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Connecticut joins growing list of states pushing for Asian American studies

 A bipartisan bill would require public schools to teach the cultural, political and social contributions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
Fashion designer Mrs. Ryie Yoshizawa
Fashion designer Mrs. Ryie Yoshizawa teaches a class at the Manzanar Japanese American Internment Camp in Owens Valley, Calif., in 1943.Pictures From History/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

After introducing a bill last month that would require teaching Asian American history in public schools, Connecticut lawmakers are now urging a vote on the measure. 

House Bill 5282, which was introduced in February, would require public schools to implement a history curriculum that includes the cultural, political and social contributions of Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. 

Last year, Illinois became the first state to require Asian American studies in public schools, followed by New Jersey. Other states such as Ohio, California, New York and Florida are making similar pushes for mandatory Asian American history.

The bill also comes three years after Connecticut became the first state requiring public high schools to offer Black and Latino studies courses. 

Republican state Sen. Tony Hwang, the bill’s sponsor, said education should be used as a tool to build cultural awareness. 

“The Asian Pacific American experience is one that is part of the tapestry of this country,” Hwang told NBC Asian America. “My hope in this curriculum is not only to raise awareness, but to educate and foster greater appreciation and tolerance for all of the people in our community and in our country.” 

Hwang also supported the 2019 law requiring Black and Latino studies, and said it will help pave the way for the Asian American studies bill. 

Hwang said it’s important that students are taught the “mistakes” of the past, and that these courses are one way to do that. “We need to learn from our history,” he said.

But racism isn’t just relegated to the past. Anti-Asian hate crimes increased by 339 percent between 2020 and 2021, according to data published by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism. 

“For too long, anti-Asian hate, violence and bias have been unaddressed and ignored by all but those who have lived its pain,” Connecticut Attorney General William Tong wrote in an email. “We know that law enforcement cannot address this crisis so long as its trauma remains invisible. That is why we also need to teach the overlooked history of bias and hate — and the successes and contributions — of Asian Americans in this country.” 

While the bill has more than two dozen sponsors on both sides of the aisle, Hwang, who introduced a similar bill in the state Senate last year, said he’s disappointed it hasn’t yet received a vote. The bill has been referred to the appropriations committee to determine how much its implementation would cost.

“It is still a long path,” Hwang said. “I think another big part of me raising this bill, for the past couple of years, is to have this conversation.”