The recent PBS documentary Asian Americans brought attention to a history most Americans know little about. To most of the non-Asian audience, the series presented new information.
Hopefully, the documentary provides a jumping off point for people to probe deeper into the history and the contributions of Asian Americans.
One of the highlights of the 5-part series was the critical role played by Filipino Americans in the American labor movement, particularly in instigating the 1965 Grape Strike that propelled the United Farm Workers into prominence. The documentary highlighted the critical role played by union organizer Larry Itliong, an unsung hero in the annals of Asian American history.
In 2013, Assemblymember Rob Bonta, the only Filipino American lawmaker in the California legislature and the son of UFW union organizers, introduced a bill which requires the State Board of Education to include the role of Filipino Americans in the farm worker movement as part of the state’s curriculum.
There are about 150,000 Filipino American in California’s K-12 schools, or 2.4% of the total number of students. Combined with other Asian ethnicities and nationalities, Asian American students are almost 12% of California’s students.
The state is also home to the two public schools named for a Filipino Americans in the US, Union City’s Itliong-Vera Cruz Middle School and the Jose Antonio Vargas elementary School in Mountain View.
One of the hurdles in getting Filipino American history into the classroom is that most teachers knew nothing about the subject. Like most Americans, their history textbooks omitted the contributions, accomplishments and issues faced by Filipino Americans.
To help fill this knowledge gap, the Content, Literacy, Inquiry, & Citizenship Project, in conjunction with the California Department of Education, created a video (below) that outlines a brief history of Filipino Americans and how teachers could incorporate the lessons into their teaching of American history.
Under Bonta’s legislation, middle and high school students from grades 7 to 12, will learn about the roles of Filipino Americans and other immigrants in the farm worker movement.
Dolores Huerta, a social justice and labor rights activist, advocated for the bill’s passage.
“The students of California need to learn that the sacrifices made by both the Filipino and Latino workers benefitted all Californians. AB 123 will ensure that the history is taught accurately,” Huerta said in a statement right after then-Gov. Jerry Brown signed the legislation into a mandate.
Series like the PBS documentary help battle the “perpetual foreigner” image hung on Asian Americans.
Speaking to the NY Times, Daniel Dae Kim, who did part of the narration of the the PBS’ Asian Americans, the actor said: “I would hope that it’s a celebration of what it means to be American. If we can redefine that word to be inclusive of every group that contributes to this country, then the documentary will have done a real service.”
Making Asian American history an integral part of America’s history begins in the classroom — from the landing of the first Asian on North America’s shores in 1587 through the expansion of the US Empire to the country’s current largest source of new immigrants.
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