Florida is the latest state to mandate the teaching of Asian American and Pacific Islander history

The growing community effort driving the requirement that Asian American and Pacific Islander history be taught in K-12 schools has seen several legislative successes in recent years.

This month in Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis, now a Republican presidential candidatesigned into law a requirement for AAPI history to be taught in the state’s K-12 schools, with specific mention of the Japanese internment camps and the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II.

It is the sixth bill to become law for the national coalition of state chapters known as Make Us Visible, which is part of a broader movement across the country for better inclusion of AAPI history in K-12 curricula.

But advocates and researchers say it also raises an important question at the heart of calls for more AAPI history: How should schools teach the full breadth of AAPI experiences across the country through more than a superficial lens? ? And how does this look in the context of states like Florida, where legislation restricts how issues of race and LGBTQ+ topics can be taught in both K-12 and higher education institutions, and where courses like AP African American History have been banned?

“We see the challenges that are occurring in our state and recognize that it will continue to be a struggle, but we are moving forward one step at a time,” said Mimi Chan, state director of the Make Us Visible Florida chapter.

The need for more AAPI history instruction

The new Florida law took about two years of grassroots community organizing to bear fruit, Chan said.

Individuals like José Keichi Fuentes, senior government relations consultant at Becker and Poliakoff law firm in Miami, got involved in supporting the passage of the legislation because they know firsthand the importance of more Asian American stories being told.

Fuentes’ grandparents, great-grandparents, uncles and mother were interned during World War II at a Gila River camp in Arizona.

As a child, he did not know this part of his family’s history. Fuentes, who is on the Miami-Dade County Asian American Advisory Board, didn’t put the pieces together until after his grandfather’s death and reviewed his information.

“I thought it was a very important part of my family history that I should have known about,” she said. “They were extremely ashamed of that. But it’s important for us as the next generation to have that history and be careful not to make those mistakes or allow our freedoms to be compromised.”

Chan hopes more schools can specifically cover the contributions of Asian Americans to Florida, with topics like how farmer Lue Gim Gongit changed the Florida citrus industry in the early 20th century, in part, by producing an orange that was more resistant to cold weather.

She estimates that it will take three to five years to develop and implement curriculum and plans to work with the Florida department of education to develop a task force for this.

But the implementation part, say some community leaders, will be even more complicated in a state like Florida.

The political climate that complicates a more inclusive story

The new law requiring AAPI history exists in a restrictive political environment that has some organizations and individuals concerned about exactly how AAPI will be taught.

For example, while Florida also mandates the teaching of African-American history, the new legislation added a caveat that instruction and curriculum cannot indoctrinate students, which experts, including those in the world of book publishing, text,they have found to be loosely defined. Earlier this year, DeSantis banned schools from offeringa new Advanced Placement African American Studies course for allegedly defying state law.

It’s hard to imagine this being a genuine effort from AAPI studies being taught in schools, when the historical experiences of other communities of color aren’t rising up as well, said Gregg Orton, national director of the National Council of Asian Americans and the Pacific, a coalition of multiple civil rights organizations.

Orton and others don’t see the new legislation led by Make Us Visible on AAPI’s history as a real success when there is also legislation in the state that restricts instruction on sexual orientation..

There are also now legislative limits on instruction and diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives at colleges and universities. where most of the academic research that would inform AAPI history curricula is done, said Jason Oliver Chang, associate professor of history and Asian and Asian American studies at the University of Connecticut.

Chang is concerned that the pursuit of requiring AAPI records in the context of such legislation harkens back to government-led efforts to uphold Asian Americans as a “model minority” at the expense of other racial and ethnic groups. minority.

For example, after spending time in internment camps, Japanese Americans became wary of what political voice they should have, especially when opposed to the emerging civil rights movement within African-American communities, Chang said. Many preferred the path of cultural assimilation and did not build cultural enclaves in the neighborhoods.

However, the very concept of the Asian American label grew out of the civil rights era of the 1960s with black and AAPI histories deeply connected over time, something that should be explored in AAPI history courses. Chang added.

Chang is currently working on developing a state curriculum on the history of AAPI after legislation pushed by Make Us Visible passed in Connecticut last year. He is well aware that passing laws is the easy part.

And in a state like Florida, he wonders how implementation will go, especially when weighing the importance of teaching not only contributions to history and cultural celebrations like Lunar New Year, but also AAPI history through a critical lens. , such as the role US intervention abroad played in global migration patterns. And how would instruction in Florida about the interconnected history of the AAPI and LGBTQ+ communities work?

“It seems like AAPI’s pursuit of inclusion was a one-issue campaign in Florida that doesn’t seem to address the other issues facing Asian Americans,” Chang said. “It’s very confusing and feels manipulative.”

Chan, of the Florida Make Us Visible chapter, said she recognizes the value of teaching everyone’s history and hopes the new law is a first step in the right direction.

“It’s an ongoing conversation and discussion to ensure our stories are accurately represented,” he said.