As a social studies teacher and a Chinese-American immigrant, I am subconsciously asking myself the following questions: How do Asian Americans view the American public? What stereotypes and misconceptions abound?
More importantly: How can policy and education help us improve our situation in the United States? And – the national census on racial injustice since 2020, the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, and the ongoing debate over critical racial theories – how can we reconsider U.S. history and civic education curricula to be more inclusive and equitable?
Now, a new annual report from the advocacy firm LAAUNCH on attitudes toward Asian Americans provides some troubling answers to these few questions. The report, published in May during the Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, surveyed more than 5,000 Americans from a variety of backgrounds and included findings on Asian American stereotypes, visibility and acceptance.
As an Asian American, my life experience and this study strongly convince me that we must do better to teach Asian American history and culture in the United States – not only to promote greater understanding and tolerance, but also to show beauty and complexity.
Several investigations into the report have had a direct impact on Asian American security. For example: More than 1 in 5 Americans believe that Asian Americans are at least partially responsible for the epidemic – a percentage that has increased since 2021.
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Meanwhile, about 1 in 3 Americans are unaware of the growing number of hate crimes against Asian Americans, and even 1 in 6 Asian American adults report a hate crime or incident in 2021.
These searches only validate the pain felt in the community since the creation of the term “Chinese virus”.
The results of other studies influence young Asian Americans’ feelings about not being seen or represented in American society. When asked for the name of a prominent Asian American, more than half (58 percent) of Americans answered, “I don’t know,” followed by 7 percent, “Jackie Chan.”
Meanwhile, among Asian Americans, only 29 percent fully agree that they think they are accepted in American society and for respondents aged 18-24 this number has dropped to 19 percent.
The report offers some hope, however: 72 percent of respondents say anti-Asian racism is “an issue that needs to be addressed.” Among them, many agree that “more education and information about Asian American history and experience” is the best way to fight racism.
We must do better to teach Asian American history and culture in the United States
Here’s how to practice anti-apartheid Asian American education:
First of all, I believe that the subject matter, the period requires more education. We cannot create new understandings and descriptions without acknowledging the relative absence of Asian Americans from the school curriculum. This requires a number of steps: an audit to see how Asian Americans are represented; Use more Asian American primary sources; And the desire of Asian American thinkers and writers from Grace Lee Boggs to Ocean Vuong, Kathy Park Hong to lean into the extended canon.
There are signs of progress. In 2021, my own state, Illinois, signed the TEAACH (Teaching Equitable Asian American History) Act, making it mandatory that Asian-American history become part of the K-12 Illinois state curriculum in the 2022-23 school year.
Since then, even at the state level, New Jersey has followed suit, while California has mandated an ethnic study that requires lessons about different intersecting identities, especially the fact that Asians are a model minority that addresses the myth.
Nationally, in 2021, U.S. Representative Grace Meng (D-NY) reintroduced legislation that would promote the teaching and learning of Asian Pacific American history in schools.
Second, the content of Asian American history requires not only more breadth, but also depth. Growing up, I saw in the media that people like me were often represented with derogatory and stereotypical imagery, or were confined to a single textbook paragraph about the Chinese boycott, the Japanese occupation of World War II, or the Vietnam War. Rarely, if ever, have we encouraged these stories to be complicated or to seek out new ones
This tokenism – or a lesson in Asian American history or a return to May – has taken away from me and my peers a brief understanding of ourselves and how we fit into the larger American tapestry.
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Fortunately, things have changed since I was a student. Today, it has never been easier for students to represent themselves outside the classroom. From music like K-Pop and Mando-Pop to Asian-produced TV shows and movies, our culture captures the imagination of my students.
In the field of education, national groups such as The Asian American Education Project, the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center and the Immigrant History Initiative, and local groups such as the Yale-China Association and Asian Americans Advancing Justice Chicago have made investments.
Meanwhile, mass social movements have made the ideas presented by hashtags like #StopAAPIHate and # RacismIsAVirus visible in the media – a topic worthy of discussion in all social studies classrooms.
Just as the term “Asian American” encompasses the rich tapestry of different nationalities, there is endless room for the creativity of Asian American education when discussing our unique culture, image, and story of resistance.
As educators, we need to make sure that our stories are told and heard.
I believe that a more comprehensive study of Asian American history will change our country’s understanding of American history, as well as send a message to Asian Americans that they are theirs.
Like the stories of black, Latino, Native, disabled, queer and trans people, Asian American stories are American stories – and more important to teach now than ever before.
Wen Zhang A graduate student at Northwestern University who will teach social studies at Amundsen High School in Chicago Public Schools next year.
Produced by this section about Asian American history and education Hatchinger report, A non-profit, independent news organization focusing on inequality and innovation in education. For registration Hatchinger’s newsletter.