Crisp Leaves, Eager Kids
I’ve had some marvelous school visits on the first week of my book tour. I feel fortunate (and honored) to talk to more than 250 students at five schools in New England. These students are fortunate to attend some excellent schools: public, private, and public/charter.
The brilliant yellow, orange, and crimson leaves of New England’s fall foliage display greeted me in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, and New Hampshire. Paul and I drove around and enjoyed the sites in remarkably warm, sunny weather. We visited Suffield, the town where my fictional story takes place, and located the grave of Yung Wing, the brilliant man who dreamed up the bold idea of petitioning the Chinese imperial government to send a large group of students to the United States in the 1870s.
A lively group of K-12 teachers, all fascinated by East Asia, greeted me at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, for a Saturday workshop, where I started my tour. As the featured speaker, I gave them more details about my research and what I have learned from the Chinese Educational Mission. We talked about the clash of cultures faced by many students in America who are foreign-born or else children of immigrants, and the ties that bind local communities in New England to the Chinese boys who once lived here with American families. The workshop was organized by Anne Prescott, director of Five College Center for East Asian Studies in collaboration with the National Consortium for Teaching about Asia (NCTA).
During the week of October 16 through 20, I spoke at five schools in five days and really enjoyed interacting with the students.
At Charter Oak International Academy in West Hartford, Connecticut, I spoke to all 66 students in fifth grade in their beautiful new auditorium. At this magnet elementary school, all students study both Spanish and Chinese every day. Wish I had had this opportunity as a child! They asked some great questions.
At Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School in Hadley, Massachusetts, I spoke to all 46 of the eighth grade students. This amazing charter school, now K-12, offers full immersion in Chinese for all elementary school students and then continuing instruction in both Chinese and English through middle and high school. Few of the students have Chinese heritage, so most learn from scratch the natural way, starting in kindergarten. What vision the founders had, setting up this school in 2007 with only kindergarten and first grades.
At Maria Hastings Elementary School in Lexington, Massachusetts, all 99 fifth graders gathered in the gym, sitting on the floor. I was energized by their curiosity and enthusiasm, and I was impressed by the diversity of faces and backgrounds—and by their many lively suggestions for new stories I could write. I encouraged them to use their great imaginations to write their own stories.
At Noble and Greenough School in Dedham, Massachusetts, I gave my talk five times to Chinese classes of different levels, from beginners to advanced. The three students in Chinese 6 speak so fluently that I was able to talk to them entirely in Mandarin for their full class period. They understood everything! Impressive. The two Chinese teachers took me to lunch in the “Castle,” a beautiful structure unique to their school, a prestigious private school for grades 7 through 12. Most of those who study Chinese get a chance to visit China and stay in homes and attend schools for a few days in Beijing.
At Joseph Estabrook Elementary School in Lexington, Massachusetts, I talked to all fifth graders, over 100 of them, in their beautiful new building. Several of the students were from China, and they were especially excited to hear my story of Chinese students in history. Many of their parents bought my book for their kids. They asked great questions, too!
In addition, to these school visits, I did two author talks open to the public:
In Hartford, I gave a talk at the Connecticut Historical Society. This building is in the heart of the Asylum Hill neighborhood of Hartford, just a few blocks from where the Chinese Educational Mission building once stood. Many original documents are in the archives here, attracting researchers from all over the world. Once a Chinese TV crew showed up, unannounced, and asked them to see their old letters and diaries and silk Chinese clothing from early students. The current special exhibit features the history of the American School for the Deaf, founded in 1817. That school was once the “asylum” that proudly gave its name to Asylum Hill.
In Lexington, I spoke at Cary Memorial Library, a beautiful old building that has been tastefully renovated for modern use. The librarians there had publicized my talk widely, including a two-page article in Lexington’s Colonial Times. Lexington has a large Chinese and Chinese-American population, and many of them came to my talk. One of them knew more about the Chinese Education Mission than I did! And several Asian parents spoke up about their experiences with the generation gap between immigrant parents and U.S.-born children—how hard it is to truly understand.
So many teachers and parents and students have been warm and welcoming to me during my book tour. It’s been a thrill for me.