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New Jersey poised to become second state to require teaching Asian American history

The bill passed the Legislature on Monday and heads to Gov. Phil Murphy's desk.
Students walk past a display for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month at Farmington High School in Farmington, Conn., on May 10.
Students walk past a display for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month at Farmington High School in Farmington, Conn., on May 10.Jessica Hill / AP file

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

The bill, which passed the Senate earlier this month and the General Assembly on Monday, now heads to Democratic 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 earlier this year.

More than 1 million New Jersey residents identified as Asian in the 2020 census, the New Jersey Monitor reported, making the population the fastest-growing racial or ethnic group in the state.

“It’s affirming our sense of belonging to this country, and also that we deserve to feel safe,” said Kani Ilangovan, the founder of Make Us Visible New Jersey, an advocacy group that’s been pushing the state to adopt a K-12 curriculum that’s more inclusive of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. “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, who is Indian American, launched Make Us Visible New Jersey earlier this year following a spate of anti-Asian hate incidents across the U.S.

Two South Asian Democratic lawmakers sponsored the bill: Assemblyman Raj Mukherji and state Sen. Vin Gopal. Gopal, the first Indian American elected as state senator in New Jersey, said he missed out on learning about Asian American history in school. Now, he hopes other students 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,” Gopal said in a statement. “I am proud to sponsor legislation that can help kids who look like me know that they can be anything.”

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

“It is not a secret that hate incidents against Asian Americans are on the rise at an alarming level since the pandemic, and when you have people with a platform referring to the disease as the 'kung flu' or the 'China virus,' I’m not so sure that’s shocking,” Mukherji said. “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.”

Last month, Murphy created 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 Asian American curriculum bill is approved, advocates said a commission would advise the New Jersey Department of Education about how to implement the curriculum across the state.