Pinay, where art thou? An examination of Filipina Americans in children's literature

Children’s books published about Asian American cultures have been a growing trend in the last 10 years. According to the Cooperative Children's Book Center, University of Wisconsin, Madison (n.d.), there were 167 (3.34%) out of 5000 books published in 2011 by and about Asian Americans compared to 137 (2.74%) books published in 2002. Presently, however, the bulk of research in Asian American children’s literature centers on cultural representation of Chinese Americans, Japanese Americans, and Korean Americans (Loh, 2006). The dominance of these three ethnic groups in the body of research may be attributed to the large number of books published annually about them. As a result, children’s books about other Asian American groups, such as Filipino Americans, have been overlooked and unanalyzed. Through purposive sampling, 10 children’s books featuring the Filipino American culture were included in the study. A content analysis of children’s books was conducted using a mixed-methods design to account for the prevalence of representation of Filipina Americans and the roles they play in the selected children’s books. Using both quantitative and qualitative methods of content analysis (Babbie, 2005; Neuman, 2006), data was collected to quantify the frequency of male and female characters in each book and describe the roles each character portrayed in the story (see the Data Collection Sheets in the Appendices). The data collection sheets were created through the specifications described by Kolbe and LaVoie (1981). The results indicated that children’s book featuring Filipino Americans contained a mixture of stereotypical and nontraditional gender portrayals. Although females primarily comprised the authors of the books in the sample, almost 60% of the main characters were males. Consequently, most stories stereotypically portrayed women as very nurturing, feminine, caring, home-oriented, and concerned with beauty. The in-text visuals also revealed that women tend to be illustrated with a traditional portrayal – inside the home – and that they were often in the background or had their illustrations cut off. At the same time, females were observed to be independent, outspoken, and aggressive in certain roles. Findings from this study demonstrated that males were largely represented in books; however, females were observed to embody characteristics that were both typical and nonconforming for their sex.