Getting in Touch with Our Roots

By Pallavi Rudraraju, VA Middle School Program Coordinator

Photos Courtesy of Pallavi Rudraraju


As you may know, AALEAD’s theme for this 2017-2018 school year is “AALEAD Origins: Rooted in Our Past, Creating Our Future.” Our goal is to learn about our past and use it to create the future we want to see in the world. For the past few weeks in the VA MS After School Program, we have been focusing on just that!


In January, VA Middle School youth learned about:

  • The Model Minority Myth, and how it harms Asian Americans and other racial minorities
  • Black and South Asian solidarity from America to the Indian subcontinent
  • Diversity in an American context
  • The reasons for and against Safe Spaces
  • Blasian Narratives, and the complex identities of mixed race Black & Asian young people

During Martin Luther King Jr. Weekend, Virginia MS and HS made valentines for Foster Care to Success, an organization dedicated to helping foster youth succeed even after they have left the foster care system. The week after, VA MS youth learned more about Martin Luther King Jr. as well as Black and South Asian Solidarity in the Indian Independence and Civil Rights movements.

As a program coordinator, my favorite moments came in our structured reflection time. Upon learning about the Model Minority Myth, youth gave voice to unique struggles they face as Asian Americans, especially the feelings of displacement and Othering that come with people constantly asking them where they are “from” or attributing their physical or personal characteristics to their “Asianness.” Following our workshop on diversity in America, youth shared their thoughts on the lack of POC representation in Congress and the electorate. Many youth believed that although our political representation needs much improvement, it has grown by leaps and bounds since the 1960’s, which is worth celebrating.

Above, youth discussed the positive elements of safe spaces: “You have a community of people you trust and agree with,” “you can express your feelings” “be positive don’t hurt other people feeling no matter what respect [their] culture” and “be gucci”! On the flip side, youth also discussed a possible downside of safe spaces: “If you stay in your safe space, then you’ll get used to nobody judging you…you won’t be emotionally prepared for the criticism you’ll receive and it could lead to depression, etc.”

My hopes going into these lessons was that youth would be able to learn about foundations of structural and institutional racism, and to build their vocabulary with words like “Model Minority Myth,” “solidarity,” and “diversity” so they might communicate better about issues close to their heart. I feel that through learning about the roots of Asian American and Black immigration, history, and Civil Rights, youth have been able to get in touch with their roots and discover what it means to be a person of color in this country.

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