In January, New Jersey became the second state, after Illinois, to sign a law that requires Asian American history to be included in school curriculum. All states need to adopt Asian American history into their curriculum to combat the exclusionary culture of Asian Americans in the United State. For centuries, Asian Americans have experienced racism that intends to erase them from society. From the Chinese Exclusion Act to the incarceration camps of the Japanese, the suffering of Asian Americans continues today. Over the pandemic, the number of recorded Asian hate crimes skyrocketed. Research done by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at CSU San Bernardino found that between the years 2020 and 2021 there was a 339% increase in Anti-Asian hate crimes nationwide. Thousands of videos showing discrimination against Asians appeared on the internet, all containing the same phrase: “go back to where you come from.” Lamentably, the repeating of this phrase not only reflects the exclusionary culture of Asian Americans in the US, but it also demonstrates the failure of our educational systems, which exclude the contributions of Asian Americans in the country’s official storytelling.
The exclusion of Asians in history is one of the prime reasons why they are excluded from society. According to the US Census, about 22.9 million people in the US identified as having Asian heritage. Yet it is found that many schools across the US only mentioned AAPI communities in social studies and history lessons. When both their sacrifices and contributions are ignored in K-12 history classes, Asian Americans are excluded from the minds of people in the U.S. Howard Zinn writes in his book, A People’s History of the United States, “we have learned to give them the same portion of attention that teachers and writers often give them in the most respectable of classrooms and textbooks.” The less we learn about the history of these people, the less we pay attention to them and their suffering.
In addition, researchers found that, with a limited understanding of Asian American history, some students simply fill their understanding on Asian Americans with stereotypes such as “the model minority,” the economic competitors and the foreigners ordered to go back to their country — even if their families have been in the US for generations.
Ultimately, lessons that teach a limited view of history become lessons that teach both Asians and non-Asians that Asian Americans are perpetual foreigners.
Sohyun An, a professor of elementary and early childhood education at Kennesaw State University says that, “if we don’t teach about Asian American history, it’s not only letting non-Asian people treat [Asian Americans] as non-humans, but it is also a curriculum of violence because it kills humanity and agency.” Leaving Asian Americans out of history is neglecting them in society. When schools teach students a version of their country’s history that ignores minorities, they are instilling the value that these minorities are foreigners who did nothing to help build our country.
By adding more diverse views that represent the diversity of the population in history education, we will help construct a society where the existence of minorities is recognized and appreciated. Governor Phil Murphy, the New Jersey Democrat who signed the law, said in a statement that, “by teaching students about the history and heritage of our AAPI community, we can ensure that the diversity of our state is reflected in our curriculum and create a more tolerant and knowledgeable future for New Jersey. I am proud to sign these bills into law.”