I still remember opening the mailbox and getting a big, flat package, just for me. I was in second grade, and my favorite aunt had just sent me my birthday present! I was so excited, that I ripped open the present right there in the driveway. It was a book: Hannah Is My Name by Belle Yang. It was also autographed and addressed directly to me!!! “That’s cool…” I thought, “Hannah is my name too!”
This picture book was published in 2004 (my second grade year) and covers the experience of a young girl and her family as they leave their native Taiwan to come to the United States for the hope of a better life. It is the semi-autobiographical account of the author and illustrator, who came to the United States when she was seven years old in 1967. The illustrations are in a more traditional Chinese style, as Yang studied at the Beijing Institute of Traditional Chinese Painting. It is a very interesting way to depict some of the famous American skylines, almost as if we are all Hannah, looking at America through the lens of Chinese tradition.
This book chronicles many of the experiences of young immigrant children, from learning a new language, recognizing the stress her parents are under, and worrying about whether or not they will be allowed to stay in the United States. The story ends with her family receiving “blue cards”, immigration cards allowing them to stay in the United States, different from the green colored cards that they were expecting.
This book touches on some rather intense topics for children, including risks of immigration, deportation, race, and even discusses the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. As being told through the eyes of a young girl, these topics are made to be more accessible to children. She tells the story of learning about MLK’s death through her teacher, who said “He wanted all people to be treated fairly…whatever the color of their skin”, after which Hannah remarks, “Mr. King must have been fighting for my family to be treated kindly too. Papa and Mama say this is why we came to America”. In today’s political climate, it is important to try to find some works that celebrate diversity and represent minority children and families, which this book seems to accomplish really well.
That being said…
Some older readers claim that this book tends to perpetuate Asian American stereotypes, and only depicts immigrants who are struggling to survive in this new country. However, this work, as semi-autobiographical, seems to be less stereotypical, and more instructional, giving a glimpse into the life of a Taiwanese girl who moved to the United States in the 1960s. It, for me, was a very influential window into this other perspective, a look into the lives of someone (with my name!!) to live a very different life than my own. However, just like Hannah’s final words in the book, this showed me that we are more alike than different. “Hannah is my name. And America is our home”.