Culturally responsive teaching is a concept that is playing an increasingly important role in the training of K-12 educators and refers to an orientation that equips educators to work skillfully with students, parents, and colleagues from differing cultural backgrounds. Though culturally responsive teaching encompasses a host of components, one is the notion that it is critically important for educators to cultivate curious, expansive ways of thinking about others. It is also immensely important to invite others to define themselves for themselves. Doing this helps to curtail the ascendancy of harmful “single stories” that flatten complexity and render people’s true experiences invisible. Though the danger of a single story can be seen across American society, one community that has certainly been affected by this phenomenon is the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. In two new works of media, AAPI thought leaders shed light on some of the “single stories” that have shaped their experiences and model what it can look like to push back against restrictive narratives.
Violence and harassment targeting Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) people has become increasingly visible across the United States, Canada, and the UK over the last few years. After a painful series of attacks and violence across the country, we learned this month of a church shooting targeting a community of Taiwanese Americans that is now being investigated as a hate crime. But the recent attacksare only the latest episodes in a long and complex history of oppression, marginalization, and violence targeting AAPI people. Most school curriculum fails to adequately address AAPI histories and identities, which contributes to a widespread lack of acknowledgment or understanding of the root causes of anti-AAPI hate today and can make it challenging for teachers to address anti-AAPI hate.
In an interview earlier this year, I sat down with Nicole Chung—author of All You Can Ever Know: A Memoir (2018). There, Chung details her experience growing up as a transracial adoptee of Korean descent within a white family in small-town Oregon. Her journey of navigating anti-Asian racism without the understanding of her white family, building resilience, searching for her Korean birth family, and coming into her own as a writer and mother are among the threads that tie this riveting story together. Her memoir addresses issues of identity and speaking across difference that are central to the educational approach of Facing History, and educators will find much to reflect upon within its pages.
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.
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 over the last year 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.
As violence targeting Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) peoples has grown more visible over recent years, 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.
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.
In this interview, I spoke with Dr. Guofang Li and Dr. Nicholas D. Hartlep, leading scholars in the field of Asian-American Education, about barriers to delivering quality education to Asian and Pacific Islander American (AAPI) students today. We discussed the emergence and pervasiveness of the “model minority myth” (or “stereotype”), its effects on AAPI and non-AAPI people, and how educators can actively center the needs and experiences of their AAPI students.
Here at Facing History, we see awareness months as opportunities to deepen our knowledge of and attention to the histories and contemporary experiences of historically marginalized communities. However, the focus on celebrating these communities over one particular month can further marginalize the very experiences we are hoping to elevate. With this in mind, what follows is an invitation to engage with important themes raised by Asian / Pacific American Heritage Month
this May and throughout all of the months of the year.
This month, we are sharing eight titles that have been released in the last year that bring important themes in Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) history and contemporary life to the fore. Below is promotional text excerpted from material offered by each book’s publisher:
Here at Facing History, we see awareness months as opportunities to deepen our knowledge of and attention to the histories and contemporary experiences of historically marginalized communities. However, the focus on celebrating these communities over one particular month can further marginalize the very experiences we are hoping to elevate. With this in mind, what follows is an invitation to engage with important themes raised by Asian / Pacific American Heritage Month this May and throughout all of the months of the year.
Though Asian and Pacific Islander American (AAPI) people have faced racist violence in the United States for centuries, the endurance of this racism has become more visible in recent years 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.