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Like many other Asian Americans across the U.S., Alexandra Ni, a seventh-grader from Clarksville Middle School in Maryland, was saddened and appalled when she heard about the mass shootings that killed six Asian American women in Atlanta. The March 16 tragedy was not an isolated incident. Instead, it is only one of the many instances of violence instigated by Asian American hate that has plagued America for years.
When Alexandra’s hometown decided to rally in response to this shooting to support the Asian American community, Alexandra participated. Not only was she able to hear inspiring speeches from prominent leaders, business owners, and previously silenced voices within the Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) community, but she also included her own voice as an AAPI student. She delivered a powerful speech on the lack of AAPI inclusivity in schools and advocated for the inclusion of Asian American history and culture in school curriculums.
The current media coverage of AAPI hate crimes has revealed the consequences of racism and ignorance towards the Asian American community. The lackluster history currently taught by schools perpetuates the xenophobia that fuels hate crimes by characterizing the AAPI community as foreign and exotic. It is important to point out that the “otherness” that the AAPI community is subjected to is not new. It is only the increased mass media coverage in the past months that has increased the visibility and awareness about the racism that the AAPI community faces. The hate that was previously hidden through microaggressions is now pursued brazenly with encouragement from the rhetoric surrounding the pandemic.
To combat this racism and ignorance, school board members Yun Lu and Chao Wu from Howard County, Maryland, are making strides towards a more inclusive curriculum for the public school system in their own county. This year, the Howard County Public School System developed comprehensive instruction materials and emphasized “Stop Asian Hate” during AAPI Heritage Month. Lu and Wu have begun working with members of the Maryland Legislative AAPI Caucus to create a statewide initiative to address this issue.
While the details are still being discussed, it is undeniable that this is a step in the right direction towards a more representative public school curriculum for Maryland. As the demographics of the U.S. continue to diversify, the push for reform of current school curriculums is not a baseless demand. History curriculum reform has been an ongoing effort for decades. It recently made strides in Connecticut and Illinois, where bills were introduced into each respective state’s House of Representatives to include Asian American history in public school curriculums. Consequently, a future where inclusive American history is taught in schools is not an unattainable dream but an achievable goal.
As a current public school student, Alexandra is dismayed by the failure of her school system to teach her about her own community. She hardly remembers any instances from kindergarten to seventh grade in which Asian Americans were mentioned during class. If Asian American historical events were ever included, it was always in passing and never a focus. Yet AAPIs have been an integral part of the American fabric for centuries. Asians in America can be traced back as far as the 16th century, and Asian Americans have been heavily involved in major events such as the Civil Rights Movement, the Industrial Revolution, and Westward Expansion. However, they have largely been overlooked in history books, and when they manage to be included as a footnote, their depiction fails to paint an accurate picture of the Asian American experience. Alexandra’s experience as a public school student exposes the negligence of American public schools to teach inclusive and equitable American history.
Alexandra hopes that school curriculums will reflect a diverse, nuanced picture of Asian America going forward. The inclusion of AAPI ethnic music, social studies units focusing on AAPI history, and conversation about notable contributions of AAPI leaders are among the changes that Alexandra suggests. In addition, she also advocates for the inclusion of AAPI faces in school books and materials. Asian American students deserve to read books during English class where they can relate to the experiences and emotions of the protagonist. After all, AAPIs are a part of this country just like anyone else and deserve to be recognized as such.
As the Asian American community continues to be one of the fastest-growing populations in the U.S., more and more students in classrooms across America will identify as Asian American or Pacific Islander. What’s being taught in schools needs to be reflective of students, and Asian American students deserve to learn about the nuanced history of their own community. As a result, it is imperative that the effort to include Asian American history begins now.
The lack of AAPI history creates a perpetual foreigner image of the AAPI community, which increases ignorance, xenophobia, and hatred towards the AAPI community and damages American society as a whole. AAPI history is American history. Asian American and Pacific Islanders deserve more than just a paragraph in a textbook, and their challenges, successes, and aspirations should be shared across the nation.
Authors: Chao Wu (firstname.lastname@example.org), chair of Maryland’s Howard County Board of Education; Yun Lu (email@example.com), member of the Howard County Board of Education; Judy Zhou (firstname.lastname@example.org), student at Georgetown University and Howard County Public School System graduate; and Alexandra Ni, student at Howard County’s Clarksville Middle School.