During my first year of teaching, I was searching for resources to teach Khmer New Year in April for my students. I had to go through a lot of digging just to find two coloring pages - one was a Cambodian map with facts about the country and another was a Thai dancer which was the closest thing that I could find to a Khmer dancer.
I had my students color those pages, read the "The Cambodian Dancer," and shared about what my family went through during the time of the Khmer Rouge and why Khmer New Year is special to us. A few days later, I asked my mom to come in to talk to the students about how they fish and dance in Cambodia.
Growing up, I felt like my Khmer identity was invisible at school because it was not common to see peers and teachers with my background, and we surely did not learn about Cambodia in our American classrooms. That is why, as a teacher, I am passionate to tell my students about my family's culture, language, and history.
So far in my teaching career, I have had three students who are Khmer and I love seeing their faces light up every time I mention something about Cambodia or being Khmer. One student was so excited to share about his family during the war and went home to tell his Ma all about what he learned that day. I hope that my growing love and curiosity towards my culture will motivate my students to do the same, as many of them are experiencing the challenges I have faced as a child trying to balance having an Asian and American identity.
Learning about other different types of people is also highly beneficial for my non-Khmer students to develop empathy and understanding towards others. The world does not just revolve around the perspectives of white people.
Now, you may not be Khmer or a person of color, but you should still teach about our cultures, ESPECIALLY the cultures of the students in your classroom. In this blog section, I will create and curate resources to help you, from educators to families, teach about the Khmer community and other people of color communities because representation matters.
Feel free to comment any thoughts or questions, or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am happy to collaborate with you!
Jasmine - or as my students call me... Ms. Nguon