Little Things Matter #11, Japanese Incarceration: A Call to Action | Haiyun Lu | 4 Min Read

An Asian Woman’s Guide to Advocacy

April 4, 2023

My intermediate-level classes are in the last stretch of deep learning about Japanese incarceration during WWII.  Over the past six weeks, my students and I have gone through a quiet transformation from just being curious and inquisitive learners to passionate activists.  Especially for me, a soft-spoken and laid-back Chinese American woman who often avoids direct confrontation, I have learned so much about how I can take my own advocacy work to the next level.  

When we first launched into this topic, what students knew was very superficial.  Since I’m a relatively new immigrant from China, even though I have educated myself quite a lot through literary research, I lack direct experience and firsthand knowledge on the topic of incarceration.  Concerned that I might misinform or mislead my students, the first thing I did was to reach out to the experts in the community: Dr. Natasha Sugiyama from a local university, and Mr. Ron Kuramoto, the president of the Japanese American Citizenship League—Wisconsin Chapel.  

Through them, I fact-checked all my resources, built up a wealth of materials, and created a robust unit based on the experiential learning model.  Students are guided by their own inquiries and engaged in direct experience, reflection, analysis, and experimentation.  

Over the course of our expedition, we read numerous online and printed materials.  We watched several documentaries, listened to literary excerpts, conversed with guest experts and a state legislator, and engaged in an ongoing dialogue with families and friends.  Now, as students are finishing up their “Suitcase Project”, a 3-D model of Japanese American life prior, during, and after the incarceration, and an advocacy video of “Why Learn Asian American History?”  I’d love to share a few takeaways from the entire experience.  I sincerely hope it can be informative for other Asian Americans to break through the “quiet Asians” myth and emerge collectively visible in this society.  

  1.  If a topic is important to you, dive in.

Knowledge propels actions, informs activism efforts, and prevents unintended harm.  The deeper knowledge fuses our passion, and synchronizes our emotional response with heartfelt drive.  The more you know, the more you want to do something about it.

  1. Utilize experts.

We are limited by our own experience.  We don’t know what we don’t know.  However, there are plenty of experts in related fields that both teachers and…

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Haiyun Lu

Haiyun Lu, a Chinese language teacher at the University School of Milwaukee (WI), is also a writer, blogger, trainer, curriculum designer, meditator, and Co-Founder at Ignite Chinese.