English teacher Andrew Dimock: incorporating own and Wong family history in teaching

The Wong Family II

For Hannah Dimock’s dad Andrew Dimock, who taught English 9 and 10 last year following veteran English teacher Kelly Wissolik's temporary leave, his family shares the similar experience of immigrating to the U.S. Andrew's maternal ancestors came to Ellis Island in 1893 from the West Coast of Ireland — just four years after Wong Ben Yuk, the family's first-generation U.S. immigrant, arrived in California — while his paternal ancestors arrived earlier in 1640 as English religious dissenters to the Massachusetts Bay Colony.​

Both at Saratoga and elsewhere, Andrew said he makes a point to talk about his talk with students about his family's immigration story as similar themes come up in relation to novels or other works of fiction in the English curriculum.

“The point I want to drive home with [discussing my family history] is that, proud as I am of it, I'm not any more of a ‘real’ American than the child of immigrant parents, or the person who took the oath of citizenship yesterday,” he said. “In some ways, those people are much closer to the core American experience than I am.”

As a child who grew up in Amherst, a small town in Massachusetts marked by the international feeling that the local university brought, Andrew wasn’t a stranger to the immigrant experience before he met the Wongs. While the town was predominantly white, he had next-door classmates whose parents were African and Swedish American and had close friends with a Korean father and a white mother.

He gained a closer understanding about the lives of many international students as a graduate student with teaching responsibilities at Yale University and as an adjunct instructor at Stanford University.

At Yale, where he met his wife Sharon Palmer, Andrew was introduced to the Wong family history as he was interested in Sharon's experiences growing up biracial in an overwhelmingly white suburb of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Even so, he primarily attributes his understanding of the Wong family history to teaching and celebrating it with his daughters. 

From attending the Wong family reunions his daughters have grown up in, Andrew said he has enjoyed seeing a wide variety of professions and activities represented by the diversity of communities Sharon's cousins represent.

“She has a lot of really cool cousins, so to be candid, catching up with them has always been my favorite part of the reunions,” he said. “But as the older generation has grown older and frailer, and begun to pass away, and as I've gotten older myself, I've been more attuned to the joy that they feel in seeing the younger generations grow and thrive.”

As a self-proclaimed "huge history geek," he has also applied his scholarly perspective to discuss the many issues related to immigration as such concepts were taught to his daughters.

For Hannah, mentioning one topic at the dinner table — say the transcontinental railroad or the Chinese Exclusion Acts, for example — can easily lead to a two or three-hour long discussion interwoven with teachings from dad.​

That description also applies to Andrew's teaching at school. Over the years, he has taught many works of literature related to the immigrant experience. Some of the most notable works include: Jhumpa Lahiri, The Interpreter of Maladies and The Namesake; Art Spiegelman, Maus; Sandra Cisneros, The House on Mango Street and Woman Hollering Creek; Abraham Cahan, Yekl; Maxine Hong Kingston, The Woman Warrior and Gene Luen Yang, American Born Chinese. 

“One of the points of connection I feel I've been able to make, even though I haven't lived the immigrant experience myself, is in my sense of the power of the native language to the immigrant, because as a scholar of literature, I'm naturally attuned to that,” he said.

Photo courtesy of Fung Scholz.