Wisconsin: At Muskego “teach-in,” parents & teachers protest the exclusion of a novel about U.S. internment camps for Japanese people during WWII; push for inclusion, transparency

Ron Kuramoto speaks at the July 18, 2022 “teach-in” outside the Muskego-Norway School Board meeting. Photo by Robert Chappell.

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By Robert Chappell – Jul 19, 2022

About 100 people turned out in Muskego Monday evening outside the Muskego-Norway School Board meeting to protest the exclusion of a novel about Japanese American incarceration from the English curriculum.

“We are here to stand together and to let the board know that we will not stand for racism, exclusion, erasure, or whitewashing of our history,” said Anne Zielke, a parent who brought the issue to light. “We are here to stand up against the overtly racist anti-diversity fervor that got some of our current board members elected and feeds decisions like these.”

At issue is the novel When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuko. Published in 2002, it tells the story of American citizens from California forced to abandon their lives to be falsely incarcerated during the Second World War.

Ron Kuramoto, president of the Wisconsin Chapter of the Japanese American Citizens Alliance, said the novel accurately reflects the experience of many of his family members who were incarcerated.

“I’m hearing that the school board here in Muskego is telling you not to read this book. And I’m telling you that there are some good reasons to read it,” he said. “This is a fictional work. This is not untrue.”

Kabby Hong speaks at the July 18, 2022 teach-in. Photo by Robert Chappell.

Board members have not spoken publicly about the decision, but Zielke’s detailed notes of the June 13 meeting indicate the committee did not give clear reasons for the book’s not being approved, other than one member not liking it and another saying it had been chosen because it was “diverse.”

Zielke told other media outlets that in subsequent conversations, board members said the book didn’t provide “balance” or “the American perspective.”

Kabby Hong, the 2022 Wisconsin Teacher of the Year, a member of the Asian American Pacific Islander Coalition of Wisconsin, and an English teacher at Verona High School, said the district should trust its teachers, who chose the book for an advanced English class meant to prepare students for Advanced Placement Literature….

MJ Wong Engel speaks at the July 18, 2022 Muskego “teach in.” Photo by Robert Chappell.
Muskego alumni Maya Liebel and Raimi Liebel at the July 18, 2022 teach-in. Photo by Robert Chappell.

AAPI Coalition of Wisconsin

AAPI Coalition of Wisconsin

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