (2004) Seedfolks. New York: HarperTrophy.
Seedfolks is the story of how a diverse neighborhood comes together to plant a garden. Different members of the neighborhood bring different skills and knowledge with them from their lives and cultures. The characters are unknown to each other, but they are all able to work in tandem with each other. This is a high quality story because it is about accepting people’s differences and not judging someone before you get to know them. It allows the read to see what is going on through each characters’ eyes. While the characters do not initially interact they are all brought together through the creation of a community farm. Teachers and parents can use this book to teach about not judging people upon sight. Many of the characters are leery of each other until they begin helping one another. Though not quite as xenophobic as the rest of the books on this list, there is still the feeling of fear when faced with meeting new and different people that can be addressed by teachers and parents through reading this book.
8. Gordon, S. (2014) Waiting for the Rain [Kindle version]. Retrieved from Amazon.com
Tengo and Frikki are two boys, friends, growing up in South Africa during the Apartheid. Through their eyes the reader gets a chance to look at both the black and white African sides of the issue. Tengo’s story is about the fight for education and equality, while Frikki’s story is of white privilege. This Jane Addams Children’s Book Award winner is a high quality novel to use because it really allows for a glimpse into a time period in history that American students do not often get to see. It is important to know that while the Civil Rights movement going on in the United States that there were similar activities going on in other parts of the world as well. In addition to the history surrounding the story, the book shows how certain characters grow and other remain the same, contented with the way things are. Parents and teachers can use this book to address the topic of xenophobia as many of the white characters believe in white supremacy and use language which is derogatory towards black Africans. While common at the time, this language should be approached carefully as it is well known in South Africa, but not as familiar in the United States as being offensive. This book can also be used to reflect the feelings of many minority students in the United States who are questioning why people are treated differently and kept ignorant due to race. This book also can be used to address the effects of anger and violence as a way to try to solve inequality.
* There are some moments of violence against young people in this book. While relevant for the time period, it could be upsetting for some readers.
9. Hastibakhsh, H. (2016). Tender Years: Selected Poems [Kindle edition]. Retrieved from Amazon.com.
Hastibakhsh’s book of poetry begins immediately by questioning why people’s differences have caused so many deaths. Between the lines of some of her poems are deeper meaning about struggles that people face and the way that people can grow. This is a high quality text because through poems people can read and interpret the meanings however they want. There is a flexibility in poems as a way to share new perspectives, but also to put a twist on the old. Hastibakhsh discusses many different topics that students can relate to. Parents and teachers can use this collection of poems to discussion a wide variety of topics. They can look into the questions she asks about differences and relate to her commentaries about growing up different. Even the poems that a full of descriptions of people she finds beautiful can open the hearts and minds of her readers.
10. Lowry, L. (1990) Number the Stars. New York: Bantam Doubleday.
In this Newbery Award winner, Annemarie Johansen and her family help their Jewish neighbors escape the Nazi’s during World War II. With help from members of the Underground in Denmark, the Johansen family are able to transport Jews to Sweden. This is a high quality text about bravery and not letting religious or cultural differences get between people. It also discusses the importance of not allowing others to be persecuted for their differences. The main character is not afraid to question what she is seeing going on around her. Teachers and parents can use this text to show students that sometimes you have to fight back when you see injustice and xenophobia. It can be used to show that there is power in numbers as well as addressing the feeling of being alone in your beliefs. It teaches helping out people who are being discriminated against instead of standing by and doing nothing.
11. Muñoz Ryan, P. (2004). Esperanza Rising. New York: Scholastic.
Esperanza’s life is flipped upside down when she suddenly has to move with her mother to the United States in the 1930’s. Esperanza is faced with the difficult situation of finding herself working on a farm when she is use to a life of decadence. This winner of the Pura Belpré Medal and the Willa Cather Award is a high quality book for looking at the topic of xenophobia because it discusses the struggles faced by Mexican and Mexican American farm workers during The Great Depression. Part of their struggle is due to their race including the threat of deportation, low working wages, and poor living conditions. We even get a glimpse into how the school for the farm workers’ children discriminates against the children of immigrants for not having the “ideal” features. We see how a hard working group of workers is continually given less than their poor white counterparts. Teachers and parents can use this book to show the positive power of family against the tide of racial discrimination. It can also be used to address the fears that students have because of their differences. Esperanza Rising is all about hope. Both teachers and parents can use the idea of hope as an empowerment for students against the ever raising tide of xenophobia still present and relevant today.
12. Meyer, M. (2012). Cinder [Kindle Edition]. Retrieved from Amazon.com.
Cinder is a futuristic retelling of the classic fairy tale “Cinderella”. The main character, Cinder, is a cyborg—part robot. Cinder and others like her are discriminated against for being “less than human”. This is a high quality text because it puts a twist on a classic tale. It is also delves more into the political aspect of discrimination, so the story can be taken for more than just face value. This story discusses the struggles involved with being different. Parents and teachers can use this text to discuss the struggles of people who are discriminated against because of their differences. There is a strong feeling of xenophobia, which can be addressed, throughout the story since people do not trust cyborgs. Adults can also use this story to teach that people should not hide who they truly are since that can also cause problems.
13. Spinelli, J. (1999) Maniac Magee. New York: Little, Brown and Company.
“Maniac” Magee is a young boy trying to find his place in the world after running away from his aunt and uncle. He runs all the way to the fictional town outside of Philadelphia where is was born. This town is divided by race, but Maniac is not even aware of the differences. This Newbery Medal winner is a high quality text because it discusses how perceptions can change the more you get to know someone. It also offers a wide variety of characters both black and white who change over the course of the story. Teachers and parents can use this book to discuss how making assumptions based on race is not the right way to go through life. There are character throughout the book who make assumptions and find out along the way that they were wrong. Teachers and parents can use this book also to discuss how being different is not bad.
14. Tan, A. (1987) “Fish Cheeks”. Retrieved from http://www.ncps-k12.org/cms/lib8/CT01903077/Centricity/Domain/638/LA/Short%20Story%20-%20Fish%20Cheeks.pdf.
“Fish Cheeks” is a short story about a traditional Chinese family Christmas. Amy is scared to know how their white minister’s family is going to react to all of the strange foods. This is a high quality text because it is authentic. It is a true life story about someone who feels too different to be normal. Many students will be able to relate to the struggle Amy feels about her family’s “strange” traditions. Parents and teachers can use this story to teach about different traditions. It can also be used to create discussion around the fact that every culture had some tradition(s) that someone from the outside might find “weird.” Teachers and parents could use this to teach how it is important to experience other cultures as well to avoid being ignorant or fearful. As much as Amy wanted to be like all the American kids, she still comes to accept her differences as part of what makes her special.
15. Twain, M. (1999) The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. New York: Aladdin Classics.
This novel is the story of a boy and a runaway slave. Together they must travel through the extremely racist South on a raft. They have to avoid slave catchers as well as swindlers, occasionally meeting people willing or able to help them. This book truly deals with the idea of racism during the time of slavery in the South. This is a high quality text because it discusses many of the themes associated with xenophobia including racism. While Huck is not always a reliable narrator, he does allow the reader to witness a wide variety of situations. Through him the reader is able to see both the good and the bad as it relates to life. Teachers and parents can use The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to show that not all people within a racially tense atmosphere have the same reactions or beliefs. While it does show many of the horrors, it allows for the accepting characters to shine. This book also uses language, which was common for the time, but can be used as a teaching tool about how not to address people of color.
*It should be noted that this novel does use “the N word.” This would need to be addressed on its own.
16. Weatherford, C. B. (2007) Freedom on the Menu. London: Puffin Books.
Connie, a little black girl living in Greensboro, North Carolina witnesses the Greensboro sit-ins. She watches as her brother and sister join in and worries when her sister is arrested. Even as a child, Connie knows that when the black people are finally being served food at the lunch counter something big has happened. This is a high quality book because it uses words and pictures to tell the story of the Greensboro sit-ins. At the end of the book the author also includes facts and quotes from people who were actually involved. It shows also that children are not unaware of what is going on in the world and want to help. Teachers and parents can use this story to begin a discussion about the how and why of segregation in the United States. There is one part in particular where Connie and her aunt from New York drink out of a white fountain and a white man reprimands them. He does not get a drink after seeing them. This book could be used to open the discussion of fear of the “other” or people different from you.
Esperanza Rising; Yes We are Latinos; Gaby, Lost and Found; Through my Eyes; Seedfolks; How Tia Lola Came to Visit Stay
A teacher would be able to use many of the books on this list in tandem to teach a reading or social studies unit about xenophobia. Teaching a unit for high school ELD students, this would be a cross-curricular unit focusing both on the literature and the history surrounding each story. I would start by teaching Esperanza Rising. This book opens the door for many other books on the list. Esperanza discusses the fear of being deported and the idea of being seen as a second class citizen because of differences, specifically for Mexicans. In the collection, Yes We are Latinos there are many poems about the same topics which could be used as extension pieces for Esperanza. “My Name is Julio” (p. 50) talks about being a migrant farmer, like Esperanza, and “My Name is Monica” (p. 16) discusses the fear of being deported by La Migra. Moving forward, teachers or parents could connect Gaby, Lost and Found to the others in order to discuss the thoughts and feeling associated with families being separated due to deportations. This book also discusses the idea of fitting in as someone who is “different”. Gaby is harassed by classmates because her mother was illegal, even though Gaby was born in the United States.
The feelings that Gaby has could easily be connected or expanded on by looking at Through My Eyes by Ruby Bridges. Bridges’s story and reflections discuss the extreme segregation of races that took place in the United States. Ruby and Gaby both have to deal with discrimination based on their culture. Through My Eyes is also a look into the past that is important to discuss so students can continue make strides away from discrimination and xenophobia. Seedfolks or How Tia Lola Came to Visit Stay could be used to wrap up a unit against xenophobia because they both discuss acceptance and cooperation. It is important to also include books and stories that show ways to combat the fears and struggles faced by people who feel the cruelty of others.
Madaus, G., & Russell, M. (2010). Paradoxes of High-Stakes Testing. Journal of Education, 190, 21-28.
Menken, A., Ashman, H., & Walt Disney Pictures. (1991). Walt Disney Pictures presents Beauty and the beast. Milwaukee, WI: H. Leonard Pub. Corp.
Payne, C. (1984). Multicultural Education and Racism in American Schools. Theory Into Practice, 23(2), 124-131. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/1476441
Xenophobia [Def. 1]. (n.d.). Dictionary.com, Retrieved April 10, 2017, from http://www.dictionary.com/browse/xenophobia?s=t