Community rallies for bill to add Asian American history to curriculum

If passed, subject will be taught in social studies classes across the state

“Make us visible.” “Stop Asian hate.” “Fight hate with education.”

Those were among messages heard at a Dec. 6 rally at Cherry Hill’s Grace Ministry,   where residents of the township and neighboring areas joined forces with Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) of Montclair and Make Us Visible NJ to support the teaching of Asian American history.

A bill that will require districts to incorporate that history in social studies curriculums across the state passed the state senate earlier this month, and was heard by the assembly on Dec. 9. 

“AAPI has hundreds of histories, over 300 years worth of history traced back to 1600,” said Ying Lu, Make Us Visible NJ co-founder. “We’d like to see that history be included as part of American history.

Lu cited the example of Wong Kim Ark, whose lawsuit paved the way for the Supreme Court to establish birthright citizenship for Asian Americans.

“For all of us whose parents are immigrants, we owe it all to him,” Lu said.

Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt, a sponsor of the bill and a Cherry Hill resident, also attended the rally and reflected on the progress that has been made to reflect diversity in classes, such as the inclusion of Black History. 

“We wanted [the bill] to mirror, (be) more similar to the Black History Month and the Amistad Commission (founded to bolster the teaching of slavery and other African American contributions), so we’re going to be taking it a step further to create an Asian American commission as well,” Lampitt announced.

“This commission will actually have some directives and some meaning to incorporate (Asian American history) not only in our K-12 system, but in our higher-education system as well,” she added.

Others at the rally included Mayor Susan Shin Angulo; Cherry Hill school Superintendent Dr. Joseph Meloche; event organizers Dan Park and Jessica Kim; Rajpal Bath, an aide to Gov. Phil Murphy; and Emmy winning journalist and registered nurse Yvonne Lee. 

Nearly 20 people spoke about being Asian American and the recent uptick in violence toward that group. Six students from Rosa International Middle School, Cherry Hill East and Eastern Regional High School also spoke and Emalynn Sol, the youngest, said she and her brother have experienced racism.

“Somebody told my brother it was impossible for him to be American because of his eyes and the kid said, ‘I don’t like you because you’re not American,’” Sol said. “ … I don’t understand why this happens to us, because we are American, because we were born in this country.

“I think if everyone learned about Asian American history, they would understand that we are American too,” she added. “We helped build this country, too.”

Eastern student Samantha Lee asked out loud why students haven’t been able to learn about Asian American history.

“There is a history of Asian Americans,” she noted. “There is a history of Asians. China alone makes up the largest population on Earth, and we don’t learn about it? … I wish I could learn something about my culture so I wouldn’t feel so uneducated about myself.”

Reverend Joe Kim reflected on the ways Asians are perceived and treated in America.

“This is a world where we are called model minority citizens but are treated like perpetual foreigners,” he explained. “ …This bill, however, represents hope. Hope that maybe through education and empathy, our world doesn’t have to be this way.”

The Asian American Curriculum Bill can be viewed at https://legiscan.com/NJ/bill/A6100/2020.