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N.J. mandates teaching Asian American and Pacific Islander history in schools

New Jersey becomes the second state to sign teaching AAPI history into law, after Illinois last year.
Japanese Americans deal with paperwork at an internment camp in the early 1940s.
Japanese Americans deal with paperwork at an internment camp in the early 1940s.Corbis via Getty Images file

New Jersey now requires Asian American and Pacific Islander history as part of its public school curriculum, the second state in the nation to do so.

Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, signed the law Tuesday mandating school districts to teach students in grades K-12 starting in the 2022-2023 school year about the contributions of AAPIs. The bill’s signing comes after it was approved by the New Jersey Legislature in December and follows Illinois, which also signed similar legislation last year. 

Murphy said it’s critical for students to learn about the contributions of Asian Americans. The curriculum will be part of student learning standards statewide.

“The members of our Asian American/Pacific Islander community have contributed so much to our state and nation,” he said in a statement. “By teaching students about the history and heritage of our AAPI community, we can ensure that the diversity of our state is reflected in our curriculum and create a more tolerant and knowledgeable future for New Jersey. I am proud to sign these bills into law.”

Last year, Murphy created an Asian American Pacific Islander Commission within the N.J. Department of State, tasked with creating policies to target specific needs of the communities. 

Kani Ilangovan, the founder of Make Us Visible NJ, an advocacy group that’s been pushing the state to adopt a K-12 curriculum that’s more inclusive of AAPIs, said she is grateful the bill has been signed because it shows the voices of the communities matter in education. 

“It feels like we are fulfilling our slogan, making ourselves visible,” Ilangovan, who is Indian American, told NBC Asian America. “My hope is that people come to learn the history that I only learned in the past year of all the different ways Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have contributed to the building of this country.” 

Assemblyman Raj Mukherji and state Sen. Vin Gopal, two South Asian American Democratic lawmakers, sponsored the bill. In a statement, Mukherji noted that the law could help combat hateful rhetoric and violence targeting Asian Americans. 

“Asian Americans have been battling two pandemics — COVID-19 and hate,” he said. “Like all forms of hate, it usually comes from a place of ignorance. So at least for the next generation, the hope is that learning about the history of these immigrant communities and their American story will serve to educate and curb discrimination and bullying that could lead — and has led — to youth suicides.”

The law is the latest in a nationwide movement to include Asian American history in public school lessons. Earlier this month, John C. Yang, the executive director and president of the advocacy group Asian Americans Advancing Justice, said the push for Asian American history is an outgrowth of racial reckoning in the U.S. This follows the police killings of George Floyd and Daunte Wright and the fatal shootings of six women of Asian descent at three spas in the Atlanta area.

“We need to address all of this together, and Asian Americans want to be part of this solution, standing in solidarity with the African American community and other communities of color,” Yang previously said. 

Ilangovan said she hopes the new law can help make Asian American history accessible to people of all backgrounds and foster a sense of belonging. 

“Kids pay attention to whose stories are being told in school and whose aren’t,” she said. “I’m glad that our stories will be told, and I hope that every group’s histories will be told.”