Springfield’s Dr. Seuss museum says it will remove a mural that depicts a Chinese character after three authors threatened to boycott a museum event over the “jarring racial stereotype.”
The three authors, Mike Curato, Mo Willems and Lisa Yee, were invited to attend and read at the Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum’s Children’s Literature Festival.
The authors initially planned to attend, they wrote in a letter to the museum, but then learned about the mural, which shows a scene from Dr. Seuss’s book, “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street.”
“Within the selected art is a jarring racial stereotype of a Chinese man, who is depicted with chopsticks, a pointed hat and slanted slit eyes,” the authors wrote. "We find this caricature of ‘the Chinaman’ deeply hurtful, and have concerns about children’s exposure to it.”
Yee is a Chinese American and Curato is also Asian American. The letter notes that the mural was problematic not just for Asian Americans like themselves.
“While this image may have been considered amusing to some when it was published 80 years ago, it is obviously offensive in 2017 (the year the mural was painted),” the authors’ letter continues. “Displaying imagery this offensive damages not only Asian American children, but also non-Asian kids who absorb this caricature and associate it with all Asians or their Asian neighbors and classmates.”
The museum will remove the mural, having “listened to the concerns voiced by the authors and fans,” Dr. Seuss Enterprises said in a statement. The mural will be replaced “with a new image that reflects the wonderful characters and messages from Dr. Seuss’ later works.”
"This is what Dr. Seuss would have wanted us to do," the statement continues. "His later books, like The Sneetches and Horton Hears a Who, showed a great respect for fairness and diversity. Dr. Seuss would have loved to be a part of this dialogue for change. In fact, Ted Geisel himself said, 'It’s not how you start that counts. It’s what you are at the finish.'"
The authors responded to the museum that they were “heartened” by the decision.
“Your organization’s choice will help create an institution that welcomes all children and embodies Ted Geisel’s own growth and career-defining commitment to changing the preconceptions of the world around him,” they wrote.
The authors said they would like to appear at the museum as previously planned, but the Children’s Festival, scheduled for Oct. 14, has been canceled, according to the museum.
“And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street,” was the first book by Dr. Seuss, real name Theodor Seuss Geisel, and was named after a street in Springfield, Massachusetts — Geisel’s home town.