January 12, 2008

Ni Hao, Kai-lan!

Nick Jr. is premiering a new cartoon aimed at the preschool set called Ni Hao, Kai-lan. I can't tell you how excited I am!

As the name suggests, Ni Hao, Kai-lan's main character is Chinese American. Obviously this is fantastic for us and Baby H (hopefully the show will still be on!) but I think it's a great move for everyone in the country.

Kai-lan is similar to Dora the Explorer and Go, Diego, Go! If you've not been hanging with the under-kindergarten group, Dora is a show starring a 7-year-old Latina girl named, strangely enough, Dora. Dora has a new adventure in every episode and along the way, viewers are introduced to Spanish words and phrases as well as problem-solving skills and other helpful things like some math and music. Dora is insanely popular and has opened a window of bilingualism to thousands of children who otherwise consider Taco Bell to be authentic Mexican cuisine.

Following the success of Dora, Nick Jr. introduced Go, Diego, Go! Diego is Dora's 8-year-old cousin and his focus is more specific--he likes animals. I've never seen this particular show, but according to internet sources, each show features Diego helping to rescue an animal in trouble. Along the way he introduces viewers to different animals as well as a respect for the environment and the benefits of helping others (as opposed to being a selfish bastard, I suppose). Diego also features Spanish words and phrases and bilingualism plays a major role.

Kai-lan is very similar to Dora and Diego in that she has adventures and the show emphasizes bilingualism--this time in Mandarin. However, Kai-lan deviates from Dora and Diego in that an emphasis is placed on multiculturalism. Kai-lan lives with YeYe, her grandfather, who plays the role of mentor and caretaker. Naturally she's got 3 animal friends--a panda, a monkey, and a tiger. Monkeys are apparently very important to this age group, since Dora and Diego both have monkeys as well. Anyway, Kai-lan's focus is on multiculturalism, not just bilingualism.

Here are some quotes from Nick Jr.'s page on Kai-lan:

Ni Hao, Kai-lan is the next generation of preschool television programming that introduces the psychology of biculturalism. If Dora and Diego popularized bilingualism, Kai-lan will weave together being bilingual and bicultural. Ni Hao, Kai-lan reinforces the idea that being bicultural and bilingual is being American.
Emphasis mine. I am so excited about the above part. So many American children bridge cultures--what an affirmation that this is to be celebrated! I am also very pleased to see an Asian character, and not just because our daughter will be Chinese. It's thrilling to see an Asian character outside of a stereotypical role (she's Asian and she's a doctor--because Asians are smart!) and while I think we have been making strides to be more inclusive of Latino/a children, I think our portrayal of Asians and other minorities still has a long way to go. I think this is definitely a step forward in normalizing the experiences of Americans who don't fit that "typical American" mold.

Again from Nick Jr.:

The show will familiarize the viewing audience with elements of Chinese and Chinese American cultures to promote multicultural understanding in the next generation and goes beyond featuring "culture" as only ethnic food and festivals. Instead, it celebrates growing up in an intergenerational family, having friends from diverse backgrounds, and "habits of the heart" that are Chinese American.
Goes beyond featuring "culture" as only food and festivals? Now THERE'S a breath of fresh air!

Additionally, Kai-lan features "values" that are fundamental to Chinese and other East Asian cultures but are underemphasized in mainstream American culture these days. These values include (my comments in brackets):

Mind-body connection Typically, television portrays excitement as the good emotion to feel. In many Chinese-American communities, the good thing to feel is often calmness and contentment. Feeling excited and feeling calm can both be happy feelings, but they differ in how aroused the body is. [in a culture where everyone is diagnosed ADHD and is taking ritalin, it's so refreshing to see a focus on calmness and contentment instead of activating behavior]

Perspective-taking In many Chinese and other East Asian families, children are encouraged to take the perspective of others to maintain harmony in relationships with other people. [frankly a lot of adults could use this lesson too. Maybe they'll watch with their kids!]

Being a good member of the group Ni Hao, Kai-lan also emphasizes the Chinese and Chinese American value of being a good member of a group. [I also feel that selfishness has been rewarded in our culture and I think an emphasis on cooperation is an excellent idea]

Ni Nao, Kai-lan premieres on Thursday, February 7 at 11 am on Nick Jr. If you have a tv and actually watch it (which cancels out a lot of blog readers including myself), let me know how it turns out! I'm hoping that Kai-lan will become popular and will stay on the air long enough for our daughter to watch it.

Posted by Shelby at January 12, 2008 12:08 PM
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