This is the first in a series of blog posts based on interviews with nine educators and their suggestions for how you can address anti-Asian violence with your students and incorporate API histories and identities into your teaching.
As violence targeting Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) peoples has grown more visible over the last year, there has been an uptick in awareness and discussion beyond AAPI communities about AAPI history and the many manifestations of racism in the lives of AAPI people. But as these conversations proliferate, reductive conceptions of who “Asian Americans” are and what the community’s history encompasses have become even more prominent. Conversations often fail to address the complicated nature of “Asian Americans” as a concept, how it emerged, and what the “American” part of the phrase may obscure. In this term, we find traces of deep, and often hidden, colonial violence as well as the coordinated resistance, ingenuity, and hope of AAPI people themselves. The complex story surrounding this term provides fertile ground for educators interested in broadening their understanding of and ability to teach about AAPI and API histories and contemporary life.
Grace Lee Boggs was a Chinese American activist and philosopher whose cross-racial organizing work called for racial justice and the radical transformation of American society. Though the only documentary on her life was released in 2013 and generated wide interest in her life story, Boggs’ legacy has been in the news of late as the nation reckons with racist violence against Asian Americans and Black Americans. Alongside the emergence of Black-Asian solidarity marches, there has been increased exploration of histories of collaboration between these communities, the various barriers that have undermined solidarity, and what future collaboration might look like. Described by Angela Davis as someone who “made more contributions to the Black struggle than most Black people have,” Boggs’ life story may provide fertile ground for reflection in these times. Though there are many stories to tell and questions to raise in this ongoing discussion, the story of Grace Lee Boggs is one inspiring example of what it can look like to discover shared stakes, commit to collective action, and leave a legacy that nurtures ongoing resistance.
Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month each May offers a valuable opportunity to evaluate the kinds of reading materials we are sharing with students throughout the year, and to consider whether Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) experiences need to have a greater presence. Particularly this year, as racism and violence targeting AAPI people becomes more visible, it can be challenging to sift through the growing body of reading material and pinpoint the texts that are presented at an appropriate reading level, and in ways that are relatable to adolescent readers.
Violence against Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) peoples has persisted for centuries in the United States, but it was not until a constellation of events in the 1980s that the Asian American movement as we now know it emerged onto the public stage. A leading voice in this movement for many decades has been Helen Zia—a Chinese American author and activist working at the intersections of struggles for racial and LGBTQ justice, among other issues. Zia is the author of many works including Asian American Dreams: The Emergence of an American People (2001) and Last Boat Out of Shanghai: The Epic Story of the Chinese Who Fled Mao's Revolution (2020). Zia initially came to prominence in 1982 when she became the public spokesperson and a primary organizer of the campaign that sought justice for Vincent Chin—a Chinese American man who was brutally murdered in a hate crime in Detroit, Michigan. These events and others that followed would galvanize a pan-cultural Asian American movement, providing an essential foundation for AAPI-led resistance to the racism and violence that continues to besiege the community into the present.
Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month each May is a great time to recommit to centering Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) experiences in the classroom. Check out the following resources from a host of cultural institutions including the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian American Experience, Japanese American National Museum, Smithsonian Institution, and California Museum to expand your pool of classroom offerings on the historical and contemporary experiences of AAPI peoples.
Though Asian and Pacific Islander American (AAPI) people have faced racist violence in the United States for centuries, the endurance of this racism became more visible in the last year as an uptick in violence targeting AAPI peoples entered the national consciousness. This virulent racism and the structures that allow it to persist demand response, and education is one of our most powerful tools for raising consciousness and taking steps toward repair.
For many educators who are eager to begin exploring AAPI history and contemporary experiences with students, it can be challenging to know where to start. We invite educators to use the following curricular resources and professional development offerings to begin a journey of reflection, dialogue, and learning in the classroom.
This May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. It is a fabulous time to ensure that we are actively engaging with the histories, literatures, and contemporary life experiences of Asian and Pacific Islander American peoples. Below are five new books released in the last year that range in format from historical scholarship to intergenerational memoir to novel. Spanning communities that hail from across the Asian continent, these accounts can be great learning companions for educators and other adults eager to deepen their engagement with these important themes.
On Monday, March 29th, a Filipino woman was brutally attacked in New York City while bystanders, including security guards, looked on without intervening. On Tuesday, March 16th, six Asian Pacific Islander (API) women lost their lives in three consecutive shootings in the Atlanta area. Weeks earlier around Lunar New Year, a wave of xenophobic violence swept the San Francisco Bay Area, metro New York and other US cities where numerous API people were attacked and some lost their life.
We ended last school year in a time of unraveling. On May 25th, 2020, George Floyd was murdered under the knee of Derek Chauvin while three other police officers stood by as accomplices. We as educators rose to support and hold space for our students to process and situate this moment in its larger movement, in defense of Black lives, and in the mourning of so many others. A reckoning took hold on the conscience of the nation, and James Baldwin’s words rang loud and clear: “History is literally present in all that we do.” We each were personally called to face our own positionality, our own biases, and our own complicity in sustaining systemic oppression—a call that is and will be ongoing.