My Family History
I am a proud Asian-American mom. I grew up in an Asian household. Both my parents were born in Vietnam. My mom was born next to an ox in the barn that her family owned. My father was a product of the Vietnam war, never knowing who his father was.
Education wasn’t–and still isn’t–mandatory in Vietnam. Parents have to pay for their children to go to school. If parents don’t make enough to send their kids to school, then they simply don’t get an education. When my mom was in the eighth grade, she had to drop out of school to work. As one of five children (one of whom died of yellow fever at eight years old), they needed financial support.
My dad dropped out of school at a younger age due to his skin tone. Everybody at that time knew if you had darker skin, you were conceived during the Vietnam War and didn’t have a father. This became a huge problem in Vietnam, because there were many Asians in Vietnam with darker skin. It was obvious they had an American father even though they didn’t always know who he was. The amount of bullying from other students got to him, and he left school. He went to work at any job he could get. He sought out food carts or restaurants and asked to wash their dishes or go get fresh fish for them.
Education wasn’t a priority for them; it was a privilege.
Coming to America
My Father’s Story
When my father was twenty years old, the United States started a program for children like him. Vietnamese children with African-American fathers who were soldiers during the Vietnam War could come to America. Before they could do that, though, they had to fly to the Philippines to learn basic English. He spent months in the Philippines.
My Mother’s Story
My mother’s father was a refugee. Groups of Vietnamese people would cram into the bottom of a ship (for weeks) from Vietnam to America to find a better life for their families. That’s what my grandfather felt like he had to do for his family. When he got his green card and was able to bring his family in Vietnam to America, my mother was more than eager to come. What he didn’t know was that his wife had remarried because she hadn’t heard from him in so long. My mother, along with her grandmother (my grandfather’s mother), made the journey to America to live with a father that she hadn’t seen in years.
A New Family
Soon after arriving in America, my mom met my dad. A year later, they welcomed a beautiful baby girl (me!). Less than thirteen months after that, they welcomed my brother. My parents grew up so different from us. They would tell us when we were younger–and even now sometimes–that they work so hard because they never wanted us to have the life they did. College was expected of my brother and me because they had sacrificed so much to get here. We couldn’t let them down.
When we grew up, we didn’t have books lying around. My parents didn’t read us a bedtime story every night or help us with our homework. They were simply unaware of the importance of literature and their role in our education. Growing up, we only spoke Vietnamese at home.
Vietnamese is my first language, and I am privileged enough to still be fluent in it. As a child, I just assumed that everybody spoke Vietnamese in America. The day I started K-4, I was mortified to learn no one understood me. My teachers constantly encouraged my parents to only speak English at home so that I could learn English.
Unfortunately, we live in a country that doesn’t always celebrate differences. Instead of celebrating that I spoke a different language, I was told to abandon my own voice to find a new one. I am thankful my parents didn’t listen. They continued to speak Vietnamese at home. I believe (and I’m sure they would back me up on this theory) a huge reason they did that was so I could be a translator for doctor visits, bill payments, and teacher-parent conferences. I get the honor of being their bilingual guardian angel, which continues to this day.
During this quarantine, I’ve had the opportunity to clean my son’s room. While organizing his closet, I quickly realized something: my son has so many books. I am talking baskets full of books that I have collected from friends, family, school, or just bought because it was simply great literature.
Claude has more books than my four year old self could ever imagine. Reading books together has become a normal activity for my son and me. I owe it all to the education I received.
I had the privilege of being in a program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham that explained the importance of concept of print at a young age. Claude is about to be three, and he is fully aware of his concept of print. He is reading and enjoying independent reading time every day. I know better, so I do better.
This post isn’t intended to tear anyone down. It is simply to encourage those (such as educators and parents) who are already aware of literacy’s importance to continue spreading the word in a positive way. This post is also for those who don’t quite understand why reading everyday is important. (Trust me, it’s okay). I honestly believe that many–if not all–parents want their kids to be successful. It’s just that sometimes parents aren’t aware of ways they can support their children.
Parent engagement is huge. I get the opportunity now to share with my family and friends the importance of books (especially in a child’s home language)! Claude and I read through books we have created together in Vietnamese. And yes, those are our favorite books.
The Importance of Reading
I mentioned the phrase “concept of print” earlier. This is a huge focus when educating in pre-k and kindergarten because it includes the fundamentals of reading. Concept of print is being aware of how print operates.
Concept of print includes:
- being able to identify the book cover,
- where to start reading on a page,
- where to go once they’ve finished reading a page, etc.
If children are reading the book upside down, it would be very hard to read the story. These are just basic skills that need to be established.
How can you support your children and make sure they master these skills? It’s as simple as reading to your children and modeling behavior for them.
Putting It Into Practice
When Claude and I read a story together, I like to show him that the front cover is where he can find the title of the book, then I read him the title. I also point out the author and the illustrator.
The pictures hold so much value in children’s literature. Use the pictures to help your children learn to read! Before you read the story, ask your child what the picture is telling him. You could even model it first by asking:
- On this page, I see that Pete the Cat doesn’t look happy. I wonder why he isn’t happy?
- Why do you think he’s not happy? Let your child answer and even use picture clues.
- Let’s read to find out!
This doesn’t have to be on every page, but interacting with stories creates great discussion and reading skills they can use when they read independently. As we start reading, I point to the words. One-to-one correspondence allows kids to see that each word on the page has a purpose and is important to the story.
At the end of the story, I love to include something that allows for children to write. You could ask your child what was their favorite part of the story (and why), or write about a time they felt a feeling the character is feeling.
Reiterating What They’ve Learned
Claude is almost three, so his writing consists mostly of drawings and the letter “C” (which still makes him a writer). After he is finished writing, I ask him the question again. Write down what your child says next to their drawing, because this shows that words have a purpose. Acknowledge their hard work, even if they draw a circle and say that it is Pete the Cat eating his sandwich.
After that, I hang up his work because it’s his hard work. He gets to take ownership of it. This is specific to a younger age, but this can be adjusted to any age group. Just from reading one story, your child gets the opportunity to learn so much.
Starting New Reading Traditions
Like I said before, my parents weren’t aware of the importance of reading or how they could support us in learning to read. There are many parents who don’t know, either. Hopefully this blog post shows parents how they can play a key role in their child’s education and what they can do to support their children.
My intention is to lift up parents and encourage involvement. So make sure you share the message that reading changes lives and keep on reading!