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Students at Jie Ming and Phalen Lake Elementary Schools Get a Special Delivery

Gia Vang reads a book to a group of elementary students in a school libraryOn Tuesday, March 7, students at Jie Ming Mandarin Immersion Academy and Phalen Lake Hmong Studies Magnet received a very special delivery when Gia Vang and Michelle Li, co-founders of the Very Asian Foundation (VAF), delivered 70 books to each school through The May Book Project. The project aims to help schools and libraries build and maintain robust Asian American youth literature collections.

Li and Vang firmly believe in the importance of youth being able to see themselves reflected in the stories they read and books they have access to every day.

“Libraries should be mirrors and windows; sharing stories that reflect ourselves and teach us about others,” said Li, a Korean-American TV anchor in St. Louis.

Last year, Li went viral on social media after sharing a voicemail that was left by a viewer after she talked about her family’s New Year’s Day tradition of eating dumpling soup. The caller said they found her “annoying” and “very Asian”. Li saw the racist message as an opportunity to speak out and share her experience on Twitter. The story quickly gained the attention of former Kare 11 news anchor, Vang, and the two connected over their shared experiences as Asian American women in television. Realizing the need for greater support and resources for Asian Americans navigating similar issues, and the power that comes from turning hurtful words on their heads, the Very Asian Foundation was born.

“I have 15 nieces and nephews and I am now a great aunt, and I realize that libraries are an important gathering place for schools,” said Vang, who now lives in California. “I want my family to grow up knowing that they can not only see themselves reflected in these books, but begin to imagine a brighter future because of it.”

In addition to delivering the books, the two founders were able to spend some time with students at each school, answering questions and reading one of the books together.

“Have any of you ever been called a hurtful name?” Li asked the students.

Many of the students replied with a boisterous “Yes.” 

Li went on to explain how she and Vang were able to take a hurtful moment and turn it into something positive.

“We want to celebrate our stories and you’re a part of the celebration!” said Li. “We wanted to bring books to you because we know that it’s really important as young people to be able to have confidence and pride in who you are.”