[STAFF EDITORIAL] Include all Asian Americans in the nation’s story
100% staff approval
May 19, 2023
The Burmese, Karen (kuh-ren), Filipino, Indian, Japanese, Lao, Thai, Hmong, Korean, Cambodian, and Vietnamese are the largest Asian groups that call Minnesota home. The largest group is Hmong with over 100,000, followed by Asian Indians, Chinese, and Vietnamese.
Minnesota’s Asian community is very diverse. However, during Asian American Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) heritage month, celebrated in May, only a few groups are recognized, such as the Chinese and Japanese and there is a failure to acknowledge the lesser-known groups.
At the national level, the Pew Research Center reported that Asians make up 7% of the US population, meaning there are over 24 million Asian Americans, and they are the fastest-growing racial or ethnic group in the US. Asian Americans trace their roots back to more than 30 countries across the continent, yet the diversity of the community is often ignored.
Even within the AANHPI communities, Asian Americans don’t know about other Asian groups. The Pew Research Center found that only 24% of Asians are very knowledgeable about the history of Asians in the US. 70% or more find this information through the internet, media, and family and friends, while 39% say they learned it in primary through secondary school. It’s incredibly disproportionate how Asian Americans have to find out about themselves through the media when schools and Social Studies classes exist to teach the complete history of the US that includes Asians in America.
It’s incredibly disproportionate how Asian Americans have to find out about themselves through the media when schools and Social Studies classes exist to teach the complete history of the US
The lack of knowledge about diversity within the AANHPI community starts in schools. Our education system does not fully teach about Asian Americans and their rich history in the US.
Understandably, schools can’t fit every part of the US’s complex history in a year. History and social studies curriculums can change based on the state because each state has its own history. It’s undeniable, though, that Asians have been a part of American history since the mid-1800s when the first wave of Asian immigrants came to the US and greatly contributed to the country. The Chinese came and built the transcontinental railroad. Wong Kim Ark, a US-born Chinese American, won birthright citizenship for everyone. Vice President Kamala Harris is Indian and Black, and proudly talks about her heritage. Let’s celebrate St. Paul’s own Olympic gold medalist, Sunisa Lee, who is a Hmong American.
These stories are beginning to be told. A bill requiring ethnic studies in Minnesota high schools was considered on Feb. 28 that would include teaching the cultures and histories of all Asian Americans. Arguments against this, made mainly by parents and right-wing politicians, are that it’s for the progressive political agenda and will racially divide students. But including ethnic studies in the curriculum opens doors for Asian and non-Asian students to learn about themselves and others. To only teach a small chunk of one or two groups’ history in the US, out of many, shows how the curriculum lacks diversity.
It is good to learn about the histories of significant Asian cultures. The problem is that the groups that make up the majority are the only ones being studied, read about, and celebrated, and in the end, they are the only ones known. This goes to reinforce the stereotypes that all Asians are the same.
Don’t limit learning about AANHPI communities to one month, one group, or one experience. While, hopefully, schools are working to include Asian American and other ethnic studies into their curriculum, let learning occur outside of classroom walls. Build relationships with people that have different experiences and worldviews. Approximately 22% of SPA students identify as Asian. Beyond knowing the statistics, this is an opportunity to get to know them and learn about their cultures.
Finally, to the Asian-identifying reader, don’t be shy about your culture; express it with pride. Don’t downplay your experiences because they matter.