By Shirley Ng, AsAmNews Staff Writer
AAPI Montclair, a grass-roots group in Montclair, New Jersey advocated for the passage of Asian American history to be taught in their state, but they realized it lacked funding.
To ensure the success of the curriculum in NJ schools, they held a “Harvest Moon Soiree” fundraiser on Saturday for their new initiative, “Teach Asian American Stories.” The money raised from the group’s first major fundraiser will go towards scholarships for teachers, provide professional development and support curriculum providers. Tickets were $100 to attend.
AAPI Montclair was formed after the Atlanta spa shooting by concerned residents after increased anti-Asian incidents in the local schools. Roslyne Shiao, their corresponding secretary, told AsAmNews they wanted to make sure that the Montclair schools and their superintendent were addressing these concerns.
During COVID, racist rhetoric such as “Kung flu,” and “China virus,” created xenophobia and led to harassment and violence towards Asian Americans across the nation. Asian-owned businesses also suffered with a lack of foot traffic and vandalism. There were already rallies and protests against anti-Asian violence before the Atlanta spa shooting last year, but that violent incident resulted in the deaths of six innocent Asian women and that was the last straw. It hit a big nerve that rumbled across the country sounding off alarms that Asian Americans were at great risk for just being Asian in their everyday lives.
NJ Governor Phil Murphy signed the legislation to include Asian American History to be taught in k-12 classrooms last January beginning this school year. It was only the second state to mandate it at that time. Illinois was the first state to do so, and now Connecticut and Rhode Island enacted similar laws. In New York, Mayor Eric Adams announced last spring the city would include Asian American history in their classrooms beginning the 2022-2023 school year as a pilot program. It now has a pending bill.
In all, at least 19 states now teach some form of Asian American Studies, according to the Committee of 100.
Advocates rallied around proposals to teach Asian American history in our schools because it has been practically non-existent. They feel teaching Asian American history will help erase the stereotype of Asian Americans as a threat or perpetual foreigner.
“We see Teach Asian American Stories as a hub, to connect any professional development provider or curriculum provider with educators about AAPI history,” Shaio told AsAmNews.” The initiative would enable teachers to be better prepared, and equipped on the topic and learn how to integrate it into their curriculum.
Washington is Asian and her children are half-Black. She also advocates for the Amistad Law, which requires public schools to teach African American history. It was signed into law in 2002, but has not been widely enforced.
Ira Wagner attended the fundraiser with his wife. “I think it is important that all various groups that are part of history be taught and appreciated. I’m thrilled that it’s now part of the curriculum.”
Michelle Li, a journalist and news anchor of KSDK and Co-Founder of The Very Asian Foundation was their guest of honor. Other guests included Michelin Star chefs, husband and wife Michael and Meichih Kim of Bao Bei, and Master Sommelier Kyungmoon Kim who introduced a variety of Soju throughout the evening. There were a variety of dumplings made by the Kims on the premises, including their imperial wagyu kalbi with burgundy truffles. Jazz by an AAPI group could be heard while attendees enjoyed the soju and checked out the silent auction items.
Li shared her story of a viewer leaving a racist message that she (Li) was being “very Asian,” when she spoke on-air about the Korean tradition of eating dumplings for New Year’s. She shared the viewer’s voicemail on social media amd it went viral. She received an outpouring of support from the public, which also led to a gift of $15,000 from Ellen DeGeneres, which helped launch The #VeryAsian Foundation.
“Being very Asian is very American and we all deserve to bring our full humanity to all of our spaces,” she said. “We have all intersectional identities. For me, I am not only #veryAsian, I am an immigrant, I am a child of foster care, I am an adoptee, I am a mom, I am a wife, and I am a mid-Westerner. I am so many other things that help me have empathy for other people. All of these experiences help us lead with more empathy and help us cover our community better.”
Shaio thinks back to the Golden Spike black and white photo that was taken when the Transcontinental Railroad was completed but noticed that Chinese American railroad workers were excluded from the iconic photo.
“So much of Asian American history has been not communicated and excluded, and that it is very much a part of American history,” Shaio told AsAmNews.
Julie Kim, a member of the board and Shiao both anticipate raising $60K or more from the fundraiser.
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