Hell Yeah to Dual Language Programs


Over a hot pot lunch my partner and I started talking about the dual language program at our kid’s school. Our kid is in elementary school and is fortunate to be an immersion program where he spends half the day learning math and science in Chinese and the second half of the day learning English language arts and social studies in English.

What made the conversation interesting is he hadn’t thought about who the program is designed for. At our elementary school two-thirds of the students are students of color, including a large percentage who are Latinx and Asian and the English language learner (ELL) rate is 46%.

While cooking our hot pot I explained the benefits of the program and how it really works to ensure students of color, especially students who don’t speak English as a home or first language, benefit from spending half of the day in their home language students. Children who are native Chinese or Spanish (the two languages at our school) are at a language advantage for half the day. In their immersion classrooms, they are maintaining their home language and able to be fluent, versus the typical school model where ELL students are expected to assimilate and learn in English.

As a parent, I see the advantages of these programs for student learning. Having a quality dual language program is giving my kid a way to connect to his racial and ethnic background. While he’s part Chinese American the Chinese language is lost in our family, we don’t speak Chinese. Learning Chinese at school gives him the ability to connect with his cultural background and explain nuances of his self-identity that only language can give him. The dual language program has also helped to ensure my kid is seeing teachers of color in his classrooms. Had he been in a traditional school I couldn’t count on this since the current teaching workforce in Washington state is 92% white. All of this is important to ensuring he and other students of color are seen and understood in their schools.

As we continued to cook our  lunch my partner admitted he thought dual language programs were for middle class families who wanted their children to have the advantage of learning a second language. While there is an element of truth there, dual language programs should first cater to and center their offerings to students of color and English language learners, this is racial equity. Placing dual language programs in predominately English speaking neighborhoods or allowing programs to gentrify away from their target languages is fakequity.

Why Learn Another Language

Language is a tool that can connect or divide us. When I’m facilitating I try to be conscious of the languages represented in the room and to remind myself and others we as English speakers/readers hold a lot of power and there may be times when we need to slow down to allow for full participation from everyone. In the US (and many other countries) we center our work and lives around the English language. As an interesting exercise, I recently sent out an invitation for policymakers to join me at a gathering with Chinese immigrant families. In the invitation, I added a note reminding attendees to request English interpretation since the families speak Chinese and we want to center the work on their needs first. Interestingly none of the policymakers requested an interpreter, meaning they all speak Cantonese or they assume an interpreter will be provided. Assuming interpretation is provided centers their comfort with English even though Cantonese is the dominant language of the families participating.

Learning another language is an important way to break down barriers and to practice empathy. Thinking about my kid’s education I can see him working to learn and understand another culture and language. I also saw a huge sense of pride when he taught me how to introduce myself in Mandarin for a work meeting. He took great care to correct my tones and praise me when I got it right. I hope his classmates who are Chinese language speakers are feeling the same sense of pride when they are in a position of being ‘the expert’ in the classroom.

I still remember the moment when I realized my kid’s dual language education was sticking. We were watching the movie The Martian, there is a brief scene where the actors are speaking in Chinese. The kid, who was probably about six at the time, said “I know what they are saying,” and explained the scene. It wasn’t a word for word translation but accurate interpretation. In that moment, his dual language education created a new dynamic that connected him to the world in a new way a language filter was removed. I look forward to having more moments like that but with real people, not just movies, because connecting and understanding are at the core of racial equity work. I also look forward to watching the shift away from monolingualism and creating a new norm where multilingualism is valued. As several friends have said “Hell yeah” to dual language programs and “If I could make it so, every kid in Seattle would be in an immersion program,” these are the new norms and values we need.


Currently our partners at OneAmerica are advocating and pushing a bill in the Washington legislature, HB1445/SB5529, to expand dual language access. Please join their efforts by contacting your legislators to let them know why language access and dual language programs are important to you. Please also think about what this means for our Native and Indigenous languages. Policies such as these can support language and cultural preservation and evolution which in turn fights cultural genocide. Supporting dual language programs also benefits  our Deaf and Blind colleagues and neighbors who speak and read American Sign Language and Braille. Take a moment to write to your elected officials to push for dual language programs. MomsRising is collecting stories about multilingualism, hurry and share your story before this link closes.

Additional Resources:

By Erin Okuno, with help from Heidi Schillinger and Roxana Norouzi

Is Your Equity Work All White?

This week has felt like a fire drill or actually a real fire. In Washington state, a DACA (deferred action for childhood arrivals) young adult was detained by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement). This is a big deal because while many of us knew eventually DACA protection would be tested, we are now realizing an even newer reality. This and other ICE raids across the country have left many immigrants and refugee communities shaken and worried about their lives and welfare. A colleague shared an undocumented family told him they make sure only one parent is at home at a time in case there is an ICE raid, this way their children will be able to stay with the other parent should anything happen. Another colleague told me the youth she works with are stressed out and worried about losing their parents. In the nonprofit world, we’ve been scrambling to meet community needs. Today at my coalition’s monthly meeting I had a request to save time to talk about what is happening with the ICE raids and what we are doing as a community to get information out. Other partners are working to get legal information and Know Your Rights trainings out to families. All this reacting is leaving little time to do other important work, but we must continue to get the rest of our work right so we can make progress and continue to build on the assets of our rich communities of color, especially our immigrant and refugee communities.

Equity Teams Silosgreen-balls

Last week I was in a meeting listening to people talk about a rubric (fancy term for a grading scale) on how to grade their racial equity teams. The teams wanted to see a chart where they could measure themselves and to benchmark progress. I sighed, racial equity work isn’t like getting a grade and saying “we’re passing! High fives!” Racial equity work is more about the process and journey and actions not about giving ourselves a passing grade, there is always more to learn.

I sat there and half-heartedly listened to the white organizers chatter on about how some teams were doing well and how others were stuck. Midway through the conversation I realized they were having the wrong conversation. They were talking about equity in a whiteness-bubble. These equity teams will never achieve transformational changes because it is mostly white people talking about “equity;” I put equity in quotations because I don’t think they were even talking about racial equity since race was hardly named, it was implied but rarely called out. Their conversation about race was centering whiteness and talking about what they saw as important. Allowing whiteness to pervade conversations about race is a form of power, a power to control the narrative and the stories that are told which often frames the solutions we seek.

The organization is mostly white, approximately 90% white. Listening to white people try to undo racism by only talking to white people, is like watching a silent movie expecting to learn spoken language. Their conversation about race was centering whiteness and talking about what they saw as important. Allowing whiteness to pervade conversations about race is a form of power, a power to control the narrative and the stories and the solutions we seek.

The other problem with majority white groups working on racial equity is it allows white people to default to their bad behaviors. At a different meeting, I sat in on a table session with a majority white group looking at data. The table dynamics could have been scripted: white dude got all defensive and tried to justify and blame people, white woman said “I try really hard to smile extra big to the Spanish speaking family. I could say ‘hola’ in the morning, but then I can’t say anything else,” the lone person of color had to fight to be heard at the table. Defaulting to these usual behaviors doesn’t help to undo racism, in fact it plays into racism’s hand. Diversifying people in the room and working to level power dynamics holds white people accountable; white people shouldn’t hoard emotional attention, they are accountable to people of color and balancing the group dynamics will force this accountability.

Stop Talking to Only White People

We need to force open tables and invite in people of color. People of color have different lived experiences and truths than white people. As people of color we have amazing assets and stories that need to be acknowledged and welcomed in. Our assets will help to provide the solutions to the problems faced by communities of color. Our stories will frame the way we see the problems and how we go about solving them. As I wrote about in the introduction about the current political climate many of our nonprofits working with communities of color are scrambling to serve our communities, we do this because we have to and because we hear from people who are being impacted by the presidential actions. If we only listened to white people we wouldn’t be able to be an asset and ally to our communities. Now we need white people to get out of their white bubbles and to start listening and sharing the burden of undoing racism.

Listen to Our Stories

About a year ago, an African American parent told me “I can’t sing your song until I learned my own.” This phrase is so true in racial equity work, while we must open up and listen to each, white people we need you to learn your own stories and songs. I need you to learn about race and what race means to you. Step back and listen to people without breaking down, without getting defensive or tone-policing us. When you listen and then stop to process on your own, you’ll realize the gift of stories and richness we as people of color are offering you.

Posted by Erin Okuno

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Anger=Love, Build Relationships

Valentine’s Day is coming up next week, a day dedicated to thinking about love, happier things, and candy. You may think we’ll blog about love, nah that’s for a traditional blog. This is the fakequity blog so instead we’ll write about something different, anger and resentment. Anger is a form of love, if we didn’t care about something or someone we wouldn’t get angry or resentful. My friend and I have a text conversation about anger and resentment. It started about two days ago, and we’re still going back and forth. One of the things we’ve realized is anger comes fast and dissipates. On the other hand resentment lingers, can grow, and is tied to feeling wronged with an element of righteous indignation. I’m a very flawed human and I resent a lot of things. Such as I resent evening meetings where I’m invited to be a community representative but don’t have a real role other than to sit there absorb information and legitimize someone else’s process. I sit through these meetings wondering why I’m there and resenting giving up an evening binge watching the newest season of Voltron on Netflix.

Talking about race and racial equity can easily get emotional. In my text conversation with my friend we went back and forth about whether emotions such as anger and resentment are a choice or if they are instinctual and impulsive. I am working with the belief we can control our emotions and make choices about going to a place of anger and resentment, or the opposite love and understanding.


picture by bodhijesitsnatchesthepeach

As part of my own racial equity work I’m trying to be more conscious of allowing time to unpack emotions. It is hard to calmly and rationally talk about race when someone arrogantly says “I went to the training on white fragility and I wasn’t as defensive as the other guy. I’m all good on this race thing.” Those types of comments make me want to jump across the table or throw my pen at them, instead I sometimes sit there and stew and let anger build. I’m envisioning Yoda from Star Wars scolding me saying something like “Anger, To fear, leads, Fear of white supremacy taking over.” I know I should ascertain where the belief is coming from, but this takes a lot of emotional energy. Sometimes I’ll just write the person off and avoid them for life adding the experience to my list of resentments.

Avoiding people and the topic of race isn’t a healthy formula for creating urgency and change. Taking the time to talk and build relationships that further cross-racial connections is necessary to undoing anger and exploring how to undo personal and systemic racism.

To fight anger and resentment around race we need to spend time building stronger relationships with people of color. Relationships force us to confront things about ourselves and others. Getting to know people who are different then ourselves allows us to check our biases, tendencies, and forces us to expand our viewpoints. Tonight, in a meeting a white colleague said “I’m a white person, as a white person I had to realize I had blinders on. I couldn’t learn about race from other white people, I had to open the view from my blinders not put on another pair of glasses. I had to expand my blinders outside of just white people.” It is easy to resent and get angry at people we don’t know, but when we know people we’re more willing to build tolerance, love, and we change our beliefs.

Do Not Tone Police

Please do not use your relationships to tone-police people’s anger. Tone policing is when we criticize how a message is delivered or downplay the emotion (often anger) versus acknowledging the experience or feelings expressed are true for the person expressing it. It is sometimes ‘correcting’ someone else, or dismissing their anger or experience ‘it couldn’t be that bad…,’ or saying something like “I’m a white person and I experienced the same…”

Author and Buddhist scholar and writer Thich Nhat Hanh explains the concept this way in this quote from the book Anger:

“If your house is on fire, the most urgent thing to do is to go back and try to put out the fire, not to run after the person you believe to be the arsonist. If you run after the person you suspect has burned your house, your house will burn down while you are chasing him or her. That is not wise. You must go back and put out the fire. So when you are angry, if you continue to interact with or argue with the other person, if you try to punish her, you are acting exactly like someone who runs after the arsonist while everything goes up in flames.”

In a mutually reinforcing relationship we listen to each other and when something doesn’t feel right we ask more questions to build a deeper relationship. We can take the time to introduce to share stories and to remind people they don’t have to solve problems alone.

Love, because we can’t be a total downer

This Valentine’s day I hope you challenge yourself to build a new relationship with someone outside of your comfort area. Anger and resentment form more quickly when we don’t understand each other.

For me I have a lot of really great relationships with people of color. These relationships feed me and make me feel whole. But I am realizing a lot of the relationships I have are with English speaking people. As a monolingual English speaker, I allow this language privilege to prevail in my relationships. I need to invest some time and energy into figuring out how to get out of my English only rut. For a start I better practice learning how to introduce myself in Cantonese for a parent meeting with some Chinese families in a few weeks. Learning how to say hello and my name is the least I can do to prepare and to break out of my English only bubble.

Post by Erin

Rage in the Right Direction

Before we start I want to highlight a project. While I make fun of hashtags all the time I started one #CongressNeedsLoveLetters. Take a moment and send a postcard to a Representative or Senator and tell them what you care about. We need to be vocal,  practice resistance, and show gratitude. More information here.


“Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light. Though wise men at their end know dark is right, Because their words had forked no lightning they. Do not go gentle into that good night.” Dylan Thomas

This poem was shared at the memorial service for Al Sugiyama, a beloved Asian American activist. The speaker reminded us Al did not go gently, he fought and raged against racism and cancer until his end. In this current political climate we must continue to rage in the right direction.



picture credit: AJ Dimarucot

It’s only been a week since our last blog post and so much has changed. Last Friday, 27 January 2017, after we posted our blog post, President Trump signed an executive order banning people from seven primarily Muslim countries. Suddenly people who were legally allowed in the United States were no longer allowed to enter the country, despite having legal clearance to travel and in some cases reside in the United States. It is noted the ban is supposed to “keep America safe,” but in reality the policy is targeting people and prejudice against Muslims. It is akin to Japanese American citizens being rounded up and put into prison camps (a.k.a. internment camps) during WW II; once was legal became illegal because of a political action playing off of fear and intolerances. The ban has affected many, and has made many people afraid of what might happen next. Protests happened all over the country. Immediately after the ban was announced a protest started at Sea-Tac Airport, a larger rally on Sunday evening as well, and around Seattle smaller acts of resistance are sprouting up.

Slow Down

We need to slow down and ask is our rage directed in the right places or are we doing things to feel like we’re doing something to do something, versus fighting for rights, to rage against injustice, and to bring visibility to hidden problems.

Earlier this week I was at a school for a meeting about race and equity. One of the agenda items was a grassroots welcome rally movement at schools where parents and students would hold welcoming signs, the principal had reservations. On the surface, it sounds like a feel-good-nothing-bad can happen sort of event, but the cringes by parents of color were telling. Crowds of people holding signs doesn’t always send a welcoming signal to people of color, and immigrant families who may not be literate or fluent in English may not understand what the rallying is about, worse they may feel targeted or ‘othered’ by the rally. A Facebook event page grew and had comments for the event and a vocal minority saying, whoa slow down. The tone policing from the do-gooders to the people saying slow down was classic, telling, and obnoxious.

Parents of color asked online and in person why do we need signs saying #WeAreAllImmigrants, We Welcome ALL Families, We Love Diversity, and I Love my Immigrant Neighbors. The messages of showing up in unity between white people and others sends a silencing message. This quote from the blog Black Girl Dangerous explains why: “‘unity’ pushes a violent doctrine of sameness. It allows for individuals in positions of relative dominance to set agendas that more marginalized and disenfranchised individuals and communities are dogmatically expected to follow.”

I’m cringing at these messages because they are coming from a dominant white perspective of wanting to affirm people of color. It is white people saying “I see you, person of color/refugee, and I like you.” I don’t want my kids to learn to seek out white people affirmation. I want my kids to authentically feel like they belong to a community, not through some artificial event where white people are in control and want to be seen as doing good. I also want my kids of color to earn validation, not be given it because of misplaced energy and rage against President Trump’s asinine executive order.

I get the need to rage, the feeling is palpable. The messages of do something, resist, and fight are out there. To our white allies please realize raging in the wrong way comes at a greater cost to communities of color than you may realize. As people of color we spend a lot of time nicely or pointedly explaining how damaging or hurtful these “I want to be a good white person” actions and messages are. People of color also spend a lot of time dealing with white anger, tears, fragility, or defensiveness when white people feel hurt because people of color are rejecting their efforts. This isn’t a good use of time or energy. This is energy we could invest into communities of color, rather than dealing with white-do-good emotions. It must be exhausting for white people trying to uphold the illusion of being seen as good and then expending emotional energy resisting people saying no thank you to the illusion. I see the exhaustion and relentlessness white people feel around fighting to be seen as doing good, if you need permission to stop please give it to yourself. And please stop fighting people of color who are telling you to listen.

White people, please stop doing things to say you did something or to post to social media, stop doing things to affirm people of color, stop for a moment and collect yourselves. If you want to be helpful stop and learn about race. Stop and invest time in building relationships outside of your bubbles.


One way you can constructively rage is to learn. We all need to continue learning about race and how it impacts our lives and upholds the current systems and led to the craziness we’re in now. Instead of placing your rage in doing potentially more harmful things, put that energy into a constructive activity:

  • Become conscious of who you are listening to, break out of white echo-chambers.
  • Take in media from people of color.
  • Spend authentic time with communities of color – don’t creep and try to buddy up to a person of color on the bus (that’s just weird).
  • Make a long-term commitment to volunteering with a poc embedded organization, research carefully so you’re not joining an org just serving pocs. Please do not parachute in and then leave or think you’ll change and save people.
  • Focus energy on undoing systemic and institutional racism, for an easy activity take part in the #CongressNeedsLoveLetters campaign mentioned up top.
  • Listen to people of color when they push back it is for a reason and seek to understand those reasons.

Gentleness and rage, we’ll need both to survive the next few years.

Posted by Erin Okuno