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Asian American History: Requiring AAPI Classes to Prevent Attacks

(Sally Deng/For The Washington Post)

As anti-Asian attacks mount across the country, a movement hopes to combat hate with history, pushing states to require classes on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in public schools.

Illinois and New Jersey require such classes, and Connecticut’s governor is expected to sign legislation soon. Other states like New York have pending bills that would require them. A growing number of lawmakers, as well as teachers, students, parents and business leaders, aim to ward off these attacks in part by teaching children that the Asian American community is also American – and that history Asian American is also American history.

Most programs pay little attention to the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. Where textbooks include lessons, they focus primarily on East Asians rather than the broader set of people with roots across the continent. AAPIs were the fastest growing racial group from 2010 to 2020, with a 35.5% increase, according to the census. They total 24 million, or 7% of the total US population, but make up about 2% of public school K-12 teachers, according to the National Center of Education Statistics, a figure that has remained unchanged in over the past 20 years.

Since the start of the pandemic, attacks against this group have increased, especially against seniors, as well as businesses belonging to the AAPI. According to the FBI, hate crimes have risen to their highest level in 12 years amid growing attacks against Asians and black people. President Biden cited these trends when he signed the Covid-19 Hate Crimes Act last May, which brings pandemic-related hate crimes to the Justice Department’s attention.

Those attacks culminated in the Atlanta shootings that claimed the lives of six Asian women last March, leaving a third of Asian Americans fearful of threats, physical attacks and violence, according to the Pew Research Center. A third of Asian Americans say they have changed their daily behavior to protect themselves.

“It could have been me and my family involved in the bombings,” said Jake Leaf, a 15-year-old biracial Chinese-American from Orlando, who joined his kung fu teacher Mimi Chan for a project of law in Florida. “I wanted to help as much as I could to prevent something like this from happening again in the future.”

To avoid future attacks, activists want Americans to learn about turning points in AAPI’s history, such as how Chinese migrants built the transcontinental railroad in the 1860s, which led to Japanese internment in the 1940s, how Hmong refugees fled war-torn Laos in 1975 and how discrimination and violence against the Sikh community followed 9/11.

Leading this movement is longtime activist and lawyer Stewart Kwoh, leading the charge with his wife, Patricia, and their nonprofit Asian American Education Project. Along with other teachers, they have created 53 lesson plans on topics such as racism and immigration, training more than 1,000 educators over the past year online. Kwoh had worked as a lawyer in 1983 to help prosecute the killers of Vincent Chin, a Chinese-American murdered in Detroit by two autoworkers who blamed Japan for the city’s slowdown.

“Asian Americans were invisible,” said Kwoh, 73, who led Asian American Advancing Justice – Los Angeles, which has become the largest civil rights group for Asian Americans. . “You don’t fully understand American history unless you understand Asian American history, like where birthright citizenship came from.”

Asian Americans, once less likely to be involved in politics than other racial groups, have become more assertive in the countryside and at the ballot box. Turnout within this bloc rose from 48% in 2016 to 62% in 2020, the largest increase of any racial group, according to Washington Post analysis of the census turnout survey. Next month, activists will organize the first Asian American-led march on the National Mall with more than 50 different groups. They will call for multicultural studies in the K-12 and higher education systems, as well as racial justice.

“Parents kind of instill in you this value that you just have to follow the rules and keep your head down, and then you’ll be successful,” said Melinda Lu, 16, who testified for the Connecticut bill. “But having this anti-Asian hatred… we want people to know that we are not just people who can be pushed aside, and we are people who are very determined to help this nation develop and to ensure that everyone everyone in the world and everyone within our community can learn about our culture and accept us equally.

Lu volunteers for the nonprofit Make Us Visible, which brings together communities across the country to lobby for schools to demand the AAPI story. They succeeded in his state of Connecticut, which just passed a law. When enacted, the state will be the first to have a funded mandate for Asian American history in grades K-12. It requires local and regional school boards to incorporate AAPI studies into social studies classes by the 2025-26 school year and sets aside $100,000 to fund a coordinator with the state Department of Education to oversee research and program alignment.

It will be the third state to require AAPI history classes. Bills in Florida, Ohio, Maryland and Wisconsin have failed to pass, and communities are banding together to try again. Lawmakers in New York, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island are still pushing for bills, while California, Washington and Oregon have mandated ethnic studies.

All these states have different parameters. For example, Illinois requires “a teaching unit studying the events of Asian American history”, while Maryland advocates “extended American history”, which includes AAPIs and “other groups determined by the State board”. Oregon was the first state to require ethnic studies for K-12 in 2017, while California was the first to adopt a statewide ethnic studies high school curriculum, which ran for three years and has nearly 900 pages about the stories of “historically marginalized peoples who are often overlooked in US history lessons.

“The [attack] the numbers skyrocketed after leaders like the former president used words like ‘Kung Flu’ and ‘Chinese virus’,” said Rep. Grace Meng (DN.Y.), who is working to make to have the United States designate the Lunar New Year as a federal holiday and build a museum about Asian American Pacific Islanders on the National Mall.” But discrimination against Asians existed long before that and is very much ingrained in the history of our country.”

Meng helped pass the Hate Crimes Act last year, which requires the Justice Department to review and expedite reports of pandemic-related hate crimes, issue guidance to establish a process online reporting of hate crimes and to work with the Department of Health and Human Services to raise awareness of these hate crimes.

Nonprofits like the Southern Law Poverty Center and Facing History cite several local studies showing that education improved student tolerance. In their study with Harvard University of 60 high schools in eight cities, for example, students reported “greater self-reported civic efficacy and tolerance for others with different opinions” after a five-day seminar and coaching. follow-up on “the failure of democracy in pre-World War II Germany and, in particular, the steps leading up to the Holocaust.

“Education is the tool to create a more humane and compassionate society,” said Abby Weiss of Facing History, a global nonprofit whose mission is to use history lessons to inspire teachers and students to resist bigotry and hatred.

Yet as activists push for more education, they are also feeling the pressure of another movement. More than 100 state-level bills have also been introduced to restrict diversity education since the start of the year, according to Asian Americans Advancing Justice. These include measures that ban culturally appropriate lessons and critical race theory, a catch-all term used on the right to encompass lessons about race and racism.

Proponents say current teaching about the AAPI community is grossly insufficient. According to a nationwide survey released in January by Sohyun An, a professor of elementary and early childhood education at Kennesaw State University in Georgia, eighteen states have included no Asian content in their history curriculum standards. from kindergarten to 12th grade.

“The white man who killed Asian immigrants was a Georgian product. If he had learned Asian American history in relation to our humanity, I don’t think he could travel to three different places and kill Asian women as if they weren’t even human,” the Korean professor said. American, who lives 15 minutes from the site of the Atlanta shooting and was told to “go back to China!” inside a grocery store and “Stay Home!” You sick people! in the parking lot of a shopping center.

When the textbooks included some of the history of the AAPI, An found that it was mostly about Japanese American internment or the Chinese Exclusion Act. But according to the Pew Research Center, the country’s 22 million Asian Americans trace their roots to more than 20 countries.

“There are so many different religions, there are so many sovereign nations, there are so many different traditions that exist,” said Swaranjit Singh Khalsa, who has just opened a Sikh art gallery in Norwich, New York. Connecticut, and served on the city’s Board of Education.

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