Photo: Library of Congress
Photo: Library of Congress

Illinois could be the first state to mandate Asian-American history in schools


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Illinois will soon become the first state to require schools to include an Asian-American history curriculum.

The Teaching Equitable Asian American Community History (TEAACH) Act passed the Democratic-controlled House on Wednesday, April 14 with a vote of 98 to 13.

The milestone legislation would mandate public school elementary and high school teachers to educate their students on Asian-American history, beginning in the 2022-2023 school year.

Asian-American history is American history, yet the majority of public school students do not learn about landmark events and legislation such as the murder of Vincent Chin, the Chinese Exclusion Act, the Delano Grape Strike, and American Homecoming Act.

Illinois State Rep. Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz, a co-sponsor of the bill, explained that the lack of education on this history contributes to the invisibility of Asian-Americans.

“Empathy comes from understanding. We cannot do better unless we know better,” said Rep. Gong-Gershowitz.

The bill was led by the Chicago branch of the advocacy group Asian Americans Advancing Justice, and supporters have been promoting the bill since early 2020. It didn’t gain enough momentum to reach the House, until after the deadly attacks on six Korean women in Atlanta in March. 

A recent report by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University San Bernardino, revealed that white hate crimes have decreased overall in the U.S., and anti-Asian hate crimes have risen by 145%

Sohyun An, a professor at Georgia’s Kennesaw State University, has conducted her own research on how U.S. children are taught about Asian-American history, and told NBC News that Illinois’ legislation is a step in the right direction. 

“If we don’t teach it or teach it in a misrepresented way, it can lead to violence,” An said.

The bills call on the Illinois Superintendent of Education to make instructional materials available to school boards, including a curriculum created by the Public Broadcasting Service to accompany their Asian Americans docu-series that aired last May. 

The TEEACH Act moved to Illinois’ Senate on Tuesday, May 25, and it received a unanimous vote of 57-0. The bill now heads back to the House for a final round of voting after a Senate amendment. 

Grace Pai, Organizing Director at Asian Americans Advancing Justice, believes that education is a great place to start to tackle the anti-Asian problem on a long-term basis. 

“We wanted to be able to tackle that problem with kind of a more long-term perspective to think about how we can interrupt these cycles that lead people to commit these acts of violence or lead people to believe stereotypes or other harmful narratives about Asian-Americans,” Pai said. 

The legislation was introduced by Rep. Gong-Gershowitz, and sponsored by Sen. Ram Villivalam. 

Villivalam, who is of Indian descent, believes that addressing hate crimes needs “more representation in government,” as well as bystander training. 

“We need to make sure that our issues are also being taken in that same lens [as other minorities] and we stand together in solidarity,” he said. 

Villivalam quoted a young student while on the House floor. The student spoke earlier in May at a committee hearing, claiming that her school inaccurately discussed Asian-American history, going so far as to mock her nationality. 

“Our education should teach us from right and wrong through holistic and inclusive history. Not re-traumatizing Japanese American students like me. As was said in the committee, we we’re on team Kiana then and we’re on team Kiana now,” Villivalam said, quoting the student. 

Villivalam thanked both Republicans and Democrats for supporting the bill as it passed out of the Senate unanimously. The proposal will now head back to the House for approval, and then make its way to Governor JB Pritzker’s desk for his signature.


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