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UPrep Seventh Graders Connect the Past and the Present

In the final quarter of the year, the 7th grade English curriculum integrates literature, history, and social justice concerns in a powerful fashion.

Carl Faucher, English Teacher and Department Head

In the final quarter of the year, the 7th grade English curriculum integrates literature, history, and social justice concerns in a powerful fashion. We spend about a month on the great Seattle-based historical fiction novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. Set in the International District in 1942, the novel chronicles the improbable relationship between a Chinese boy and a Japanese girl in the midst of the Japanese Internment.

As the project gets underway, we first lay the necessary groundwork for our shared reading of the book. Students looked at commercial maps developed by mortgage loan companies from the 1930s, read through restrictive covenants of the time, and researched U.S. Census demographic data in their neighborhoods to better understand how racial boundaries determined almost a century ago continue to persist in 2019. 

Here are a few of the reflections written by students after that research:

“My neighborhood has changed over the years. One of the biggest changes has been race. Where I live is in the blue/green area. This means there weren’t many races other than white who lived here. In the 1950s there were less than 50 African Americans living in my area. As of today there are less than 400 African Americans living in my ‘Most Desirable’ area. This shows that because of the redline map, there weren’t many minorities living in my neighborhood and as a result of history, there still isn’t very much diversity." Kyan R.

"When Seattle was racially segregated, my neighborhood and most of the neighborhoods around it had the rule that “No person other than one of the white race shall be permitted to occupy any portion of any lot...”. I assume that that segregation is the reason that even today, my neighborhood is still overwhelmingly white: according to the U.S. Census fact finder, there are 46,206 people living in my zip code, and 81.7% of them are white." Suzannah C.

“My neighborhood has changed over the years. It is a very diverse community with more Asians than whites and almost as many African Americans as whites. My neighborhood which is blue is next to a “hazardous zone” and it is racially diverse because hazardous zone people have moved on to the blue zone. They could not live before in the blue zone because of Restrictive Covenants. Plus, they could not get a loan inside any blue or green zones because those were “reserved” for whites only." Duncan B.

Exploring the redline maps and restrictive covenants of the time, along with current US Census data about our respective neighborhoods, was a great way of getting students to see themselves in an historical context. And, knowing the history gets them more proximate to the characters and events in the book. I think this kind of awareness is critical if we are to move social justice from conversation to meaningful action. As student Owen D. puts it: "I learned a lot about institutional racism and segregation. They still exist today, but they are more subtle. After our research, I'll be more aware of how neighborhoods are different and why that is." His classmate Nalin T. agrees, adding, "When you are aware, it gives you a chance to make a change."

 



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