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Hirono Introduces Bill to Promote the Teaching of Asian Pacific American History to Teachers and Students

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI) led nine of her Senate colleagues in introducing the Teaching Asian Pacific American History Act, bicameral legislation that would promote the teaching of Asian Pacific American (APA) history for high school students and teachers who enroll in the U.S. Department of Education’s American History and Civics Academies programs.  

Asian and Pacific Islander American (APIA) individuals and communities, which includes Native Hawaiians, have largely been excluded or erased from American history for generations. This legislation would take a step towards solving that problem by requiring non-profits that receive grants through the Department of Education’s American History and Civics Academies—programs that provide workshops to teachers and courses for students—to teach Asian Pacific American history as part of their curriculum. In doing so, this legislation would not only directly teach our high school students who enroll in these non-profit programs, but also encourage more K-12 teachers across the country to include APA history in their own classrooms.

“When it comes to teaching Asian and Pacific American history in public schools, our communities are rarely—if ever—mentioned. If not invisible, APIA groups are often pejoratively depicted as foreigners, instead of people who have lived in and positively contributed to this country for generations—fueling longstanding xenophobia and racism against our communities,” said Senator Hirono. “Given the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes, it is more critical than ever before that we accurately portray the many achievements and contributions of our communities, as well as the racism and prejudice that APIAs have endured for decades in schools across the country. We have a long way to go—but this bill is a step toward making APA history part of the conversation.”

Since 2016, the Education Department’s American History and Civics Academies programs have provided more than $13.6 million to promote the teaching of American history and civics for students and teachers throughout the United States. Last year, Senator Hirono joined her colleagues in sending a letter requesting strong funding for the program in FY2022.

In addition to Senator Hirono, the Teaching Asian Pacific American History Act is cosponsored by Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Tina Smith (D-MN), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Jacky Rosen (D-NV). Representative Grace Meng (D-NY) introduced the House companion of this bill, H.R. 2283, last May.

“I thank Senator Hirono for introducing the Senate version of my legislation,” said U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY). “For generations, Asian Pacific American history has been poorly represented in our K-12 education system and social studies textbooks, and it’s time for that to change. Asian Pacific American history is American history, and when we fail to tell our children these stories, we lose a rich and nuanced perspective on our American story. Whether those stories are of the Chinese laborers who built the Transcontinental Railroad, the Filipino laborers who were critical to fighting for workers’ rights, or Dalip Singh Saund who was a South Asian Member of Congress and a champion of helping farmers, school textbooks should be inclusive of all the diverse stories our nation has to offer. Teaching future generations about our past, and how those of Asian and Pacific Islander descent helped make America the greatest country on the planet, will help breakdown the stereotypes and negative perceptions that sadly still exist about Asian Pacific Americans. All communities of color must be better represented in the history lessons taught to our students so that we can learn from our past and create a more just society.” 

“With acts of hate and violence against AAPI communities growing across the country, this is a critical time to accurately teach Asian Pacific American history,” said Senator Rosen. “I am proud to join my Senate colleagues in introducing this bill to ensure future generations learn the accurate and full history of the United States, which includes the many achievements and contributions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Through education, we can get one step closer towards tackling xenophobia and degrading stereotypes.”

“Asian Americans have been a vital part of communities across our country for generations,” said Klobuchar. “This legislation would help ensure that students learn about the longstanding and valuable contributions that Asian Americans have made to this country.”

“As we’ve seen a rise in hate against the AANHPI community the past few years, it’s more critical than ever that our children are learning the rich and diverse history of Asian, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander American communities,” Duckworth said. “To break the cycle of discrimination, other-ization and alienation, having our history included in curriculum around the country is long overdue. Our diversity and our stories make this nation stronger, and I’m proud to join Senator Hirono in this effort.”

Specifically, the Teaching Asian Pacific American History Act:

  • Requires the U.S. Department of Education’s (ED’s) American history and civics programs to include Asian Pacific American (APA) history as part of the Presidential and Congressional Academies for K-12 teachers and students; and
  • Promotes collaboration between grantees of ED’s American history and civics programs and the Smithsonian Institution’s Asian Pacific American Center to develop innovative programming for teachers and students.

“JACL applauds Senator Hirono for introducing the Teaching Asian Pacific American History Act in the Senate, especially as we are in the midst of celebrating Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month,” said David Inoue, Executive Director of the Japanese American Citizens League. “This legislation will emphasize that learning about our community's diverse history and experience should not be relegated to a single month, but be a part of every student's education about diverse American experiences. We look forward to the swift passage of this act to support and work with JACL's long standing curriculum guides and teacher training programs that continue to share the history of Japanese Americans in classrooms across the country.”

“For far too long, Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander stories and history have been invisibilized, tokenized, or otherwise misrepresented in our curriculum-- and therefore in everyday life in America. Our students deserve an education that tells the history of their respective communities, and also empowers them in knowing their heritage. We are incredibly grateful for Sen. Hirono and Rep. Meng's leadership in moving this bill forward,” said Gregg Orton, National Director of the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA). 

“The teaching of AANHPI history is crucial to understanding the experiences of the AANHPI communities by including our stories as part of America’s story.” said Quyen Dinh, Executive Director of the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC). “For too long the AANHPI narrative has been erased from the history books while anti-Asian stereotypes are perpetuated in our society. These teachings provide perspective to the struggles and prejudice that many AANHPI communities face as well as their resilience. With the rise of anti-Asian sentiments related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the upcoming 40th anniversary of the murder and hate crime against Vincent Chin, and the overall racial injustices faced by communities of color, this bill is needed more than ever. We urge Senators to support this companion bill and demonstrate commitment to fostering an inclusive and diverse education for all our children.” 

“This bill represents a historic step in prioritizing Asian American and Pacific Islander histories in our education system,” said John C. Yang, president and executive director at Asian Americans Advancing Justice – AAJC. “Recent events have shown that teaching diverse curricula is ever more important to building a more inclusive future, and public education of AAPI histories will play a crucial role in ensuring that we can heal and move forward as a country.”

Senator Hirono has long advocated on behalf of APIA communities in Hawaii, the U.S., and Pacific Island nations and territories. To address the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes and violence during the heart of the pandemic, Senator Hirono introduced the COVID-19 Hates Crimes Act—bipartisan, bicameral legislation that was signed into law by President Biden on May 20, 2021. Previously, Senator Hirono has introduced legislation to restore Medicaid eligibility for citizens of the Freely Associated States. For the last several years, Senator Hirono has led the Senate resolution recognizing May as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. She also serves as an executive board member on the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC). Additionally, Senator Hirono is a longstanding champion of programs to support Hawaii’s indigenous, Native Hawaiian community, especially in the areas of education, health, and housing.

The legislation is endorsed by Stop AAPI Hate; Stop AAPI Hate Youth Campaign; National Coalition of Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA); Asian American Federation (AAF); National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF); Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum (APIAHF); Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC); National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA); OCA – Asian Pacific American Advocates; Japanese American Citizens League (JACL); Fred T. Korematsu Institute; Indian Diaspora Council (IDC); the Council of Korean Americans; the National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development (National CAPACD); Teach For America – Asian American Pacific Islander Alliances; New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC); Empowering Pacific Islander Communities (EPIC); and United Chinese Americans (UCA).

The full text of the bill can be found here. A one-page summary can be found here.