On: Teaching Asian American Literature

I could have avoided it.

I think.

Maybe I could have finessed my way around the oddity of teaching Asian American Literature to a student population that’s 95% Hispanic and Latino, many of whom did not choose to be placed in the course.


I like to think I could have.

I went the other way, though, and took the awkwardness of the situation head on. Same as I ever have, really. I’m not old enough yet to know better, so all my students ever get is honesty — they know, before too long, that I’m open about my screwups, honest and critical in my feedback, and truthful about damn near everything else.

Plus, they say it’s the best policy, or something.

“You’re probably wondering why you’re in this class,” I guessed, met by a smattering of slight nods and a room still cautiously attentive. “Most of you aren’t Asian, after all.”

Continue reading

Harry Potter and the Curse of Nostalgia

While Harry Potter is a fantastic, engrossing, reading experience for anyone of any age, I’ve always believed that it was most special for kids who were growing up with Harry — the kids who were adolescent around the time he got his letter to Hogwarts, and verging on adulthood by the time he left it. That generation — my generation — got the special magic of living things out alongside him, our imaginations inhaling each glimpse into his world, our hearts seeing him as an intimate friend, despite never seeing him at all.

Close to a decade later, and that feeling of childish wonder — or perhaps more specifically, the want of that feeling — still hasn’t really left us. Any of us.

Nostalgia is a funny thing, though. It’s a tricky, an impossible thing, actually, if you look at it closely enough — because even if the thing itself, a movie, a book, a tv series, is recreated to perfection, the conditions for that feeling still can’t be. Ever, actually.  Try as we might, we’ve all grown away from that moment when we were simply in love with the adventure itself, reading whole-heartedly, and without question.  Continue reading

#The52Project (18) – “Write some fanfiction.”

It is 10 years after the Battle of Hogwarts. How is Harry dealing with PTSD?

The wizarding world had found a decade’s peace after Voldemort’s demise, but all was not yet well, for one more battle remained. It was one Harry had long put off fighting, against opponents long gone and even longer unseen.

In the immediate rebuilding, Harry had been too distracted to notice what was happening – there was the pressing need to bury his loved ones and classmates, to compose his own testimony before the Ministry of Magic, the sound of fluttering that meant yet another demand, another request, another interview. These were tasks that emptied his life’s hourglasses, items on a to-do list that magically, miraculously never got any shorter. In the spare moments he could manage, Harry often found himself cursing that he had smashed the Minstry’s stock of Time-Turners, knowing he could surely use one now.

This – cursing himself  – was something he found himself doing increasingly often. Continue reading

[no title necessary]

If you’ve known me for any substantial amount of time, it’s pretty obvious that writing is a big part of who I am.

Before I even had my first crush or inkling of romance — Traci Liang, sixth grade — I remember loving writing — sitting with my dad, whose native tongue is Vietnamese, working on a Pokemon-inspired universe that would have surely failed any intellectual property lawsuit;  penning out my general confusion in angsty, adolescent poetry, and at one point, there was even something about a food themed superhero with a nacho cheese blaster for an arm. Continue reading

I wrote a poem. It is about my relationship with literacy. Read it if you like.

i know the narrative of my language quite well

how could i forget, when
all it takes is but a moment of listening
to notice
the tussle of tongues straining to be heard
every time i open my mouth at all;
a fatal four-way between
my studied, polished English and my laid-back slang
the lingoes of my interests and the language that lives, almost literally
in my blood
these traceable lineages that line my every syllable
each a Belt holder for moments, but rarely longer

what’s funny is
in all the times i’ve told it and all the times i’ve written and recounted,
“why i want to be an English teacher”; “why i started writing”
this tale, openly on display, now well worn by my vocal cords
in it always make sure to mention Ms. Barrett from 11th grade,
Stine and Rowling and Sajak and White and Applegate,
those childhood mainstays,
forgetting to mention my other teacher:
simply living at all

now, i’d rather not force the metaphor of life and lesson
but it’s still true
child me plucked up new words from magic: the gathering card backs
read from, through endless screens of video game text and dialogue
helped, where possible, to decode American legalese for my parents
(how ironic that they now return the favor)
finally finding himself home, entangled in an interweb from far too young an age

the discourse of this course
was raw and often profane
in a dialect too inappropriate for children under 13
left to navigate it myself, with no scaffolds and no guides
i slowly crawl my way toward understanding,
learning to mimick the proper codes of protoc(l)ol in the communities
until I could hide in plain sight, sharing all of me at the same time

still do, now
my voice
on topics I know both too much and too little about
sh@ring anything and nothing all at once
to strangers who feel closer to me and know more about me than people I know in real life
I connect
I converse
and my language

Fresh Off The Boat; Into Your TV

Even with the slight unease that the show’s title invokes in some, Fresh off the Boat arrived in undeniable force to the American airwaves this week. Close to eight million people tuned in and got a glimpse at an honest to God novelty in mainstream media: a distinctly Asian American show, the first one of its kind in over 20 years. This is where we insert jokes about how a black man got into the White House before we got another half hour block allotted to us by a major television network…and then another one about Detox still hasn’t dropped. Continue reading

A Santa Monica Status Update

For a little over two months, it’s been all silent on the blog front. Sorry.

It wasn’t for a lack of time. Wasn’t for a lack of topic, either. The longest summer of my life, the move, and the whole graduate school thing should have been ample opportunity to fill this virtual space with entries on end. 

The words just didn’t come. I’m trying again now.

Most of the stuff about my teaching, I’ve talked about before; it’s a topic I’ve given a presentation on, even, albeit in crude, rambly form. The only difference is that I finally took the time to write it down, which is, and will always be my preferred way to express anything at length. I mean, I haven’t actually written about my teaching for a while.

Okay, fine. I write about my teaching on most days in anecdote form, sprinkling those stories, some funny and some not, all over your respective news feeds. What I mean is, it’s been some time since I’ve used my writing — actually writing and delving into depth, in a space like this one — to think through my teaching on a macro level.

But hey. That’s my life in Santa Monica so far. You asked.


Growth is an inherently funny thing. Just like any set of statistics, the narrative and conclusion drawn depends quite a bit where you decide to start tracking.

That word’s been on my mind a lot lately. Probably due largely to that whole you’re going to be a real teacher next fall thing lurking and all.

If I measured from the moment I decided I was going to be a teacher, then it would be exponential almost by default, seeing as I haven’t made someone cry since those poorly conducted individual personal statement meetings my senior year…of high school. Thank god.

So, there is the question: where to begin? Is it more appropriate to begin with my first real class — a summer of College Writing N2 — which is, amazingly enough, now four years ago? My first semester of tutoring under my mentor Luisa Giulianetti, who’s celebrating her birthday today?

Or from an even smaller slice of time — the one year period in I met, befriended, and began working with my best friend on this planet and the person who is destined to become my life-long partner in this profession?

You can see the problem, right? There are almost too many ways to slice or frame this winding, spiraling narrative of me, my literacy, and my teaching, all of which have been tangled since childhood, wrapped up in each other like some word-woven yin-yang.

The funny thing is, even with the complexity of all of this acknowledged, I’m not entirely sure I’ve grown all that much. I looked back at a journal entry of mine recently, which was supposed to cover my educational philosophy back in sophomore year, and these three rules — copied verbatim here — sat at the heart of it all.

  1. Teach your students to challenge everything; and challenge them. (This comment wasn’t meant then so much in the context of big issues like race, sexuality, gender, or class before. but is now. Those are things I want at least bring to the forefront for everyone who learns from me, even if they aren’t so easily solved.)
  2. Be completely committed to your students’ success. (Or as I usually say now — if a student doesn’t get to where they want to go, it won’t be because I didn’t try hard enough.)
  3. Teach not only for the kids who love your subject, but the ones who hate it, too.

Other beliefs that have woven their way into my teaching since this time, of course: the aforementioned and burgeoning passion to use English as a way into social justice issues, and my interest in leveraging technology as a stepping stone for the modern literate.

But for the most part, I feel very much like the same guy. I do a few things better and a few things differently. Not much else. Same old dork, still amid intense negotiations on how to dress and carry himself, largely unrefined in manner. (The Nikes aren’t going, by the way. Begrudgingly, the hats will, though.)

Meeting the members of my cohort over the last week — a great bunch of people, by the way; this is not at all on them, but me — has only accelerated my self-consciousness (distress?) about having stagnated. Each of them seems so polished and accomplished, with numerous experiences overseas or at this organization, or that one. Almost all of them are older than me, too, making me one of a few proverbial children in the bunch. Never mind that I know so little about being a surviving adult that I may as well actually be one — a few weeks ago was the first time I had ever gone to the bank to get a roll of quarters. I had no idea that was even a thing.

It’s true that this summer has taught me to feel comfortable being myself in the classroom, but the context of that room is now changing dramatically going forward, making that lesson increasingly difficult to hang onto.

Even my title of reference won’t stay the same — today at lunch, I wondered with some colleagues about what we were going to call ourselves. Both of them, being women, felt totally comfortable being referred to by their students as miss. The male equivalent of that, mister, makes me feel like I’m in trouble or something.

(Mister, I have a question.)

(Could you go over that again, Mister?)


All this has been a lot to juggle, and it’s something I know I’ll keep juggling as I enter into the actual student-teaching/observation phase of this program. But, in the interest of being honest — it’s on my damn blog header, after all — this erratic sense of comfort about my teaching is what has marked this first month in Santa Monica. It’ll probably continue, and this will continue to be the place where I try helplessly to work it all out.

To be fair, there’ve been days when I felt completely capable too, like the opening lecture earlier this week given on critical pedagogy, tracing the progression from Dewey to Friere to Duncan-Andrade. Nothing there felt unfamiliar, or out of grasp, since they were such integral parts of my Berkeley life. Today was another one of those days — I drove alone on the 10 for over an hour to get to my school site (Humanitas Academy of Art and Technology in East LA), which seems like such a small step, but actually ends up being a huge victory just for someone who seems eternally at odds with automobiles.

I guess that’s it so far. More stories will come when everything really gets under way the next week, and I’m going to try to regularly jot things down in some form or another. Creative work…that’s to be seen.

To make a long story short: it’s just a lot of familiar worries right now. Maybe that’s why I never feel like I’ve gotten anywhere. I’m always worried. Same as I ever was.

Other tidbits:

  • Driving KB to campus on Wednesday and not having her scream in fear for her life even once. #progress
  • Promising to cook a meal for myself — with KB and Alyse’s coaching me up — at least once a week. Salmon’s up next on Sunday.
  • Getting to know Alyse — who I didn’t before moving here — and really liking her. She’s probably not going to see this, thankfully. But I do like her.
  • A good chunk of our weeknights as an apartment are spent plopping down in front of the DVR together. Key and Peele, Modern Family, and the occasional Say Yes to the Dress are popular in our household. We’re secretly like, 85.
  • There’ve been people who have genuinely surprised me with their love and care since I left home. If they happen to be reading, and they should know I’m referring to them, thank you very much. For more than you know.