Help Teens Bring Ethnic Studies to Portland’s Public Schools

Members of the Asian Pacific Islander Leaders for the Liberation of Youth (clockwise): Ronell Manguino, Cheryl Luong, Hong Yu, Keely Li, and Y Le (Amanda Lucier)

In our city, almost half of high school students identify as non-white. Currently, their history is not being taught. We believe that should change. Tomorrow, the Portland Portland Public School Board will vote on a resolution that will bring at least one ethnic studies class to all ten of the city’s high schools over the next couple of years.

This vote is the result of many months of hard work by the students pictured above (and over a hundred of their peers), who are part of Asian Pacific Islander Leaders for the Liberation of Youth (ALLY). Together, they have created the “Missing Pages of Our History” campaign which promotes the study of Asian, Black, Latino and Latina, Pacific Islander, Arab, Native American, queer and transgender cultures. ALLY is asking for the business community’s endorsement. Our ambitious goal is to get an additional 150 signatures in the next two days, bring the count up to 200, and help pass the resolution.

We need your help. Go here to add your name to the endorsement.

The argument for ethnic studies is manifold: studies show that schools with such curricula can have higher test scores and graduation rates than before. There’s also a correlation to increased student engagement and academic achievement. With one of the worst graduation rates in the country, Oregon needs all of the help it can get.

Ethnic studies is important for our local economy as well. As our city changes over the next decades, promoting workforce diversity, especially in high tech jobs, is one of the most critical challenges we face. This issue is often referred to as a “pipeline problem,” where the perceived lack qualified candidates to fill the roles is to blame. Important efforts like the Portland Tech Diversity Pledge address this issue at the workplace level by encouraging community partnerships, internships, and transparent hiring data.

We all recognize that the broken system starts much earlier than when résumés land on a hiring manager’s desk. Franklin High School senior Y Le imagines a future when her classmates will know her heritage beyond the associations they have with the Vietnam War. Le’s classmate, Hong Yu, explains that we only know what we see, and what we’re taught. “Chinese people own dry cleaners, and people know what Chinese food is,” said Yu.

This is an opportunity for the business community to send a strong signal that we must invest in the pipeline sooner. As ALLY students told us, it’s easier to imagine achievement when you know the history of those who have overcome adversity before you.

The campaign wall at APANO headquarters, with photographs of the seven Portland Public School Board members (Amanda Lucier)

This resolution is the first step in this march towards change. PICOC is proud to support these dedicated students who demonstrate the type of leadership skills we believe will contribute to our business community’s long-term health and prosperity. We invite you to stand with them.

Calls to Action

1. Add your name (and business name) to the endorsement.

Communicate to the board that this issue has an impact on our city’s commercial future.

2. Attend the rally.

Students will be leading a rally ahead of the vote at 5 PM on Tuesday, May 3rd at the Portland Public School Board at 501 N Dixon St, Portland, Oregon 97227.

For more information and press, read about ALLY’s efforts here:

These Underrepresented Students Are Tired Of School Curriculums That Make Them Invisible,” Huffington Post

Students Call For Ethnic Studies in Portland High Schools,” NBC News

Textbooks don’t tell the history of minorities, students say. Teenagers want to change that.,” The Oregonian


As always, you can find us at picoc.org, on Twitter, and on Facebook
Special thanks to Cameron Whitten (Know Your City) for alerting us to the campaign, and Karn Saetang (APANO), and to photojournalist Amanda Lucier.