AAPI History is American History, It’s Time We All Treat it as Such


Leslie Kang (PPS ‘24)

Leslie Kang (PPS ‘24)

In light of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) targeted hate crimes in recent years, I urge states to follow Illinois and New Jersey and prioritize AAPI-inclusive curricula.

The Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University in San Bernardino reported that in the 16 largest American cities, anti-Asian hate crime reports increased 342% from 2020 to 2021. What makes this especially concerning is that Asian Americans are the fastest-growing racial or ethnic group in the country, and by 2055, the Pew Research Center projects that they will be America’s largest immigrant group in the country. With this in mind, as a society, we ought to look forward and see how we can protect future Asian Americans.

The AAPI community frequently suffers from invisibility when it comes to anti-racism education. We are often seen as “white-adjacent” when it comes to achievement, America is always ready to champion us as the model minority. But when it comes to racism and hate crimes, we are just another target. America cannot stay complacent when it comes to this invisibility.

I believe this starts with educating our youth. I was born and raised in Bergen County, New Jersey. It boasts all ten of the towns with the highest density of Korean Americans in the United States, with number one on that list being 51% Korean American. I had the privilege of growing up around people who looked like me and around white peers who knew better than to say racially insensitive comments. I can also count on one hand how many Black students were in my school during my nine years in the school district. But we didn’t need Black peers to know racism towards the Black community was wrong.

This was because my middle school’s curriculum actively sought to educate us on Black history. I knew who all the major figures were, all about Jim Crow, the Civil Rights Movement, and persisting inequities. I never had a Black student in my class, but I knew what it meant to be racist and what it meant to be anti-racist because my curriculum carved out time to teach us about it.

But funny enough, I never learned a single thing about my own people.

It wasn’t until recently that I learned that this is practically a universal experience for AAPI students. Studies show that 18 states do not mention a single Asian American in their social studies textbooks, and most states include AAPI history in a near-invisible way. When they do mention Asian Americans, they tack on dangerous stereotypes that insinuate Asian immigrants were job-stealers or dangerous communists after World War II.

I am contrasting Black history education with the lack of AAPI education, but I am by no means saying that as a country we have done all that we can to educate our youth on Black history. We have not. But we have also been doing American children a huge injustice by leaving AAPI in the margins of our history curriculums. All students should be learning about the Japanese Internment Camps and not in ways that merely paint Japanese Americans as spies, about Indigenous Rights in Hawaii, and about the Chinese Exclusion Act. They should also be hearing the stories of immigrants from South and Southeast Asia who are frequently left out of American history.

Illinois spearheaded the effort to educate students on these topics in April 2021 when the Teaching Equitable Asian American Community History (TEAACH) Act was added to the Illinois School Code. The TEAACH Coalition has been working with the organization Asian Americans Advancing Justice Chicago to create sample unit outlines with essential questions, lists of books for each grade level, lists of films, and what regions they represent. These resources are free to the public, and Asian Americans Advancing Justice Chicago offers free workshops to train teachers on AAPI education. Governor Murphy of New Jersey signed off on similar legislation this past January. And like to Americans Advancing Justice Chicago, the Make Us Visible organization is helping facilitate New Jersey’s transition to the new curriculum. It’s my sincere hope that other states follow in these states’ footsteps.

We owe it to future Asian-Americans to let them grow up feeling represented by their own education. We also owe it to the non-AAPI to keep them informed. I am calling for state legislatures to be as bold as Illinois and New Jersey, and lay the foundation for a safer, more compassionate America.

Leslie Kang (PPS ‘24) is a Public Policy Undergraduate at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy. This piece was submitted as an op-ed in the Spring ‘23 PUBPOL 301 course. This content does not represent the official or unofficial views of the Sanford School, Polis, Duke University, or any entity or individual other than the author.