Enrichment Education

AAPI community pushes for more Asian American history in school curricula

“When you don't know that history, that provides a firm foundation of ignorance and for people to act out on their hate and to buy into myths that Asian Americans are a model minority,” said Connecticut Attorney General William Tong.
Mai Wright holds a sign while participating in a “stop Asian hate” rally outside the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta on Saturday afternoon, March 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Ben Gray) AP/ Ben Gray

Story at a glance

  • May is Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) heritage month. 

  • It’s prompted some states like Connecticut to pass legislation requiring AAPI studies be included in public school curricula. 

  • Many AAPI leaders believe education is a critical first step in addressing anti-Asian hate and racism. 

Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) are pressing for their communities to be a bigger part of school curricula, arguing the rise in violence targeting them is directly related to people not understanding their histories and placement in American life.  

Several states, including Connecticut, Illinois and New Jersey, have taken action by passing legislation requiring that AAPI studies be included in public school curricula. The effort is intended to make sure that students not only learn about the Great Depression and the Civil Rights movement, but also about Japanese internment camps established during World War II and how Chinese Americans defended American soil during the Civil War. 

For Connecticut Attorney General William Tong, it also means learning about key historical figures in American history who were of Asian descent. 

“Students should know about Meriden resident Joseph Pierce who fought in the Civil War as the highest ranked Chinese American in the Union Army. Students should know about Yale-graduate Yung Wing, who in 1854 became the first Chinese student ever to graduate from an American university. This vote is a proud moment and important opportunity for Connecticut, and I thank the legislators and advocates who championed this legislation,” said Tong, in a statement

The AAPI community is making a concerted push in May, AAPI heritage month, to raise awareness of their communities’ contributions and shared history with Americans.

The White House released a statement reiterating just that, reminding Americans, “from serving our country in uniform, advocating for civil rights, starting new businesses and winning Olympic medals, the contributions of the AA and NHPI [Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders] community touch the lives of Americans every day.” 


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However, in an interview with Changing America, Tong also reiterated how he wants to remind Americans of the suffering Asian communities have endured and how it hasn’t been an easy road to acceptance, in particular in the 1940s, when thousands of Japanese Americans were placed in internment camps. 

During World War II, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt issuing an executive order that resulted in thousands of Americans of Japanese descent being targeted and forced to evacuate and remain in detention on a 48-hour notice.  

By the end of March 1942, approximately 112,000 persons of Japanese descent were placed in internment camps — with some living there for nearly three years or more until the end of World War II. 

“When you don’t know that history, that provides a firm foundation of ignorance and for people to act out on their hate and to buy into myths that Asian Americans are a model minority,” Tong said. 

Many decades later, Congress and President Reagan approved the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 that acknowledged the injustice of internment and apologized for it. The legislation included a $20,000 cash payment to each person who was incarcerated. 

Attacks on the AAPI community, however, have evolved, with the U.S. experiencing a 339 percent increase in anti-Asian hate crimes in 2021 compared to 2020. Countless attacks have been reported, including in New York, where 40-year-old Michelle Go was pushed to her death in a subway station.  

A survey by the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum found nearly three-quarters of women in AAPI communities reported experiencing racism and discrimination in the past year. Another 40 percent of women surveyed said they had also experienced sexual harassment over the last year while more than half said they feel less safe today than they did at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. 

“AAPI women have long endured misogyny and racism for centuries and these findings show how this history continues to bleed into our grim present,” said Sung Yeon Choimorrow, executive director of the nonprofit, in a statement

Many believe education is the first step in stemming hate targeted toward the AAPI community, as one analysis from 2016 found, “compared to other groups of color, Asian Americans and their perspectives have rarely been given attention in curriculum studies,” said Sohyun Ann, author and associate professor at Kennesaw State University. 

Though mandating AAPI history in school curriculums has broadly received widespread support in state legislatures, the concept of ethnic studies has some critics. In California, the state’s board of education was forced to revise its ethnic studies rule after multiple groups, including the legislature’s Jewish caucus, argued the proposal failed to discuss anti-semitism and reinforced negative stereotypes about Jews, among another shortcomings.  

Tong believes it’s important to emphasize how the AAPI community has in many ways remained unseen within American society. It even prompted him to share his own family’s story, as he grew up the oldest of five children working at his immigrant family’s Chinese restaurant. He would later become Connecticut’s first Asian American elected official at the state level.  

“You don’t have to be Asian American and Pacific Islander to understand the immigrant story,” he said. “It’s a story that we share and is as deep and rooted and meaningful and painful as everyone else. And it’s the story of our country. And it’s a powerful and emotional and uplifting and inspirational story. But we’re routinely left out of it. And I think that’s why we have Asian American and Pacific Islander heritage month.” 


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