Why is learning about our AAPI heritage important?

Asian Americans are perpetual foreigners and this is done by design. Asian American politics cannot just be seen as sole experiences of Asians in America but within a broader, international, geopolitical context, with domestic and non-domestic dimensions, and with respective ethnic representatives, because citizenship and belonging definitely do not go hand-in-hand, and we will never be unanimously agreed as and immediately accepted as undeniably “American”, regardless of a green card, regardless of naturalization, regardless of accent. Distractions like the model minority myth are obstructing real racial redress, and instead, pits Asian Americans against Black Americans; the model minority myth describes not just what Asian people are but also discloses what Black folks aren’t.

The historical context, implications and structure of education in the United States, omit understanding and furthering our legacy as Asian Americans and the systemic racism truly runs deep in America that, lest we forget, was founded on the ruthless violence and bloodshed of Indigenous tribes and nature and proliferated by slavery of Black bodies. As American children learning about the world, we were already set up to accept an autocratic, white-washed history with no space for personal reflection, and taught implicitly that this fast-paced, no sentiments needed (must immediately prove validity or else we are deemed as “defensive” ) capitalistic strive, is the only identity worth growing into and having as an adult.

Timeline of Historical Events Historically Omitted from American Education

  • The Civil War of 1861-1865: U.S. Colored Troops also included Asian, Pacific Islander, and Native Americans, as well as formerly enslaved Black bodies, of which was the majority of the estimated 750,000 dead.
  • 1871: U.S. halts formal treaty-making with Indigenous nations, allowing the U.S. government to make laws directly affecting Indigenous nations, without consent or negotiations. Also in 1871, The Chinese Massacre happened whereby 500 white men entered LA Chinatown to attack, loot and murder Chinese residents, merely because of their nationality.
  • 1875: Page Law, the first federal immigration law, prevents “undesirable” immigrants from entering the United States, targeting Asians specifically (female prostitutes, male laborers, etc.)
  • 1877: Anti-Chinese movements in San Francisco were created and perpetuated by Denis Kearney, alleging that the low wages, longer hours, and horrible conditions the Chinese labourers had to go through daily, was “tolerable”.
  • 1878: U.S. Circuit court rules in In re Ah Yup declares Chinese were ineligible for naturalized citizenship.
  • 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act passed, renewed in 1892, and made permanent in 1901: Caused thousands of Chinese workers to become unemployed after the Transcontinental Railroad. This also opened the path for Japanese immigrants to immigrate to the U.S. since Chinese immigrants were restricted
  • 1885 Rock Springs, Wyoming, Massacre: Anti-Chinese riots started when white coal miners (of the Knigts of Labor) beat two Chinese miners, then later riot and burn down the Chinese quarter, causing expensive housing damages as well as the murder of 28 Chinese people. Obviously the white coal miners were not prosecuted. 1885 also saw the first wave of Korean immigrants fleeing their political turmoil in Korea.
  • 1898 Spanish-American War: U.S. annexed the Philippines, Guam, Hawai’i, and Puerto Rico, making Cuba a U.S. protectorate. This exemplifies the United States as a Pacifc power, and launches the era of U.S. Imperialism that is still felt today.
  • 1898 United States vs. Wong Kim Ark: The U.S. Supreme Court landmark decision that children born in the United States are citizens under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution
  • 1899-1902 (official end) Phillipine-American War: Rejecting U.S. possession Filipinos declare war against the United States. 250,000 Filipinos, most of them civilians, were murdered ruthlessly by U.S. forces.
  • 1900: 12, 000 Japanese immigrants, released from indentured labor, arrive in U.S. mainland from Hawaii’i (annexation in 1898)
  • 1904: First border patrol is established to keep Asian laborers from entering the country by Mexico, from El Paso Texas to California. Also in 1904, at the St. Louis World’s Fair, Filipinos were put on display as exotics.
  • 1906 The Japanese and Korean Exclusion League: Due to the large migrations of Japanese and Koreans from Hawai’i, San Francisco Board of Supervisors segregated all Chinese, Japanese and Korean students into Oriental School. Chinese children were already enrolled and instituted in Oriental Schools of years past, and this league further broadens the stereotype of “all Asians are the same”.
  • 1913 California’s Alien Land Act: Targeting specifically Japanese farmers, the act bans “aliens not eligible for citizenship” to own land or lease land long-term.
  • 1917 Immigration Act: Bans immigration essentially from all of Asia except the Philippines.
  • 1922 Ozawa vs. United States AND the Cable Act: Japanese immigrants, as non-Caucasians, are ineligible for naturalized citizenship. The Cable Act also conveniently granted female citizenship ONLY to women married to non-Asian foreigners.
  • 1923: United States vs. Bhagat Singh Thind: U.S. Supreme Court rules that Asian Indians that are able to claim Caucasian status, are still not white, and therefore ineligible for naturalized citizenship.
  • 1924 Johnson-Reed Act: Outright bans immigration of Arabs and Asians, as well as restricted immigration of Southern and Eastern Europeans, as well as that of Africans.
  • 1942 Executive Order 9066: Authorizes exclusion of people in designated military zones, leads to the removal and mass incarceration (concentration camps) of 120,000 Japanese Americans. Torture was regular.
  • 1943 Zoot Suit Riots: U.S. sailors attack Mexican American, Filipino American, African American youths, some as young as 12, for 10 nights, because they were dressed in baggy pants, and long-tailed coats. The attacks consisted of dragging the youths out of cinemas and cafes, beating them senseless, and stripping their clothes.
  • 1943 Yasui vs. United States AND Hirabayashi vs. United States: Incarcerated Japanese Americans were subject to a “loyalty questionnaire”, implying there were “unloyal” Japanese Americans, and upholds that the removal policies were constitutional. They continue to argue that it was due military and safety reasons, and not racism.
  • 1943 Magnuson Act: 2 years since China and the U.S. became allies in WW2, Chinese immigration was allowed for the first time, and some Chinese already living in the States were granted naturalization rights. First time ANY Asians were permitted to become naturalized citizens.
  • 1948 Jeju Massacre: U.S.-military-controlled-Republic-of-Korea police forces engage in unspeakable atrocities (gangraping and mass executions of young women, children, and men) resulting in 30,000 deaths - 10% of the island’s population. The complete destruction of Jungsangan village was heralded as a “successful operation” by the U.S. military.
  • 1953 McCarran-Walter Act: Lifts ban on Japanese and Korean immigration, and permits naturalization rights.
  • 1956: First Asian American elected to congress: Punjabi Sikh Dalip Singh Saund of L.A.
  • 1982: Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz beat Vincent Chin, a Chinese man, to death with a baseball bat in Detroit, blaming “Japs” for the decrease in auto industry jobs in Michigan.
  • 1987: Civil Liberties Act: Survivors of the Japanese-American mass incarcerations were restituted. The same year, a re-trial of Vincent Chin’s murder finds Ronald Ebens innocent on all counts, and Nitz was acquitted earlier.
  • 1991 ianfu: Kim Hak-sun tells her story as a “comfort woman”, which, between 1932 to 1945, the Japanese Imperial Army forced 80,000 - 200,000 women and girls from Japanese-occupied territories, such as in Korea, China, Philippines and Indonesia, into sexual slavery. To this day, still no adequate response, acceptance, and accountability to on-going demands of surviving comfort women, to see justice come to light.
  • First Hate Violence 4 days later resulting from 9/11: Frank Roque shoots and murders Balbir Singh Sodhi, a 49-year-old Sikh-American man, on Sept. 15, while he was arranging American flags in front of the gas station that he legally owned in Mesa, Arizona. Frank Roque declared that he wanted to “kill a Muslim”, and for the fact that Sodhi wore a turban and had a beard, as per Sikh custom and faith, he was shot 3 times. Frank Roque then proceeds to shoot another service station, owned by Lebanese Americans, and then finally shoots the home of a family of Afghan descent.

Third World Studies/Ethnic Studies History

Universities started to offer ethnic studies programs and courses to examine liberation struggles, first established by the San Francisco State College strike of 1969 but also emerged through the collective efforts of scholars, students, and educators of color in the 60s, to offer a curriculum that is anti-racist and diverse, relevant to the marginalized experiences of communities of color. Multi-disciplinary issues of power, tied to race, tied to culture, inevitably tied to identity, of the expression and experience of ethnic groups, was the goal. However, the K-12 grade level did not implement any of these changes, until in 2010, the San Francisco Unified School District’s Board of Education unanimously adopted Ethinic Studies in their schools; this was directly opposed to the Arizona Revised Statute 15-111and 15-112, that criminalized Ethnic Studies (in the state) in Arizona schools.

In an analysis reviewing California’s social studies’ curriculum, an analysis that is of the very limited and extant research available, nearly 100 Americans recommended to be studied were “77 percent were white, 18 percent were African American, 4 percent were Native American, and 1 percent were Latino. None were Asian American”. Also, a study in 2016 by assistant professor Dr. Nicholas D. Hartlep of the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, found that Asian Americans were most poorly represented and subjected to racist caricatures the most. South Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are mostly and historically excluded as well, even though Asian Americans as a whole are the fastest growing population in America.

This further enhances the need for a decolonizing pedagogy against imperialist expansion and its modern neocolonialism roots, which, in short, is racism, that continues to affect people of color extremely negatively. Patricia Espiritu Halagao studied the long-lasting impact on the lives and continued action of student teachers in a Filipino American Studies program, and argued that a decolonizing curriculum (2010):


  1. Requires deep and critical thinking of one’s history and culture focusing on the concepts of diversity, multiculturalism, imperialism, oppression, revolution, and racism.
  2. Must also be feeling-based that allows mourning, dreaming, confusion, struggle, excitement, passion, empathy to be sources of knowledge.
  3. Needs to create a space for formerly colonized people to come together and unite.
  4. Teaches life skills that serve one personally and professionally.
  5. Must have a social action component that models activism toward social change.


Importance of Third World/Ethnic Studies

Students of color have been documented to be more engaged, and thus have better academic performances, when given the information and opportunity to learn about their own culture, history, and legacy, beyond that of Chinese New Year celebrations and fortune cookies (that was invented by white Americans). Research has also shown and proved that white students exposed to multicultural curricula have a greater sense of empathy and solidarity towards minority communities, which will undoubtedly cultivate a more progressive future.

Going Forward

Who is education for? Everyone. Yet it’s a prolonged struggle for communities that are not white to be seen, heard, understood, and to have their historical legacies and triumphs, represented. Education is needed to confront stereotypes and misconceptions about our communities, to learn about our shared history and differences within the different ethnicities under the Asian diaspora, the internal biases we may feel in our respective communities, to learn about our cultural legacy and those of the other oppressed and discriminated communities, and how best to progress towards a future where equity in education is for the people and not for blind profit.

How can we draw a proper conclusion, a conclusion that will shape our lives, the lives of the people we meet, and the lives we create, if we don’t take our lived experiences into account, and analyze these experiences with historical context, or to compare and contrast that with the lived experiences of other communities? Without a critical lens, an accurate conclusion cannot be made, and that is precisely what the purpose of institutionalized racism in education is: to subvert your values, principles, goals, behavior, and eventual action, into that that uplifts white lives and their white narratives, for their profit. Note the parallels of capitalist inclusion and national exclusion of the many different immigrant groups, be grounded in the history of the many different movements and struggles across the country and across oceans to our respective homelands, and understand how the different formations and representations of racism came in the United States came to be, and how it continues to be perpetuated, and why (and for who?) it still remains.


  • PSMag
  • Jacl
  • NBC News
  • News.Stanford
  • NEA
  • Ed Source
  • Tintiangco-Cubales, A.G., Kohli, R., Sacramento, J., Henning, N., Agarwal-Rangnath, R., and Sleeter, C. (2014). “Toward an Ethnic Studies Pedagogy: Implications for K-12 Schools from the Research.” The Urban Review: Issues and Ideas in Public Education.
  • Khalifa, Muhammad A., Deena Khalil, Tyson EJ Marsh, and Clare Halloran. "Toward an Indigenous, decolonizing school leadership: A literature review." Educational Administration Quarterly 55, no. 4 (2019): 571-614.
  • Timeline Reference