Social Studies

Americans Know Few Key Asian American and Pacific Islander History Moments, Survey Finds

By Ileana Najarro — May 26, 2023 1 min read
In this May 1943 photo, Aiko Sumoge, an assistant teacher, leads a kindergarten class to sing an English folk song at the internment relocation center for Japanese Americans in Tule Lake, Ca., in during World War II. Roughly 120,000 Japanese immigrants and Japanese-Americans were sent to desolate camps that dotted the West because the government claimed they might plot against the U.S. Thousands were elderly, disabled, children or infants too young to know the meaning of treason. Two-thirds were citizens.
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There’s growing national demand for more instruction in K-12 schools on Asian American and Pacific Islander history.

Yet questions remain about how to cover the breadth of diversity of the communities that fall under the AAPI label through a critical lens, and how to do so in states that have restricted how teachers can address race and racism such as Florida and at least 17 others.

Make Us Visible, a national coalition of state chapters advocating for the inclusion of Asian American history in K-12 schools, has led efforts to pass at least six laws in four states mandating K-12 AAPI history instruction.

However, Jason Oliver Chang, an associate professor of history and Asian and Asian American studies at the University of Connecticut, acknowledges that legislation isn’t the only way to ensure AAPI history is taught.

In Colorado, for instance, state standards were updated to be more inclusive of various communities’ histories, Chang said, and in Boston and Los Angeles, teachers’ unions have led advocacy work in this field. Chang is among those working on a statewide curriculum in Connecticut after legislation endorsed by Make Us Visible that requires instruction of AAPI history with funding for curriculum development passed last year.

Recent national survey data speak to the need for ensuring holistic, culturally relevant, AAPI history is taught, as few Americans are familiar with key moments in AAPI history.

The Asian American Foundation, a national organization established by prominent AAPI community leaders and business people, began in the hopes of addressing the recent wave of anti-Asian hate across the country, said Norman Chen, the organization’s CEO.

But now Chen and his team are looking at the longer-term work in education and storytelling to help people understand that “a full understanding of American history would be incomplete unless you understood AAPI history as well.”

At a previous organization, Chen was among those who started an index composed of national survey data examining American attitudes toward Asian Americans, in particular stereotypes and perceptions.

The latest data looking at Americans’ knowledge of key moments in AAPI history cemented the need for better history instruction, Chen said.

TAAF and organizations are promoting more research into AAPI history curriculum at both the higher education and K-12 levels.

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