The Japanese American National Museum (JANM) is gravely concerned by the Muskego-Norway school board’s rejection of “When the Emperor Was Divine” for use in a tenth-grade accelerated English class.

The school board’s Curriculum Planning Committee selected Julie Otsuka’s historical fiction novel “When the Emperor Was Divine” as part of the district’s annual recommendations for new textbooks and instructional materials. Winner of the American Library Association’s Alex Award and the Asian American Literary Award, Otsuka’s novel uses multiple perspectives to tell the story of a Japanese American family’s incarceration experience.

On June 13, 2022, the school board’s Educational Services Committee rejected the selection due to its being a “diverse” book instead of a book that was “without restriction” or not intended to promote diversity.

The committee also claimed the novel would create a lack of “balance” in the curriculum because its inclusion would ensure students would be reading two books from Japanese American perspectives instead of a “perspective from the American government about why they did this.”

“The historical record is clear. There can be no equivocation about the facts of the incarceration of 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry during World War II,” said Ann Burroughs, JANM president and CEO. “When public school districts ban literature that clarifies the historical record, which is itself based on fact, they fail to uphold the American ideals of equality, justice, and liberty.

“Their rationale is forged from the same fire that fuels discrimination, hate and prejudice and mirrors the prevailing public sentiment that turned a blind eye to the incarceration in 1942. A massive disservice is done to students who miss out on the opportunity to develop a different perspective outside of their own worldview, and in turn, deepen their empathy for others and their understanding of what it means to live and thrive in this world.”

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