Celebrating Asian American Women

After beginning with a few moments of traditional Chinese stretching exercises, World Languages teacher Lin Wang’s Chinese III class was energized and ready for another opportunity to celebrate Women’s History Month, a multi-lesson theme for these Class 10 students.

“I am focused on effectively incorporating racial justice and equity into our Upper School Chinese curriculum,” said Mr. Wang, who also teaches Middle School Chinese. “This involves selecting the right topic and using the vocabulary, structures and idiomatic expressions in planning, instruction and assessment.”

Following a successful mini-unit on the women’s rights pioneers Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the students turned their attention to notable Asian American women.

For this assignment, the small group of Class 10 students, who joined the class from home during “B” week, were tasked with researching an outstanding Asian American individual of their choosing, identifying her key accomplishments and preparing a succinct and thoughtful presentation.

Mr. Wang encouraged his students to deliver their talks in confident voices and to take their time pronouncing less-familiar vocabulary words. The class was conducted almost entirely in Mandarin.

Sharing their screens, the students took turns delivering lively presentations, which all happened to highlight people in the arts. Each showed a variety of slides with biographical information about their subjects written in both simplified Mandarin characters and in pinyin, a conversion system that spells out words phonetically using Roman letters. For example, 每天, which means “every day” in English, translates to “měitiān” in pinyin.

The first student to go elaborated on the film and television careers of two noted Asian American actresses, Constance Wu and Jennette McCurdy, incorporating images of the two women into her slides. “我两个都很喜欢 /Wo liang ge dou hen xi huan,” she declared (I like them both.)

Other students lauded the actress and author Shay Mitchell, the singer and actress Olivia Rodrigo, the actress Brenda Song, and the dancer and choreographer Bailey Sok. Quick videos of Ms. Rodrigo and Ms. Bok performing further enhanced the presentations. After each turn, the class members had the chance to ask questions and to offer positive feedback before applauding from their Zoom boxes.

As their impressive efforts illustrated, these Class 10 students, who have been studying the language for several years, are highly skilled linguists, able to communicate effectively in both written and spoken Mandarin.

This project also offered the opportunity to explore racial justice by casting a light on the innumerable contributions of Asian American women to the arts and many other industries. As a follow-up to this animated and informative class, Mr. Wang asked his students to reflect on their experiences. Here are their comments:

“I really enjoyed working on this project because it allowed me to learn more about influential Asian American women. The women’s rights lessons in class connected because this project focused on Asian Americans, specifically women. This was especially significant because of the rise of hate crimes against Asians recently. The project helped celebrate Asian women during a time when many are being hated for their identities.”

“I liked the presentations about famous Asian Americans. I learned a lot from doing my project about a dancer. I learned how to say multiple dance styles in Chinese and much more. Overall, this ‘minimester’ was so much fun. I learned so much, and I hope to use these new words in the future.”

“I really enjoyed this project because I was able to do a comparison between Constance Wu and Jennette McCurdy. It was really interesting to research these two actresses.”

“I learned more about influential female Asian figures in America and got to explore more about my own favorite celebrity. I was able to practice constructing sentences with both the new and old vocabulary and became more comfortable with my pronunciation and fluency. Especially in a time where discriminatory behavior towards the Asian community has worsened, it is important to highlight Asian people who have transformed the industry and shaped American art and culture. I also appreciate being able to talk to my classmates about someone who shares a similar ethnic background as myself.”