As May was approaching, I began to feel both excited and anxious about celebrating Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. I couldn't wait to shout out the names and lives of Asian and Pacific Islander Americans who never made it into our textbooks, and celebrate the diversity of API peoples and cultures.
Simultaneously, I felt (and still feel) somewhat apprehensive, and nervous about whether other BIPOC and white folx would show up to amplify API voices and experiences. While I often see incredible gestures of solidarity between different racial, ethnic, and religious people on social media, I can't help but notice how infrequently API show up in the conversation. This had led me to reflect and question how often API are included in others' definitions of intersectionality. Would others rally behind Asian and Pacific Islander teachers and lessons the way we do during other heritage months?
As a grade school student, I can't recall learning anything about API history. I quickly made up for lost time in college by majoring in East Asian Studies, but as a 10 year classroom teacher, I have yet to see Asian American history portrayed in a positive light in curriculum. If anything is mentioned, it's about the Vietnam War (from the US perspective), or the internment of Japanese citizens during WWII. I certainly don't recall learning anything or about anyone who made me feel proud of my heritage.
I deeply believe the invisibility of API is a result of the "Model Minority Myth." This myth perpetuates seemingly positive stereotypes about API, but causes individual and societal harm (and also strategically placed a wedge between Asian and Black communities.) Our history is often absent from curriculum, and students are neither educated about the racial struggles API have faced and continue to face to this day, nor of the resilience and leadership of API in American history. As educators, we are responsible for seeking out information and knowledge about the different histories and stories of our country in order to make sure all of our students feel seen and heard.
So what keeps teachers and schools quiet about neglecting API history? Do you need to educate yourself through reading and conversation? Do you not feel knowledgable enough about API history and people to do these lessons justice? Or do you consciously or subconsciously believe in the quiet, well behaved, model minority myth? How will you commit to amplifying API in your classroom?
To help you get started, I want to reiterate a few points I've shared in the days leading up to APAHM:
- Be mindful of your context when using the term “Asian.” Asians are NOT monolithic. “Asian” can expand to include folx from Japan, Pakistan, Guam, Vietnam, and so many more. Too often, “Asian” is used to describe people from eastern Asian countries like China and Korea, but also includes folx from the Pacific Islands, and Western Asia (a reminder that “Middle East” is a geopolitical term created by white countries.) If you are celebrating API cultures and voices, make sure Western Asian and Southeast Asian folk are included.
- Asian people are not connected by a common language, and no single country-of-origin dominates the U.S. Asian population.
- The population API folx in the US grew 72% between 2000-2015, making us the fastest growing racial/ethnic group (Pew Research Center.) However, only 2-3% of public school teachers and only 1% of school administrators are API. Therefore the presence of API educators and API cultures and voices in curriculum and books is incredibly important for API students.
- Do not perpetuate the “model minority” myth, and the incorrect assumption that Asian people have not faced racial struggles in the US. Within the API community, there is more income inequality than any other racial/ethnic group. While statistically, East Asian folx earn more than other racial minorities, poverty rates among the Burmese, Bhutanese, and other Southeast Asian communities are the highest in the US.
Asian Pacific American Heritage Month Resources