Florida latest state to require Asian American and Pacific Islander history education

The growing community effort to make Asian American and Pacific Islander history mandatory in K-12 schools has had several legislative successes in recent years.

This month in Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis, now a Republican presidential candidate, signed into law a requirement that AAPI history be taught in K-12 schools across the state, with specific mention of Japanese internment camps and the incarceration of Japanese Americans throughout the world. Second war.

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 greater inclusion of the AAPI history in K-12 programs.

But advocates and researchers say it also poses a major question at the heart of demands for more AAPI history: How should schools teach the full breadth of AAPI experiences in the country through more than a superficial lens? ? And what does that look like in the context of states like Florida, where legislation restricts how racial and LGBTQ+ topics can be taught in elementary and higher education institutions, and where courses such as AP African American History have been banned?

“We see the challenges happening in our state and recognize that it will continue to be a struggle, but we are making progress step by step,” said Mimi Chan, state director of the Make Us Visible Florida chapter.

The need for more AAPI history instructions

Florida’s new law took about two years of grassroots community organizing to come to fruition, Chan said.

People such as Jose Keichi Fuentes, senior government relations consultant at the law firm Becker and Poliakoff in Miami, have become involved in supporting the passage of the legislation because they know first-hand the importance of telling more stories. Asian Americans.

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

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

“I thought it was a very important part of my family history that I should have known about,” he said. “They were extremely ashamed of it. But it’s important for us as the next generation to have that story and to make sure that we don’t make those mistakes or ever let our freedoms be compromised.

Chan hopes more schools can specifically cover the contributions of Asian Americans to Florida, with topics like how farmer Lue Gim Gong changed Florida’s citrus industry in the early 1900s. in part by producing a more cold hardy orange.

She estimates that it will take about three to five years to design and implement programs and plans to work with the Florida Department of Education to develop a task force for this purpose.

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

The political climate 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 requires the teaching of African-American history, the new legislation has added a caveat that the teaching and curriculum cannot indoctrinate students – something experts, including including those in the textbook publishing world, have found it loosely defined. Earlier this year, DeSantis banned schools from offering a new advanced-level African American studies course for allegedly defying state law.

It’s hard to imagine this being a true effort of AAPI studies taught in schools, when the historical experiences of other communities of color aren’t equally enhanced, said Gregg Orton, National Director. of the National Council of Asian and Pacific Americans, a coalition of several civil rights organizations.

Orton and others do not see the new legislation led by Make Us Visible on AAPI history as a real success when there is also legislation in the state restricting sexual orientation instruction.

There are also now legislative limits on teaching and diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives at colleges and universities where the bulk of academic research that would inform AAPI history programs is performed, said Jason Oliver Chang, associate professor of history and Asia and Asia. American Studies at the University of Connecticut.

Chang fears that continuing to require AAPI history in the context of such legislation could refer to government-led efforts to maintain Asian Americans as a “model minority” at the expense of other racial and ethnic minority groups.

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

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

Chang is currently working on developing a statewide curriculum on the history of AAPI after the Make Us Visible-led legislation 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 it comes to teaching not just contributions to history and cultural celebrations like the Lunar New Year, but also the history of the AAPI through a critical lens, as the role American intervention abroad has played in global migration patterns. And how would teaching in Florida about the interconnected history of the AAPI and LGBTQ+ communities work?

“It feels like the pursuit of AAPI inclusion was a one-issue campaign in Florida, seemingly insensitive to the other issues Asian Americans face,” Chang said. “It’s very confusing and it 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 make sure our stories are accurately represented,” she said.


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