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Photo: Make Us Visible NJ
AAPI history will likely be a required curriculum in New Jersey by the end of 2021. Photo: Make Us Visible NJ

New Jersey to be second state to mandate AAPI history in schools

The state assembly passed a bill mandating the curriculum in schools on Monday, Dec. 20. It now joins Illinois, which passed a bill in July.

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A bill that would require public schools to teach Asian-American history has been approved by the New Jersey state legislature.

The bill, which passed the Senate earlier this month and the General Assembly on Monday, Dec. 20, is now headed to Gov. Phil Murphy, who is expected to sign it into law.

If signed, New Jersey would become the second state to mandate Asian-American history as part of its public school curriculum, after Illinois did so in July.

In the 2020 census, more than 1 million New Jersey residents identified themselves as Asian. The state’s Asian population grew faster in the past decade than any other large ethnic or racial group, increasing 44% since 2010.

Kani Ilangovan, founder of the advocacy group Make Us Visible New Jersey, told NBC News that the measure affirms a sense of belonging to the country for Asian-Americans. 

Ilangovan’s group has been pushing for the Garden State to adopt a K-12 curriculum that is more inclusive of AAPIs. 

“It’s very sad, but during the pandemic, there’s been a huge rise in anti-Asian violence, and we feel education is the best antidote to hate,” Ilangovan said. 

During a Senate Education Committee meeting last month, 17-year-old Christina Huang implored lawmakers to support the bill. 

“Not having Asian-Americans seen in our curriculum sends a message — it sends a message to me: I’m invisible. That I don’t matter,” she said. 

Two South Asian Democrats sponsored the bill: Assemblyman Raj Mukherji and state Sen. Vin Gopal, the first Indian-American elected as state senator in New Jersey. 

Gopal said he missed out on learning about Asian-American history in school and now hopes that other students will have that opportunity. 

“What I didn’t learn was about people who look like me, those who were from the AAPI community that have had significant contributions to our great country we live in today. I am proud to sponsor legislation that can help kids who look like me know that they can be anything,” Gopal said in a statement. 

Mukherji said passing this bill was urgent given the rise in anti-Asian hate. 

“Hate comes from a place of ignorance, and if we can educate our young people about the Asian-American immigrant experience, about our history, we will not only be teaching them, but we will be building empathy,” he said. 

Last month, Murphy established the Asian American Pacific Islander Commission in the Department of State that has been tasked with “developing policies to address the social and economic needs of the growing Asian American and Pacific Islander communities in New Jersey.” 

If the bill is signed, advocates said a commission would advise the New Jersey Department of Education about how to implement the curriculum across the state. 

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