Beginning in the fall 2022 academic year, Connecticut requires all high schools to offer Black and Latino studies programs. The passage of Public Act 19-12, signed by Gov. Ned Lamont, allows students of all backgrounds to benefit from ethnic studies programs and learn about Black and Latino history. Having a classroom relevant to people of color enriches the learning experience and identity development of all students.
Throughout U.S. history, Asian Americans have also endured stereotypes and unfair treatments, and the lack of representation and attention to this community has fostered a violent environment. Just as the accomplishments of Asian Americans and their contributions to the United States have often been neglected and forgotten, so have the injustices done to them. By including Asian-American history along with Black and Latino studies programs, Asian Americans can be more correctly represented and acknowledged.
Racial and ethnic minorities are usually only added in a “contributions” fashion to the predominantly Euro-American narrative of textbooks. Asian Americans are “foreign” in many texts, and the public does not hear their voices. Asian-American history is not known to students or exists in a biased form. For example, many courses on World War II history are unintentionally biased. Students learn about what happened during the war between the United States and Japan and how the United States defeated Japan from an American perspective. In fact, after Pearl Harbor, Japanese Americans across the United States were treated unequally. Almost all of them on the West Coast of the United States were imprisoned. They were forced to abandon their property and moved to concentration camps scattered across about ten inland states. Many students do not have the opportunity to learn about inhumane injustices committed against Japanese Americans. By providing different views on the history of Asian Americans, students of all racial identities may benefit from developing critical thinking abilities and reducing their false impressions of Asian countries.
There has been a surge in conversations around anti-Asian hatred and targeted violence against Asian-American communities in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. On March 16, 2021, six Asians and two whites were killed in a mass shooting spree in Atlanta, Georgia. Similar hate crimes have targeted Asian Americans, including stabbings in New York. William Tong, Connecticut’s first Asian-American attorney general, critiqued President Trump for targeting Asian Americans through terms for coronavirus including “China virus,” and “Kung Flu.”
An Asian-American history course could establish a space for expression and dialogue, where students can discuss the history of Asian Americans and break down stereotypes defined by the past. Only when diverse voices are accepted and various histories are known, can students understand and parse issues of hate and violence in the context of a diverse curriculum.
Beginning in the 2022-2023 school year, Illinois’s Teaching Equitable Asian American History (TEAACH) Act will require all public schools in the state to teach Asian-American history, becoming the first state in the country to do so. By including Asian-American history in the upcoming requirement for Black and Latino studies, Connecticut could become the second state to actively teach about Asian-American history, Asian Americans make up only 7 percent of the U.S. population, and some educators may believe it is not necessary to teach the history of a relatively small community. Some of the history of Asian oppression may be troubling to students because it reflects unjust oppression in the land where they live. In fact, all the misunderstanding, violence, and oppression should serve as a warning that we can no longer escape the discussion of race. Students are taught from an early age that America is a diverse nation, that we are a nation of people from different backgrounds who live under the same flag. We believe that representation of a diverse nation is incomplete without the inclusion of Asian-American history.
Though there is still a long way to go before Asian Americans’ sacrifices and contributions are correctly presented in history books or designed into curriculums, the efforts and advocacy shall not pause. Asian Americans should not be left out in the “people of color” category, and their voices need and deserve to be heard. Including Asian-American material in ethnic studies programs will not only help Asian Americans to develop a sense of belonging and foster a safer community, but also benefit high school students of all racial identities, helping to eliminate discrimination and set up a healthier environment.
Jessica Jiapei Zhu is a sophomore from Trinity College. Her prospective majors are Economics and Educational Studies. As a Canadian-born chinese, she is dedicated to raising awareness for anti-hate on the Asian American community. Yusong Chen is a junior student from Trinity College, majoring in educational studies. As a Chinese-born international student, he focuses on race, class, and policy.