HomeCampusLaotian American senator pushes for AAPI history in Ohio schools

Laotian American senator pushes for AAPI history in Ohio schools

Picture: Emailed to Randall

Tina Maharath made history in 2018 when she became the first Asian American woman to be elected to the Ohio Senate in 2018. Three years later, she continues to make waves.

Maharath is now co-sponsoring a bill that would make Ohio the second state to incorporate Asian American history into public, K-12 curriculums.  

The COVID-19 pandemic and former President Trump’s openly racist insults against those of AAPI heritage, only revived deeply anti-Asian sentiments rooted in American history. The increased violence against the AAPI community sparked conversations on the lack of—if any—Asian American history in public schools.

“This is an opportunity for Asian American students in Ohio to learn about stories that are more reflective of their own life experience,” Maharath, 30, told NBC. “Oftentimes, we’re an untold story.”

Maharath’s proposed bill is modeled after Illinois’ July legislation that mandates schools teach one unit of Asian American history beginning next school year. In addition to seminal moments such as the Chinese Exclusion Act and the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II, the legislation would require educators to cover the history of Asian American and Pacific Islanders in Ohio and the Midwest.

The movement to integrate AAPI history into K-12 classrooms has steadily gained momentum. At the beginning of October, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill that will require his state’s high school students to take ethnic studies to graduate. Legislative efforts in New York and Wisconsin are also shaping up to follow suit.

In her interview with NBC, Maharath said, “My family came here as refugees, not immigrants. Our journey to America was not as pleasant as an immigrant’s journey.”

If she had the opportunity to learn about U.S. military intervention in Southeast Asia and its secret war in Laos, Maharath believes that the knowledge would have helped children like herself better understand their own migration stories.

Maharath’s bill, which is cosponsored by Senate Minority Leader Kenny Yuko, will not be an easy sell. In Ohio, Republicans control both chambers of the state Legislature. In recent months, they have mounted a campaign against the teaching of critical race theory, which centers on the idea that systemic racism is etched into American laws and institutions, NBC reports.

In fact, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed a controversial bill in June that prohibited teachers from talking about America’s history of racism in the classroom.  

Despite this seemingly uphill battle, Maharath is used to beating the odds. She said she’s focused on rallying support for her new bill, which is awaiting debate in the Senate’s Primary and Secondary Education Committee. The key, she said, will be showing her colleagues that the stories of Asian Americans, on both a local and national scale, can provide “a fuller picture of what America truly looks like.”

“This perception that we’re outsiders in our own state and our own country is what fuels a lot of the violence and hate crimes against us,” she said. “Having this education will highlight the contributions we brought to this country culturally and economically.”

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