Passing Down a Legacy of Asian American Advocacy to My Son
Tony DelaRosa (Indianapolis ’12) shares his hopes for his son and all students to be able to be seen and affirmed without negotiating their identities and for Asian American experiences to be included in the fight for social justice in the U.S.
There’s a double-edged challenge that people who are Asian American, Native Hawaiian, or Pacific Islander often face in U.S. schools: They are among the least represented demographics as educators and within curricula. They also endure the model minority myth: stereotypes about characteristics such as their demeanor and academic prowess.
Together, the lack of representation and racist typecasting are tools of white supremacy that harm students of Asian descent—a reality that Tony DelaRosa (Indianapolis ’12) has experienced firsthand.
As a child heading into middle school, a move to the midwest left DelaRosa feeling like “a brown boy in a sea of white.” Boxed into the Asian American model minority myth, he often found himself negotiating his Filipino American identity to navigate academics and relationships even into adulthood.
It’s an experience DelaRosa doesn’t want for his son, Sebastian, or any child across America. Every student should be seen and affirmed without having to compartmentalize who they are, he says.
Now working as an anti-bias and anti-racist educator and strategist, DelaRosa supports AANHPI educators and students to ensure they are truly seen for who they are as they live into their many identities. Known for his work in co-founding New York’s first Asian American teacher support initiative and coaching Teach For America teachers, DelaRosa is committed to increasing the number of AANHPI educators. According to the Center for American Progress, Asian Americans make up 5 percent of the school-age population, but only 2 percent of teachers and 1 percent of principals. Pacific Islanders comprise less than 0.5 percent of teachers and school principals. Meanwhile, Asian American and Pacific Islanders are among the fastest-growing racial or ethnic groups in the United States.
In this video, poem and letter for Sebastian, DelaRosa underscores how important and urgent this work is as he recounts his own experiences in the American education system, both as a student and teacher. He speaks directly to Sebastian, warning him of the challenges ahead, the things the boy will not be taught in school, the power of his heritage and history, and the importance of cross-racial coalition building to design a new future free from the model minority myth and other racist stereotypes.
DelaRosa himself leans into creating that future. In an era where some educators still do not even teach AANHPI history, he issues his own challenge to the education system: build empathy across cultures by closing that education gap. Normalize the Asian American narrative not just for the diaspora, but for all students. It’s a message he is exploring more in a book he is writing, which will provide practical ways for schools to embody a pro-Asian American lens while combating anti-Asian American violence, racism, and hate.
“We want people to understand from the get-go that they matter. They matter. They bring something unique. They are able to bring their unique gifts from their culture into the classroom and that is valued,” he says.