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As an Asian American, it’s easy for me to recount stories of the microaggressions I confronted while growing up. In first grade, my classmates pulled the corners of their eyes back to mock the natural slant of mine. In second grade, my classmates pinched their noses and mocked me whenever I brought zongzi or pork dumplings for lunch. In sixth grade, someone asked me, “Do you eat dogs?” And it’s not solely me who’s experienced this; countless Asian Americans have similar tales to tell.
At the height of the pandemic, we watched these seemingly harmless incidents of casual racism and xenophobia escalate into more: hate crimes and violence against Asian Americans. Hate crimes against Asian Americans soared, increasing 339 percent nationwide in 2021. In New York City, hate crimes increased by 76 percent in 2022.
In the news, on social media, and from each other, we learned the names, stories, and lives of those who were attacked with sorrow and pain. Michelle Alyssa Go, a 40-year-old woman who worked in mergers and acquisitions at Deloitte, was pushed from behind into subway tracks. Christina Yuna Lee, a 35-year-old woman who worked as a senior creative producer at Splice, was followed into her apartment and stabbed more than 40 times in her neck and torso. Gui Ying Ma, a 61-year-old woman who immigrated from China five years ago, was struck in the head repeatedly with a rock. Yao Pan Ma, another 61-year-old immigrant who had worked as a dessert chef in China, was knocked onto the ground and kicked in the head numerous times. All four individuals died as a result of these hate crimes. The stories are endless, but these stories all end the same: with the horrific death of an Asian American.
While condemning the spike in hate crimes against Asian Americans, President Joe Biden asserted that it is, “wrong. It’s un-American, and it must stop.” But it is American—anti-Asian racism is ingrained in U.S. history. From the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 to the internment of Japanese Americans from 1942 to 1945, Asian Americans, time and time again, have faced racism and discrimination in this country. Many believe these are the only historical events centered around Asian Americans in American history, but that is not the case. Rather, these are the two events students, including me, have learned about, even when there are countless other ones.
There is so much more to our history than those two events. In the Los Angeles Chinese Massacre of 1871, approximately 500 white and Hispanic Americans robbed, beat, and murdered 18 Chinese immigrants. In the Rock Springs Massacre of 1885, 150 white miners blamed Chinese miners for their economic struggles, murdering 28, wounding 15, and driving hundreds out of town. In the Bellingham Riots of 1907, a mob of 500 white workers attacked several hundred South Asian migrant workers. All of these events happened on the basis of race. Though our textbooks have forgotten about these acts of racial violence, they feel uncomfortable and painful yet familiar, resonating with us as we reflect on the surge in the senseless anti-Asian violence during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Asian American history is American history. Yet, the majority of Asian American history and our contributions has been excluded from our history textbooks, further perpetuating the idea that Asian Americans are foreign rather than American.
Asian American history should be mandated in NYC schools, including Stuyvesant High School, to address this; for students to truly understand and grapple with American history and its legacy, it is essential for them to learn about Asian American history.
Over the past couple of months, I’ve had the privilege of taking numerous history electives—last semester, I took Jewish History, and this semester, I’m taking New York City History. I’ve been able to immerse myself in courses where I’ve learned previously unknown information, whether it be the Chmielnicki Massacre of 1648 or the destruction of Seneca Village. But I’ve also grasped from these electives that history is far more than historical events and fun facts I can bring up during college interviews; it’s a force that defined the past, shapes our present, and will continue to mold our future. Asian American history is no different—it is part of our past, present, and future. And for that, Stuyvesant High School should implement an Asian American history elective.
Other states have already gotten a start at mandating Asian American history in their schools. In July of 2021, Governor J.B. Pritzker of Illinois signed a bill requiring elementary and high schools to teach Asian American history, making Illinois the first state to require it in its history curricula. A few months later, New Jersey followed in Illinois’s footsteps, with Governor Phil Murphy of New Jersey signing legislation requiring K-12 schools to include Asian American history in their curriculum. It’s time for New York City to follow suit.
As Representative Grace Meng (D-NY 6th District) says, “We’ve gone from being invisible to being seen as subhuman. We just want to be seen as American like everyone else.” By mandating Asian American history in New York schools, Asian Americans will begin to be seen, heard, and included—as Americans, not a model minority, second-class citizens, or vermin polluting American society. The Asian American community deserves to feel as though we are more than an “other.”
No, don’t pull your eyes to make fun of mine. No, my cultural food isn’t stinky. No, I am from America. No, I do not eat dogs. If my classmates had learned Asian American history, they would have realized just how wrong they were. Asian Americans are American, and it’s time for us to be treated as such.