How the Pandemic and Anti-Asian Violence Spurred 2 States to Change History LessonsBreaking News
tags: immigration, Asian American History
When New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed a law requiring public schools to include lessons on the history of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, it was a bittersweet moment for Kani Ilangovan.
“I was a child who was one of the only Asian Americans in my school,” says Ilangovan, who was instrumental in getting the law passed, “and it would have been very helpful for me to see how Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders helped contribute to this country, helped build this country.”
Now, Ilangovan feels better knowing that other children—including her own—will learn what she wishes she’d learned about the history of Asian Americans, who make up about 6% of the U.S. population and are the fastest-growing racial or ethnic group in the country.
Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) have long faced racism and violence based on harmful stereotypes, including a recent increase in hate crimes tied to the coronavirus pandemic. That rise in anti-Asian violence spurred Ilangovan to found Make Us Visible New Jersey in March 2021 and to begin advocating for mandatory Asian American history in schools.
The nationwide effort is bearing fruit, albeit slowly, and at a time when calls to introduce diverse perspectives into history lessons and to more honestly address racism in America face fierce pushback that could clash with efforts like Ilangovan’s.
“If we teach about Asian Americans, that means that we need to talk about race and racism,” says Sohyun An, a professor of social studies education at Kennesaw State University in Georgia, arguing that it’s impossible to discuss the incarceration of Japanese Americans, the Chinese Exclusion Act and the killing of Vincent Chin, for example, without also addressing systemic racism in the U.S.
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