Linda Matsumoto, D65 paraprofessional, becomes first AAPI educator to win Reg Weaver Human and Civil Rights Award


Katie Chen/The Daily Northwestern

Linda Matsumoto became the first Asian American educator to receive the Illinois Education Association Reg Weaver Human and Civil Rights Award.

Aviva Bechky, Print Managing Editor

Over the past two years, Evanston/Skokie School District 65 educator Linda Matsumoto has led at least 16 workshops deconstructing stereotypes and diving into history surrounding the Asian American Pacific Islander community.

A special education paraprofessional at Dr. Bessie Rhodes School of Global Studies, Matsumoto said she created the presentations in her spare time because she was tired of being overlooked in local schools. Recently, she said one student outright called her “invisible” in the classroom, the kind of incident she hopes to eliminate.

“I provide missing pages in US history, because people are not aware of this,” Matsumoto said. “You have to really dig deep.”

She’s since been honored for her work with the 2023 Illinois Education Association Reg Weaver Human and Civil Rights Award, which was presented in March at the IEA Representative Assembly. Matsumoto is the first Asian American to win the award, as well as the first educator from District 65. 

The Reg Weaver award win, Matsumoto said, validates her efforts and those of countless AAPI educators in the state.

“When you’re overlooked, you become invisible. When you’re invisible, you’re invalidated. When you’re invalidated, that means that you’re totally dismissed,” she said. “AAPI representation matters.”

Donald Kimura, a special education teacher in Effingham, Illinois, first saw Matsumoto at one of her workshops two years ago. Speaking on the twin pandemics of COVID-19 and anti-Asian hate, Matsumoto spoke about history of anti-Asian discrimination that he’d never heard about, Kimura said.

Since then, Kimura said he’s co-presented workshops with Matsumoto twice and is planning a third. They serve together on a statewide cohort trying to implement the Teaching Equitable Asian American Community History Act, an Illinois law signed in 2021 to ensure all students learn about Asian American history.

“She really gets fired up about what she’s doing and she has a lot of passion for what she does,” Kimura said. 

Matsumoto recently joined the National Education Association Asian & Pacific Islander Caucus, where leaders are teaching her about methods for coalition building with other marginalized groups. 

She said she would like to see the national caucus expand to have a branch in the state.

“We’re trying very hard to establish one in Illinois,” Matsumoto said. “When you have a collective voice, you’re heard. One individual isn’t.”

Kim Policape, a Kingsley Elementary School teacher who worked with Matsumoto at Bessie Rhodes, said she’s glad the Reg Weaver award recipient became involved in union work.

Matsumoto has always given up her free time to go beyond her job duties, Policape said.

“She just loves discovering things. When she discovers it, and she sees something wrong with it, then she tries to change it,” Policape said. “I would say she’s a change agent. She’s a change maker.”

In District 65, Matsumoto said she’d like to see an increase in Asian American administrators in particular.

She said she hopes the Reg Weaver award will help her bring attention to issues around AAPI equity.

“You have visibility — what do you do with visibility?” Matsumoto said. “You can shine a light on the causes and issues and have impact on education in a positive way.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @avivabechky

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