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NYC to teach Asian American, Pacific Islander history in over 1,800 schools

Beginning this fall,  a new program will teach students about the history, contributions and culture of the Asian American community.
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

New York City will launch a new pilot program in schools this fall that aims to teach students about the history of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, the city’s Department of Education announced Thursday.  

Under the curriculum, “Hidden Voices: Asian American and Pacific Islanders in the United States, students in grades K-12 will learn about the contributions, culture and history of the Asian American community.

The program is part of the Hidden Voices Project, which sheds light on lesser-known figures that have shaped history. The effort will extend to more than 1,800 schools across the New York City educational system. 

Hunter College, the Coalition for Asian American Children and Families (CACF) and the Asian American Education Project are among the organizations developing the new curriculum. 

Kaveri Sengupta, the senior policy coordinator for education at CACF, an advocacy organization for the Asian American community, said the curriculum looks to highlight the diverse experiences in the Asian American community. She added that education is also critical in dismantling anti-Asian hate. 

“We kind of see erasure from curriculum as being one of the root causes of the anti-Asian rhetoric we hear, the hate or the violence that we see,” Sengupta said, adding that this would help Asian American and Pacific Islander students “see themselves reflected and feel like they are really a part of the American fabric.”  

The materials will include the Chinese Exclusion Act, the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II and the targeting of Muslims, Sikhs and South Asian Americans after 9/11, including the travel ban announced in 2017 that restricted travel from predominantly Muslim countries. 

“Anti-Asian hate has really extended to all Americans descended from every part of Asia and that’s not widely understood, even today,” Vivian Louie, director of the Asian American Studies Program and Center, professor of Urban Policy and Planning at Hunter College and a lead scholar on the Hidden Voices: AAPI project, told NBC News. “This knowledge is important, not only for AAPI’s, but for all New Yorkers and more broadly … for all Americans to learn and to understand.” 

State Sen. John Liu, D-NY, echoed that Asian American history is one of the many tools that can be used to combat anti-Asian discrimination. Liu is the sponsor of a bill in New York that would require Asian American studies. The bill is in committee. 

“People just don’t know enough about Asian Americans and the Asian American experience and how our history is just as much a part of American history as anybody else’s,” Liu said. “We need education to promote better understanding of Asian Americans so that we’re not constantly labeled as either the model minority, the perpetual foreigner or worse yet the yellow peril.” 

The full program is slated to go into effect in the spring of 2024, after officials receive feedback from teachers and community organizations. 

“Our goal is to be able to start getting the materials out there, see how they land … and really take a look at this the right way like what are we missing?” Sengupta said. 

“The city needs to ensure that the curriculum speaks to the needs and the desires … and the dreams of communities who are going to be receiving it and isn’t unintentionally exclusive,” she added. 

The program in New York City follows similar efforts to mandate the teaching of Asian American history in public schools across the U.S. This year, Connecticut and New Jersey passed laws requiring Asian American history in schools after Illinois became the first state to do so last year.