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Latin Asians: Ethnicity, Race, and Immigration in Latin America

Author: Alisha Davis


Constitution High School

Year: 2022

Seminar: Asian Americans in U.S. Schools

Grade Level: 9-12

Keywords: Culture, ethnicity, High School, Identity, Latino, panethnicity, project based learning, race, social studies education

School Subject(s): Social Studies

In this unit, students will reflect on their established beliefs on the belonging of non-European descended people within the Latin American community. Through the lens of race, ethnicity, and immigration, students will examine the experiences of East, South, and Southeast Asian immigrants and diaspora in Latin American countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, Mexico, and Peru. Through access to primary sources, documentaries, and artwork, students will be able to practice their critical thinking, evaluation, analysis, and research skills throughout the unit. Students will also have opportunities to participate in student-led discussions, create artwork that reflects the intersection of their identities, and engage with their peers in order to challenge limited views of belonging in the Latin American community. The latter activity will be reflected during an engagement campaign where students can plan advisory activities, create hallway posters, and use social media in order to inform their classmates during Hispanic Heritage Month.

Download Unit: Davis-Alisha.pdf

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Full Unit Text
Unit Content

Problem Statement

School District of Philadelphia students don’t often receive instruction on the nuances and complexity of race and ethnicity. Very narrow teachings of these two terms lead students to believe that people from certain countries and regions will only look one specific way. They don’t realize that the intersection of indigenous, European, African, and Asian cultures created a culture where these ethnic and racial groups integrated, intermarried, and created the future generations that we see today.

Due to this lack of knowledge, I often hear my students state that Afro-Latinos aren’t as “black” as African Americans who have been living in the United States for generations. They can’t imagine that there are thriving Asian communities of Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, and Korean descent throughout Latin America. I can attest to this because I used to be in their shoes as a former district student myself. During my first year of college in Boston, I was shocked to meet a student from Mexico who was tall, had very fair skin, and red hair. She was also wealthy and spoke fluent, unaccented English. All of my life, I had no idea that Mexicans could look like her. Whatever I was learning from the media certainly didn’t help challenge such stereotypes. It turns out that I hadn’t learned about the colonial and immigration history of Mexico and others throughout Latin America. Eventually, I would understand that the Spanish who moved to the New World with their families formed the elite upper class in these countries. Some intermixed with the indigenous peoples, as well. Meanwhile, Africans and Asians were brought to the Americans to serve as the enslaved and indentured workers on plantations. Due to my experience after graduating from the top school in Philadelphia, I’m confident that our schools’ students are harboring the same incorrect assumptions.

Not only is it important for students to learn about the nuances of Latinidad, they should also be more engaged in conversations about people of Asian descent in the Americas. The Asian Americans in US Education seminar calls attention to the causes of violence against Asian Americans that has increased since the arrival of the COVID-19 virus in late 2019/early 2020. The fact that Asians are constantly seen as outsiders, have been exploited in order to weaken pro-labor movements, or have been uplifted in order to bolster anti-black sentiment and stereotypes have caused backlash from the public instead of allyship and action. Throughout our schools, fragile relationships exist between black and Asian youth populations. These attitudes could change if students learn about the intertwined histories of enslaved Africans and indentured Asians in Latin America and the Caribbean. They often worked together, side by side, and fought for workers’ rights during the 19th and 20th centuries.

Students can gain understanding of these events through the analysis and evaluation of primary sources, such as photographs, interviews, government documents, historical footage, and original artwork. By the end of the unit, world history students will engage the school community by serving as education ambassadors on Latin Asian history. They’ll create diversity awareness posters, take over the school social media account, and visit advisories to inform their peers during Hispanic Heritage Month at the beginning of the year and at the end of the year, during Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage month, in May.

Asian Americans in U.S. Education Seminar

This Asian Americans in U.S. Education seminar encourages participants to delve into the sociology of Asian communities in the United States. The seminar covers topics such as Asian American educational achievement, the Model Minority Myth, and contemporary profiles of Asian Americans.

However, while all of this was very interesting, I decided to give my attention to issues that could be integrated into my world history curriculum, specifically Asian immigration to the Americas, racial classification, and panethnic identity. Early lectures reminded me of a book that I had recently read, The Making of Asia America by Erika Lee, and how Asian immigration shaped countries to the south of the United States as well. To start, Mexican and Filipino cultures integrated long ago when the first Filipinos arrived as sailors on Spanish galleons from the Philippines. Conditions were so horrible on the ships that many Filipinos chose to forego their return pay and remained in Mexico instead. Due to their darker skin tone and shared language and religion, Filipino men easily integrated into Mexican towns, married Mexican women, and started families of their own. Another ethnic group, the Chinese, make up the largest Asian community in Latin America to date. Chinese men looking for work chose to, or were deceived into, agricultural labor in countries such as Cuba and Mexico. Today, travelers throughout Latin American countries will find it difficult to miss Chifa, or Latin American-Chinese, restaurants in urban centers from Ecuador to Argentina.

While I came into the seminar with some prior knowledge, the idea for my curriculum unit didn’t establish itself until the week three module on racial classification and panethnic identity. I explored the academic work of sociologists, such as Dina Okamoto, Yen Le Espiritu, and Michael Omi, who argue that Asian immigrants’ racial and ethnic identities shift over time. Though Latin Asians hail from various countries and distinct ethnicities within those countries, they simply came to be known as chinos upon arrival in Latin America. Though chino translates directly to “Chinese” in Spanish, it doesn’t necessarily mean that in regard to Latin Asian communities. The earliest chinos were actually Filipino immigrants and even former Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori, the son of Japanese immigrants, is referred to as a chino.

In her book, Redefining Race : Asian American Panethnicity and Shifting Ethnic Boundaries, Dina Okamoto (2014) explains how Asian immigrants of various nationalities had disparate interests and identities when they first arrived in the United States. For this reason, there was no unified front amongst these national groups. However, over time, as Asian communities endured discrimination and segregation within US society, they begin to develop similar interests and goals, leading to panethnic organization and solidarity for change (p. 5). This phenomena supports the social constructionist theory on ethnicity, that what makes a specific racial or ethnic group can be negotiated and renegotiated over time. Okamoto also argues that panethnicity isn’t just a product of assimilation but can also be the vehicle by which understanding of group membership expands. This is extremely relevant to my research on Latin Asians due to the existence of thousands of Latinos who are, in fact, of Asian descent. While Asians certainly see themselves as Argentinian, Mexican, or Peruvian, they don’t ignore the fact that they are Korean, Filipino, or Japanese at the same time.

Research by Espiritu and Omi (2000), on the other hand, focuses on the inadvertent consequences of the pan-Asian identity for certain ethnic groups. In the United States, the census and other tracking of racial minorities were originally meant to aid in their discrimination by the hands of the government. Over time, Asian Americans were able to flip the script and repurpose the US census with the intention of fighting against discrimination and ensuring that they receive vital resources. According to Espiritu and Omi, some ethnic groups began to struggle against the yoke of the general pan-ethnic “Asian-American” identity in order to gain more resources for their specific ethnic group. Though the Asian American-Pacific Islander (AAPI) category increases Asian Americans’ overall visibility within US society and politics, some ethnic groups feel that they are ignored as a part of this racial monolith.

The first example cited involves Filipinos and their desire to be removed altogether from the classification of AAPI in government documents and programs during the 1960s and 1970s. First, Filipinos argued that they did not share the same physical or cultural characteristics as Americans of East Asian descent. They consider themselves to be “brown” in appearance, rather than “yellow”. This makes a lot of sense, as Filipino culture was overwhelmingly influenced by its colonization by the Spanish, making it hard for them to connect with East Asian culture (p. 18-19). Rudy P. Guevarra Jr.’s research in Filipinos in Nueva Espana, clarifies the Filipino perspective.  Due to 250 years of Spanish galleon trade between the Philippines and Mexico, Filipino immigration to Mexico led to Filipino culture’s integration with Mexican culture, including language, trade, and cultural and religious practices. Due to the fact that life in Mexico was far superior to their forced and dangerous servitude on galleons, or even in the Philippines, thousands of Filipino men chose to desert and remain in the Americas. This all relates to the topic of changing understanding of race and ethnicity, as diverse Asian groups were lumped together as one, from the perspective of local populations. In addition, local laws and customs didn’t prohibit the intermarrying and mixed-race children produced from those unions, as was witnessed in the United States. This enabled groups, such as the Filipinos, to eventually be absorbed into the local population completely. Second, unlike the Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans, Filipinos haven’t experienced the same level of academic or economic achievement as part of the so-called “Model Minority”. However, since they’re classified under the umbrella of AAPI, the US Government often assumes that they have had the same experiences and therefore, bars them from certain resources and benefits that many Filipinos need (p. 22).

Another example is from Native Hawaiians who established a campaign to reclassify themselves as Native Americans, rather than as Pacific Islanders. Similar to Filipinos, Native Hawaiians were being penalized during the university admissions process due to their assumed place as part of the Model Minority. Their specific experience as Native Hawaiians proved that this was far from the truth, due to their lower academic and economic achievement rates. Since Native Hawaiians suffered under the hand of American colonization similarly to Native Alaskans and American Indian tribes, they requested to be categorized as such (p. 26). Due to objections from the latter groups, Native Hawaiians were not reclassified as Native Americans, but rather, were separated from Asians and given their own classification as Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (p. 32).

The idea of racial characterization and ethnic identity transforming over time gave me the idea to research the same dynamic, but within Latin Asian communities. As I started my research, I realized that it was much easier to find sources that gathered data on communities of East Asian descent. I struggled to find relevant sources on Filipino immigrant communities in Latin American countries, such as Mexico. After an initial meeting with me and a review of my prospectus, Professor Goyette provided me with several sources to support my research on those seemingly elusive Latin Filipino communities. The first source, Evelyn Hu-DeHart and Kathleen Lopez’s Asian Diasporas in Latin America and the Caribbean (2008) provides a thorough historical summary of Asian immigration to the Americas south of the United States. How each ethnic group served their adoptive country differed; while the Dominican Republic encouraged Chinese and Japanese immigration to support its “nation building”, Cuba often used Chinese indentured servants to plant and harvest its agricultural crops (p. 18). Hu-DeHart and Lopez’s work also stands out because it highlights the intersection of the African and Asian experience in Latin America at the hands of wealthy European elites. Today, Asians, who managed to maintain their Asian identity, claim both their Asianness and Latinidad equally. Shifting understandings of ethnicity and race enable groups to identify with their ancestry and family history at the same time.

In order to help us personally connect with these ideas, Professor Goyette asked us to reflect on and then share our ethnic identity with each other. While everyone else in the class seems to identify with symbolic identity, second generation Americans with close familial connections to Europe or solely “American” with figurative connections to European traditions, my ethnic identity is different. I identify ethnically as an African-American, with active membership amongst the distinct African-American community of the United States. Many of my customs and traditions hail back to the southern United States, specifically South Carolina. However, as a fourth generation Philadelphian, those practices are better adapted to the northern United States now. These concepts and the ethnicity exercise helped me confirm my topic for my curriculum unit.

Content Objectives

At the end of this unit, I want my students to walk away with two main understandings: 1) Race and ethnicity are both social constructs and change over time and 2) members of certain ethnic and racial groups may manipulate the perceptions of their groups in order to meet their own needs. This is demonstrated through the existence of Latin Asians, which requires our understanding of Latinidad to expand. Okamoto, Espiritu, and Omi highlighted the fact that groups, such as the Native Hawaiians and Filipinos, may reject membership within a panethnic group for one reason and then adopt it again when they need more political power and widespread attention for a cause.

The best way to teach students about race and ethnicity is by tapping into their prior knowledge through lived experiences and utilizing the experiences of members of the Latin Asian community. First, students will provide their own explanations of what being of Latin descent means. This will be a great opportunity for the teacher to see where stereotypes and overgeneralization exist within their students’ understanding of race and ethnicity. These lessons are built on the foundation provided by Okamoto, Espiritu, and Omi, where students will see how many Asian immigrants were able to integrate into Latin American culture, but also maintain their own separate ethnic organizations.

Throughout my teaching career, I’ve learned that students respond best to project-based learning; while I provide them with the research and inquiry skills, they decide from where to collect sources and how to approach their subject. Discussions that are student-led and student-centered enable them to synthesize information by combining prior knowledge with the new information that they’re learning in the classroom. I have written research and discussion questions based on modified concepts from Okamoto, Espiritu, and Omi’s academic articles.

Critical thinking, self-management, and sustained independent research skills are absolutely vital, especially for 11th and 12th grade students who are a year or two away from graduating high school and entering into university or the workforce. Additionally, in a world that is increasingly dependent on the existence of social media such as Tiktok, Instagram, and Twitter, young adults must be able to differentiate between fact and misinformation. During this time in their development, adolescents and young adults are looking for belonging and their own sense of identity, separate from that of their parents and immediate family. Project based learning enables them to develop their own voices and engage each other in meaningful dialogue around topics that will enrich the school community. This dialogue will occur in the form of in-class student-led discussions and through service as educational ambassadors to their peers in order to educate them on the nuance of ethnicity and race in Latin America. The goal of this curriculum unit is to strengthen these necessary skills and give students the opportunity to challenge their, and those of the greater school community, previous assumptions of what Latinidad means and represents.

Essential Questions:

  1. What does it mean to “look” Latino or Latina?
  2. Do people of Asian descent have the right to claim “Latino” or “Latina” as their identity?
  3. How can we reimagine ethnicity within Latin America and throughout the world?

Big Ideas:

  • Continuity and Change – The genetic roots of Filipinos, Koreans, Japanese, and Chinese are integrated within the ever evolving fabric of Latin American society.
  • Interpretation – How do people within and without Latin communities define what it means to be Latino?
  • Comparison – How do the experiences of Latin Asians compare with those of Afro-Latinos, indigenous Americans, and mestizos during the same time period?
  • Ethnicity is based on a person’s membership in a group in regard to a common history or culture. It can shift and be recreated over time.

Based on my authentic performance task for this curriculum unit, my student learning objectives are below:

  1. Students will be able to construct knowledgeable claims and acknowledge counter arguments through the evaluation of reliable and relevant perspectives from Latin Asian communities.
  2. Students will be able to critique misinformed claims and evidence supporting the teaching that certain races, such as Americans of Asian descent, cannot be Latino or are less Asian than non-Latinos.
  3. Students will be able to lead and engage in student-led discussions by citing strong and thorough evidence to support their claims.
  4. Students will be able to engage with their school community, through social media, advisory visits, and creative advertising, in order to take action against Asian exclusion within general perceptions of Latinidad.

Enduring Understandings:

  • During the mid-16th century, the earliest Asian arrivals to Latin America came in the form of trading ship sailors, servants to the Spanish, and enslaved peoples.
  • Some Asian immigrant groups, such as Filipinos, quickly assimilated into the culture of their adopted countries, such as Mexico.
  • Other Asian immigrant groups, such as the Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans settled further south and established communities within Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, and Peru.

Knowledge and Skills:

  • The concepts of ethnicity and race are social constructs and, therefore, a society’s understanding of how a person qualifies for a specific race or ethnicity evolves over time.
  • Filipino sailors, in particular, chose to abandon their jobs on Spanish Galleons due to dangerous and unsanitary working conditions. Due to shared Spanish fluency, similar skin tone, and cultural exchange through the Galleon trade, Filipino men and Mexican women easily intermarried and had children. Filipino culture continues to influence Mexican culture today.
  • East Asians, such as the Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans melded their native cultures with the cultures of their adopted countries in Latin America. Their restaurants created hybrid East Asian-Latin American dishes and East Asians were elected to public office.
  • Due to the continued arrival of Asians since the mid-16th century, their culture and genes have integrated within Latin America to create a separate ethnic group called “Latin Asians.”

Transfer Skills:

  • Identify point of view, perspective and point out bias in primary and secondary sources.
  • Use historical sources to interpret and analyze the impact of the actions and decisions of various individuals and groups.
  • Apply lessons of the past to current and future events and issues and to other historical eras.
  • Develop an argument about an issue in history or the present.

Teaching Strategies

Throughout the Unit:

In order for this curriculum unit to overlap with Hispanic Heritage Month from September through October, it will be the first that I teach for the academic year. I will use this time to either introduce or reinforce their research skills in preparation for their deep dive into the culture and existence of Latin Asians.

  • Knowledge: Primary vs. Secondary Sources – students will learn the perspective and the context that both primary and secondary sources contribute to their research. They will also learn the importance of collecting various sources from the same time period, in case one source can’t provide all of the information or nuance that they need. In my experience, I’ve noticed that students incorrectly believe that primary sources are better than secondary sources. It is important that teachers debunk this belief before students get started with research in this unit. While it is true that various primary sources are necessary in order to acknowledge multiple perspectives from a specific historical event or time, primary sources aren’t always accurate or simply represent anecdotal evidence that doesn’t align with actual data or trends from that time. Secondary sources are a vital part of research in order to see the event with hindsight and to assess how historical understanding has evolved over time.
  • Skill: Source Evaluation – Students will adopt the Origin, Purpose, Content, Value, and Limitations (OPCVL) method for evaluating their sources. Identifying the origin and purpose of a primary or secondary source enables the researcher to determine whether it’s both reliable and relevant in order to be used for research purposes. Sources should come from experts and reliable witnesses on a topic who can be trusted to accurately explain or tell a story. For content, students should understand what the message of the source is and what information will help their research progress. Since no source is perfect, students must analyze the source for its value and limitation as well. They are expected to pinpoint how the source will be useful and/or what information is missing. Sources with limitations have to be supplemented with additional, primary and secondary, sources in order to fill in the holes. Bias within an account doesn’t count as a limitation.
  • Skill: Critical Thinking and Writing – Students will write a thorough and coherent argument, using their sources and evaluation of those sources as support. Before starting this unit, you may need to review with students how to write responses that are supported with evidence. Provide examples, sentence starters, and transition words/phrases to help with this process.
  • Skill: Student-Centered Discussions – Constitution High School has adopted and modified a specific group discussion format called the Harkness Model. In a traditional Harkness discussion, students sit around a round table with prepared questions and evidence from a recently read book, article, video, etc. Students engage and lead conversation with the teacher present in order to track discussion and occasionally redirect students. In my classroom, students are expected to come having previously researched the discussion topic but I also embed one of the source materials into a presentation to show at the beginning of discussion. This video, photo, quote, etc. is meant to start the discussion but students must maintain it with their own questions and responses to their peers. Students are assessed on their participation, leadership, engagement, reference to source materials, and critical thinking.

Formative assessments for knowledge and skills:

  • Assess students on their knowledge of primary and secondary sources through a simple Google Forms quiz. The quiz can be constructed from a mix of multiple choice and free response questions. Students will also be assessed on the vocabulary for the unit to ensure that they will be able to engage in nuanced discussion around race, ethnicity, and panethnicity.
  • Assessments on their knowledge of OPCVL are more holistic. Students will use sources from the unit to assess their relevance and reliability using the required criteria (origin, purpose, content, value, limitation).
  • Critical thinking and writing will be assessed in the form of a short free response. Students will respond to the same writing prompt by making an argument and then supporting that argument with relevant and reliable evidence provided by the teacher. This is a great opportunity to integrate higher-order thinking questions that require students to examine a perspective critically (analyze), make a judgment on the quality or validity of an idea (evaluate), or change an idea to make it better (create).

During the unit:

(Days 1 and 2)

Activating background knowledge and student-centered discussion – Introduce the unit by both activating students’ prior knowledge and providing an opportunity for student discussion, guided by student questions, around what it means to “look” Latino or Latina and whether or not people of Asian descent have the right to claim Latinidad as their ethnic identity. Students will engage in the discussion solely based on their assumptions of what being Latino looks like. On the first day, provide students with question stems that integrate both lower and higher order thinking along with modeling of expectations. Give students time to write no less than three questions in preparation for the discussion. Have students trade their questions with a classmate in order to review and approve them for the discussion. Develop a basic checklist for assessing the questions. Any questions that require only yes or no answers should not be approved for the discussion.

Formative assessment for Discussion – Maintain a chart with student names in order to track how often they contribute to discussion and the relevance of their contributions. Depending on the size of the class, expectations for how often a student contributes to discussion will vary. For example, a larger class may only expect students to share 2-3 times during discussion or may benefit from a fishbowl configuration, where only one half of the class speaks while the other takes notes, and then vice versa. Whereas a smaller class will function just fine with everyone in a circle and contributing as much as they like as long as they aren’t dominating the conversation. After the discussion, use a standardized rubric to determine numeric grades for the activity. Before the activity, students will create their own discussion questions with the support of question starters from the teacher. See the appendix C for the suggested rubric for this activity.

(Days 3 and 4)

Introduction to Key Terms – Before engaging students will sources from the unit, introduce the following vocabulary terms:

Ethnicity – belonging to a social group that has a common national or cultural tradition. This can change over time.

Panethnicity – the organization of separate ethnic communities, joined due to a common cause or goal.

Culture – the beliefs, traditions, behaviors, and values of a racial, religious, or social group

Race – belonging to a social group that is based on physical characteristics. Membership to a racial group is often considered to be unchangeable.

Latino – a person of Latin American origin or descent

Informal assessments – Give students an opportunity to use and become familiar with these terms through constructed scenarios and graphics. A matching activity is a great way to help students practice and assess them at the same time. After introducing the terms, provide students with a group of words and then ask them to work together to determine which doesn’t belong.

Example Question: Which of the following words doesn’t relate to race?

Word options: Asian, white, Black, indigenous, Latino

Example Answer: Latino because belonging to this community is not based on physical appearance.

Interacting with the sources – Suggested warm-up: Provide students with the opportunity to consider their own ethnic and racial identity, explain the difference between the two, and determine whether or not perceptions of their identity have changed over time. Review the difference between race and ethnicity as a follow-up to the previous lesson to ensure understanding before moving on to the sources.

Students will then engage with primary and secondary sources with the intention of challenging their established beliefs of Latinidad. Provide photographs, articles, and videos that depict Asians as members of Latin American society. Students must use the OPCVL method to analyze and evaluate each of their assigned sources.

  • Jigsaw – Assign students to work together in small groups to complete short, independent research on one of the following Latin Asian communities:
    • Chinese in Cuba and Mexico
    • Filipinos in Mexico
    • Japanese Peru and Brazil
    • Koreans in Brazil and Argentina

Students can take notes in their physical notebooks or through an online graphic organizer.

This research will give students the opportunity to understand the historical context of why each ethnic group immigrated to Latin America, review examples of anti-Asian discrimination in their adoptive countries, and identify aspects of their culture that have since melded within that of Latin America. By interacting with these sources, they have another chance to challenge the stereotypes that they previously believed about ethnicity and who can identify as Latin. After providing students with time to research their assigned ethnic community, reorganize the groups so that students can share their research with those who learned about a different ethnic group.

Formative assessments –

  • OPCVL analysis – students will work together in their first group to analyze each source provided for their ethnic group by using OPCVL.
  • Group participation evaluation – Teacher observation and peer feedback will determine what students will earn for their classwork grade.
  • Exit Ticket – Provide students with a prompt to respond to in the form of a free response question. Require students to utilize the information from their classwork to support their response.
(Day 5)

Documentaries – Show students excerpts from the following documentaries in order to provide them with the perspective of Latin Asians.

Before showing the documentary with students, introduce the following concepts to students:

  • Types of immigrants (voluntary, involuntary, and refugees)
  • Immigrants often move to where there is already an established community for their ethnic group.
  • Some groups, especially Koreans, do not stay in the first or second place that they arrive in after leaving their home country.
  • Push, pull, and decision (what convinced them to finally leave) factors.

Base your guided questions on the concepts that you’d previously introduced at the beginning of class.

Formative assessment

Assess students’ abilities to connect immigration concepts to the real-life experience of Latin Asians in the documentaries. Based on the facts, what type of immigrants were they and why did they, or their ancestors, leave their homelands for the Americas? What kind of opportunities did they find in Latin America?

(Day 6)

Artwork Analysis – Students will observe, make connections to, and discuss artwork created by renowned Latin Asian artists. How is the Latin Asian experience reflected in their artwork? To what extent do they see the intersection of Latin and Asian culture in each piece? See Appendix A 1-4 for images and the annotated bibliography for basic explanations of each piece of artwork.

Formative assessments

Harvard University’s School of Education developed Project Zero, which published various critical thinking classroom activities for use with primary and secondary students. This “See, Think, Make, Discuss” activity can be used to help students complete analysis on the featured artwork by Latin Asians. See Appendix D for the activity sheet.

Students can create their own artwork (drawing, painting, digital, multimedia, mixed media, etc.) to represent and tell a story of the intersection of their identities. These identities don’t necessarily have to be racial or ethnic, they can also represent regional and local identities.

(Days 7 and 8)

Student-centered discussion –

provide students with question stems that integrate both lower and higher order thinking along with modeling of expectations. Give students time to write no less than three questions in preparation for the discussion. Have students trade their questions with a classmate in order to review and approve them for the discussion. Develop a basic checklist for assessing the questions. Any questions that require only yes or no answers should not be approved for the discussion.returning to the same questions from the beginning of the unit, students will consider 1) What does it mean to “look” Latino or Latina (There is no way for a person to look or present as Latino) and 2) Do people of Asian descent have the right to claim “Latino” or “Latina” as their identity? (YES). The difference between the two discussions is that the latter will be based on students’ research and their informed opinions. Students will again construct questions for the discussion, this time using unit sources as support for their claims.

Formative Assessments –

  • Student participation – I will maintain a chart with student names in order to track how often they contribute to discussion and the relevance of their contributions. The difference from the first discussion is that students are expected to cite evidence from previous class periods. Depending on the size of the class, expectations for how often a student contributes to discussion will vary. After the discussion, I will use a standardized rubric to determine numeric grades for the activity. See Appendix C for the rubric.
  • Exit Ticket – At the end of the discussion, students will use their arguments and those of their classmates to officially respond to the first two of the unit’s essential questions.

After the unit: Student Engagement Campaign – Once students are comfortable with the concepts around ethnicity, race, and Latin Asian identity, they will organize a campaign in order to answer the final essential question and engage their peer community at school. Using Hispanic Heritage Month as the backdrop, students will answer the following question, “How can we reimagine ethnicity within Latin America and throughout the world?” The layout for the authentic performance task is below:

(Days 8-10)

Goal: To create awareness of the diversity within Latino communities for Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15 – October 15)

Role: Students will serve as student education ambassadors for Hispanic Heritage Month.

Audience: Students, faculty, and staff at your school

Situation: Many people harbor the misguided belief that a person can “look” Latino/a or that a person who is Latino/a can only have ancestors of indigenous and Spanish blood. As a result, people who exist outside of this fixed image, such as the descendants of Asian immigrants have to fight to defend their identities.

Proposal: Students will complete a media takeover of their school’s social media accounts, prepare four activities to complete during advisory class visits to inform their peers, create engaging posters for the hallways, and decorate a bulletin board. The teacher may also want to meet with administration and other staff (perhaps the Spanish teacher, for cross-curricular activities) to brainstorm other ways to encourage participation from the student body.

Classroom Activities

The three featured lesson plans below will, first, gauge students’ knowledge of what Latinidad is and what it looks like. They will use their established beliefs to determine who can claim Latinidad as a part of their identity. Second, they will assess the cultural and social contributions of Latin people of Asian descent within countries, such as Mexico, Cuba, Peru, and Argentina. Third, students will explore the causes and effects of anti-Asian discrimination in Latin America during the 20th century.

Featured Lesson #1:

Topic: Latin Asians: An Introduction

Essential Question(s):

What does it mean to “look” Latin?

Do people of Asian descent have the right to claim Latin as their identity?

Lesson Description:

Standard length of class: 60 minutes

Objective and Standard:

D4.3.9-12. Present adaptations of arguments and explanations that feature evocative ideas and perspectives on issues and topics to reach a range of audiences and venues outside the classroom using print and oral technologies (e.g., posters, essays, letters, debates, speeches, reports, and maps) and digital technologies (e.g., Internet, social media, and digital documentary).

Students will be able to…

Assess and critique their previously established beliefs on who is allowed to claim Latinidad as their identity through a whole class Harkness discussion.

10 minutes – Do Now – Through Google Classroom, task students with creating a collage based on Latin American culture. They can use Google Drawings or Google Slides and then attach their final product for the teacher to see.

5 mins – Think-Pair-Share – Students will be assigned to share their collage with their table partner or a classmate sitting close to them. Students will identify the similarities and differences between their collages and explain why they chose the images that they used.

30 mins – Harkness Discussion – Rearrange students into a circle so that they can participate in a Harkness discussion. Project one of the students’ collages that depicts a stereotypical view of Latinidad onto the board and then introduce the first question, “What does it mean to ‘look’ Latin?” Students who have a fixed definition of Latinidad will explain why that specific collage accurately depicts Latin culture.

Next, project a student’s collage that provides a more nuanced understanding of Latinidad that features a white-passing person or someone of African descent. If necessary, emphasize this argument with a video that addresses racial diversity amongst Latinos. Ask students to start to assess and critique their understanding based on the introduction of the second collage.

Third, introduce a teacher constructed collage that features people of all races within the context of Latinidad followed by a question, “Do people of Asian descent have the right to claim Latin as their identity? Why or why not?” Allow students time to discuss their views on this question while using the collages as the foundations for their arguments. Refrain from introducing the topic of Latin Asians until the next lesson.

10 mins – Exit Ticket – Students will write 4-5 sentences explaining 1) their personal belief as to who can or cannot be Latin and 2) to what extent that belief was challenged during the Harkness discussion.

5 mins – Quick Verbal Responses – I will ask a student or two to quickly share their response to the exit ticket before the bell rings.

Featured Lesson #2:

Topic: Latin Asians: Cultural, Economic, and Social Contributions to Latin America

Essential Question:

How can we reimagine ethnicity within Latin America and throughout the world?

Objective and Standard:

8.4.12.A Evaluate the role groups and individuals played in the social, political, cultural, and economic development throughout world history.

CC.8.5.11-12.I. Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources.

Students will be able to…

Evaluate the effect of Asian immigrants, such as the Chinese, Japanese, Filipinos, and Koreans on culture, the economy, and society throughout Latin America (restaurants, racial relations, and agriculture).

Lesson Description:

10 mins – Do Now – Provide students with the opportunity to consider their own identities based on their culture or physical features, explain the difference between the two, and determine whether or not perceptions of their identity have changed over time (5 mins).

Then ask students to pair up and share their responses with a partner. They should compare and contrast their perspectives on how their identity shapes who they are and how they see the world (5 mins).

10 mins – Intro to New Material – Review, or introduce, the difference between race and ethnicity as a follow-up to the previous lesson to ensure understanding before moving on to the sources.

Race: is a socially constructed classification system often based on physical characteristics (skin color, hair texture, eye shape, etc.)

Ethnicity: a shared culture or way of life that can include language, food, religion, style of dress, traditions, etc. (Latino/Hispanic, Jewish, Igbo, Navajo, Irish, etc.)

35 mins – Group Work – Students will be divided into different groups representing each ethnic group: Chinese, Japanese, Filipinos, and Korean. Focusing on that group, they’ll research the cultural, economic, and social influence of each group within Latin America and then type their findings into a brief Google Slides presentation (20 mins).

  • Chinese in Cuba or Mexico
  • Filipinos in Mexico
  • Japanese Peru or Brazil
  • Koreans in Brazil or Argentina

Rearrange students into new groups so that each peer is representing each of the four groups. Students now have the time to present their group’s slides to their new group members. Students should take note of the similarities and differences between the ethnic group from their research and others from their peers’ presentations (15 mins).

5 mins – Exit Ticket – Using their assigned ethnic group and that of another classmate, students will identify 2-3 patterns in historical events and/or behavior that both ethnic groups experienced and/or demonstrated when they first arrived in Latin America and as they integrated into society.

Featured Lesson #3

Topic: Analyzing the Artwork of Latin Asians

Objective and Standard:

CC.8.5.11-12.I. Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources.

Students will be able to…

  • Observe the intersection of Latin and Asian culture through the artwork of renowned Latin Asian artists.
  • Create their own art piece representing the intersection of their multiple identities (ethnic, racial, regional, local, etc.)

Lesson Description:

10 mins – Intro to New Material – How to Analyze Artwork in Three Steps

Before sharing the artwork pieces with students, review the following steps for observing, analyzing, and interpreting artwork.

Step 1: Observation – when students first see the piece, they should look at it as a whole and in parts. What details stand out to them during the observation time? What questions do they have about what they see?

Step 2: Analysis – Students will make statements and conclusions about the piece based on what they see. How does the artist use line, color, space, etc. in their artwork?

Step 3: Interpretation – Why do they think that the artist included certain visual elements and how does that impact the message of the artwork? What does the artwork teach us about this artist’s experience as a Latin Asian living in Latin American and the Caribbean?

After reviewing the steps, model how this internal and external dialogue might sound like in real time using an example from Appendix A. First, complete the observation without mentioning any information about the title, artist, or meaning of the piece. Second, move on the analysis but only mention the name of the artist, title of the artwork, and when it was created. Third, model the interpretation of the artwork. Using the article from The Pennsylvania Gazette, share the official interpretation of the artwork and get student consensus on how well you did with the interpretation.

15 mins – Group Work – Artwork Analysis – Give students access to artwork from the touring “No Ocean Between Us” exhibit that was open at the University of Pennsylvania. Featured artwork was created by Japanese-Peruvian Eduardo Tokeshi, Indian-Guyanese Bernadette Persaud, Afro-Chinese-Cuban Wilfredo Lam, Afro-Chinese-Jamaican Albert Chong, and Japanese-Mexican Luis Nishizawa. Students will choose two pieces from the exhibit for the observation, analysis, and interpretation activity. Circulate the room as students complete the assignment in order to provide support and feedback. Choose a couple of students to walk the class through how they approached the piece that they selected for observation, analysis, and interpretation.

35 mins – Independent Work (Exit Ticket and Homework) – Students will create their own artwork that will demonstrate their understanding of the themes and concepts from the lesson. Students will take on the role of artist as they create their pieces that will eventually be displayed on the bulletin board at the back of the room. They can use graphite, markers, colored pencils, recycled materials, paint, and/or digital tools to create a piece that tells the story of their various identities and helps the viewer understand their perspective.


Bibliography – Background Research

Arthur Ross Gallery. (2022, May 12). Asian Diaspora and Migration to the Americas and the Caribbean [Video]. Youtube.

This video includes a panel discussion with Fernando Chang-Muy and Rupa Pillai, scholars on the history of Asians in Latin America and the diaspora that lives there today.

Chang, J. O. (2017). Chino : Anti-chinese racism in Mexico, 1880-1940. University of Illinois Press.

This academic article highlights the discrimination that Chinese immigrant and diaspora populations experienced while living in various communities throughout Mexico.

Guevarra, R.P., Jr. (2011). Filipinos in Nueva España: Filipino-Mexican Relations, Mestizaje, and Identity in Colonial and Contemporary Mexico. Journal of Asian American Studies 14(3), 389-416. doi:10.1353/jaas.2011.0029.

This article provides an overview of the “Mexipino” community in Mexico and how immigration and trade between the two countries created a dual identity for many Latin Asians.

Hu-deHart, E., & López, K. (2008). Asian Diasporas in Latin America and the Caribbean: An Historical Overview. Afro – Hispanic Review, 27(1), 9-21,258.

The article provides a thorough timeline of Asian immigration to Latin America along with the cultural intersection between Asians and Africans.

Kim, C.-S., & Lee, E. (2016). Growth and Migration to a Third Country: The Case of Korean Migrants in Latin America. Journal of International and Area Studies, 23(2), 77–87.

This article explains the specific tendencies of Korean immigrants, why they were more likely to move around Latin America instead of settling down and their struggle to succeed in agriculture.

LEAP Asian Pacific American Public Policy Institute & UCLA Asian American Studies Center. (2000). The State of Asian Pacific America: Transforming Race Relations.

This article by researchers Espiritu and Omi highlights the inadvertent consequences of the pan-Asian identity for certain ethnic groups, such as Filipino Americans and Native Hawaiians.

Lee, E. (2021). The Making of Asian America: A History. Simon & Schuster Paperbacks.

This book provides the history of Asian immigration to the Americas, insight into the perspectives of South, East, and Southeast Asian ethnic groups, the discrimination that groups experienced at the hands of North and South American governments, and the lasting influence of these groups on the societies that they integrated into.

López, K. (2013). Chinese Cubans: A Transnational History. The University of North Carolina Press.

This book provides a historical summary of Chinese immigrants and diaspora in Cuba.

Okamoto, D. G. (2014). Redefining Race: Asian American Panethnicity and Shifting Ethnic Boundaries. Russell Sage foundation.

According to Okamoto, panethnicity doesn’t arise from integration among ethnic groups, but rather segregation. Individual ethnic identity must be developed before groups come together to create pan-ethnic ties.  Park, K. (2014). A Rhizomatic Diaspora: Transnational Passage And The Sense Of Place Among Koreans In Latin America. Urban Anthropology and Studies of Cultural Systems and World Economic Development, 43(4), 481–517.

In this article, Park argues that there is more nuance to the standard “push and pull” factors that are usually used to explain immigration. Compared to other ethnic groups, Koreans were more likely to move around after arriving in Latin America in order to find the best economic situation for their families.

San Antonio Museum of Art. (2021, October 13). “Why Are There So Many Asians in Latin America and the Caribbean?” with Evelyn Hu-Dehart, PhD [Video]. Youtube.

Academic lecture by Evelyn Hu-DeHart that provides an overview of Asian immigration to Latin America along with highlights of famous and influential Latin Asians.

Takenaka, A. (2004). The Japanese in Peru. Latin American Perspectives, 31(3), 77–98.×04264745

This article focuses on the plight of Japanese Peruvians during the 1940s, including the 1940 anti-Japanese riot, the deportation of Japanese Peruvians to US internment camps during WWII, and the continued otherness that they see when they’re only viewed as Japanese rather than Peruvian.

Tigner, J. L. (1981). Japanese Immigration into Latin America: A Survey. Journal of Interamerican Studies and World Affairs, 23(4), 457–

This article explains why hundreds of thousands of Japanese left Japan to live in the Americas. It summarizes the three phases of Japanese immigration across the Pacific Ocean.

Bibliography – For Teachers and Students

ABS-CBN Balitang America. (2019). How this Mexican city celebrates its Filipino roots [Video]. Youtube.

This video highlights the lasting cultural influence of Filipinos in Colima, Mexico.

ABS-CBN Balitang America. (2019). Historic Mexican town celebrates shared Philippine heritage [Video]. Youtube.

This video highlights the lasting cultural influence of Filipinos in Barra de Navidad, Mexico.

Arirang TV. (2016). Going Global Ep33 – The Half-Century Story of Korean Immigrants in Argentina (Part 1)  [Video]. Youtube.

This video shares the experiences of Korean immigrants and diaspora living in Argentina. There is also a part two linked here.

Chong, A. (1986). The Sisters [Silver Gelatin Print]. Arthur Ross Gallery, Philadelphia, PA, United States.

Chong, A. (1990). My Jamaican Passport with Inscribed Copper Mat Variant with Beads [Silver Gelatin Print]. Arthur Ross Gallery, Philadelphia, PA, United States.

Albert Chong’s artwork references spirituality and the struggle of both Afro and Asian descended peoples in Latin America.

CUNY TV. (2017, February 24). Latin Asians Asian American Life [Video]. Youtube.

The video includes interviews with Latin Asians such as Korean-Dominican Michael Jeon, Chinese-Cuban Maria Lau, Chinese-Peruvian Fabiana Chiu, and Japanese-Peruvian Eduardo Oshiro as they describe their experiences with dual heritages. The video also provides an overview of the Manila Galleon trade which started immigration from Asia to Latin America.

Greco, J. A. (2022, February 21). The Painted Hyphen. The Pennsylvania Gazette. Retrieved May 22, 2022, from

This article was written in association with the University of Pennsylvania, which also owns the Arthur Ross Gallery, where the “No Ocean Between Us” exhibition is currently on view. While the exhibition provides many works of art that I plan to integrate into my curriculum unit for an art analysis activity, there were no explanations of the artwork within the gallery, which my students will need. The Painted Hyphen provides these explanations so that I can guide the analysis with my students.

Lam, W. (1982). Retrato [Lithograph]. Arthur Ross Gallery, Philadelphia, PA, United States.

This piece by Wilfredo Lam reflects his Afro-Cuban heritage with the dark skin and seemingly braided hair of the faceless figure.

Kim, D. (Director). (2018). Halmoni [Grandmother] [Film]. Proton Cine.

This documentary focuses on the experience of Jo Ok Sim who left South Korea for Latin America after the Korean War. Ultimately, her family settled in southern Argentina, being one of the first Korean families to do so.

Gelb, D. (Writer), & Rosenfeld, T. (Director). (2020, July 21). Lima, Peru (Season 1, Episode 4) [Tv series episode]. In A. Fried (Executive Producer), Street Food: Latin America. Boardwalk Pictures; Supper Club.

This documentary episode sheds light on the Japanese culinary influence within Peruvian food in Lima.

MalFromWales. (2019). Nikkei – searching for Japan in Brazil [Video]. Youtube.

This documentary explores the experience of Japanese immigrants and diaspora in Brazil. It includes interviews with Japanese Brazilians.

Nishizawa, L. (1989). Barranca del cobre [Lithograph]. Arthur Ross Gallery, Philadelphia, PA, United States.

Luis Nishizawa was well-known for combining both Mexican and Japanese artistic style and techniques into his work, reflecting his dual heritages.

Peek Media. (2004). Hidden Internment: The Art Shibayama Story [Video]. Youtube.

This video shares the story of Art Shibayama, a Japanese Peruvian who was deported from Peru and sent to a Japanese internment camp in Texas during World War II.

Persaud, B. (2017). Wales Sugar Estate – Latitudes of Grief [Acrylic on canvas]. Arthur Ross Gallery, Philadelphia, PA, United States.

Though this painting is specifically focusing on the experience of Indian immigrants in Guyana, this painting can also loosely represent the difficult experience of the Chinese immigrants who worked on plantations throughout Latin America.

Pok Chi Lau. (2019). Cuban Chinese, Caridad Amaran as a Cantonese Opera Performer [Video]. Youtube.

This short documentary is about the dwindling Chinese Cuban population in Havana, along with the story of former Chinese Cuban opera singer, Caridad Amaran.

Rumaldo Choy, S. (2016). Pancho [Mixed Media]. Arthur Ross Gallery, Philadelphia, PA, United States.

This installation by Samuel Rumaldo Choy shows the viewer the integration of Chinese and Panamanian cultures at the same dinner table.

Tokeshi, E. (2016). Las casitas de la fe [wood]. Arthur Ross Gallery, Philadelphia, PA, United States.

Images of Las Casitas de la Fe by Eduardo Tokeshi will be used during an artwork analysis activity for students. This piece serves as a representation of Latin Asian culture in Peru: the combination of the Peruvian retablo with the Buddhist butsudan altar, which originates from Japanese culture (Greco, 2022).


See PDF for photos.