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Student pushes for Asian American studies to acknowledge school’s racist namesake who exploited Chinese workers

In Rocklin, CA, 22 miles from the state’s capital, one high school is coming to terms with the history behind its namesake, including the Chinese laborers the namesake exploited, The Sacramento Bee reports. 

Diego Leibman, a recent graduate of Whitney High School (named after Joel Parker Whitney) is advocating for a district wide curriculum on Asian American history, along with the renaming of a school building after a Chinese American, The Sacramento Bee reports. 

Leibman’s Change.org petition has garnered more than 700 signatures, and he is expected to present his proposal at an Aug. 5 school board meeting. 

“It’s really about not necessarily erasing history, but broadening its scope to include all of the perspectives that were involved,” Leibman said, according to the Sacramento Bee. 

Leibman first learned about Whitney during an annual Sacramento archives event. With his interest sparked, Leibman continued to do his own research. 

However, after an RUSD statement condemning racism was released in light of George Floyd’s murder, Leibman was galvanized to create change in his own community, The Sacramento Bee reports. 

“It’s really about educating people,” Leibman said, according to the Sacramento Bee. “It’s about elevating Chinese American and Pacific Islander American voices and contributions to our country and our community.”

Rocklin’s history of anti-Asian discrimination is dark as it is invisible, according to The Sacramento Bee. 

In 1877, several Chinese men were accused in the murder of a White woman, leading to the expulsion of all Chinese citizens as Rocklin residents rioted, threatening to lynch the accused Chinese men. 

In the aftermath of the events, Rocklin’s Chinatown was burned down, and Whitney secretly exploited Chinese laborers, forcing laborers to work on his 18,000 acres of fruit orchards with longer hours and lower pay, The Sacramento Bee reports. 

“It’s really, really easy in an affluent community that’s primarily White … to think these problems don’t extend to where you are, but they clearly do,” Leibman said, according to The Sacramento Bee. 

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    • Just noticed it’s spelled Leibman on the change.org petition but Liebman in the Sacramento Bee. We have corrected the spelling in our story. Thank you

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