The Wayland Public Library: Sharing stories of Chinese heritage


Credit: Aimee Smith

Stop Asian Hate signs rest on lawns across Wayland and surrounding towns. “I designed the signs, I had them produced by a company and then I distributed them,” Wayland resident Jun Wan said. “I sent the news out, and people came by and picked it up from my yard. Suddenly, they were all gone, and now I see them all over [Wayland].”

Annabelle Zhang

Although Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month has ended, the fight against racially charged discrimination is still ongoing.

From March 31 to May 14, the Wayland Public Library opened an anonymous survey and hosted a Zoom meeting with Wayland residents of Chinese, Taiwanese and Singaporean heritage to document their experiences of living in Wayland. Managed by librarian M.J. Wright, the Zoom had 38 participants and the survey received 16 responses. The survey’s purpose was to represent a portion of the Asian American community in Wayland.

“[I wanted to make the survey] because we need to have some stories from people who are not white in our community,” Wright said. “We have a Chinese collection of books [in the Wayland Public Library], so I just knew that there was a Chinese community that I could easily reach out to. That’s how it started.”

To make the survey, Wright reached out to the Wayland Chinese American Association and joined forces with association members Yauwu Tang and Claudia Tang. Having moved to Wayland in 1973, the Tangs have been part of the community for nearly five decades.

“When [Yauwu and I] first moved here, my oldest child was one of only two [students of color] in the school, and people had little experience with non-white students,” Claudia Tang said. “At the time they required everyone to bring a birth certificate, but when I brought my son and they saw him, they immediately asked, ‘Do you have a passport?'”

Today, Asian Americans compose around 15% of the student population in the Wayland Public School district and Tang believes they are more welcome in the school environment.

“Right now I’m so proud of Wayland,” Claudia Tang said. “It has become so much more open to all kinds of people.”

Together, Wright and the Tangs drafted potential survey questions and spread the word through WeChat, a popular social media and messaging app used primarily in China. The questions focus on stories and experiences regarding racism and cultural differences. Once the responses are organized, they will be available in the library’s archive collection.

“Even 100 years from now, [the library] will have something that discusses the experiences of Chinese people who moved [to Wayland] in the 1960s and 1970s and how their experiences are very different from what it’s like today,” Wright said.

In recent years, hate crimes against Asian Americans have spiked, partially due to the coronavirus. To protest, Wayland resident Jun Wan designed and distributed Stop Asian Hate signs in hopes that other members of the community would put them in their yards to show their support.

“I’m Asian, I’m Chinese, so I felt that I had some responsibility to get my voice out,” Wan said. “But not only Chinese residents came to get it. I felt the entire support from the town and from many different ethnic groups that had the same kind of solidarity and support for this kind of drive.”

Often with protests and petitions comes results, such as the Wayland Public Schools officially recognizing Lunar New Year as a holiday, thanks to freshmen Eunjee Kang and Jordynn Lee. Although the recognition is a huge step forward, it’s only one of many to help Asian American students feel welcome. Through the Wayland Chinese American Association, Yauwu Tang plans on pushing for classes that teach the importance of traditions in different cultures.

“I want the school to not just have a day off [for the Lunar New Year], but to help kids understand why Chinese people call it the Lunar New Year and why it is so important to us,” Yauwu Tang said.

Wayland has made progress with respecting the histories and cultures of people of color, but it’s important to also understand the significance of traditions and stories of different ethnicities. Community members, young and old, will continue to push for equal representation until it is achieved.

“A part of American history is about the immigrants, how they come, how they settle, how they become part of American history and Chinese people have had significant contributions since the early days, like building the cross-continental railway 200 years ago,” Wan said. “There are a number of waves of racially charged and even government-sponsored discrimination efforts against this ethnicity, so it is important to shed a light on how Chinese people as a race contributed and deserve equal treatment and respect as community members.”