It’s no secret that U.S. education seeks to gloss over its racist, anti-Asian history. Worse, although many of us feel as though we are familiar with its horrors, we are not. Maybe we think we understand the plight of Chinese workers who in the 1860s built the transcontinental railroad. Or maybe we learned that once the transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869, U.S. Congress passed the Naturalization Act in 1870, which included the barring of male Chinese immigrants from obtaining citizenship and prevented their wives from immigrating to the United States. But, this is not the first time our government passed legislation against people of Chinese descent due to racist sentiment in the country.
Before then, anti-Asian sentiments were deeply embedded in the legal system, and the case People v. Hall of 1854 is just one example. George Hall, a white man, shot and killed Ling Sing, a Chinese immigrant. Though the murder was witnessed by several other Chinese immigrants, the California Supreme Court ruled that the witnesses’ testimony could not be used. This was because people of Chinese descent were deemed, “a race of people whom nature has marked as inferior, and who are incapable of progress or intellectual development beyond a certain point” hence they are unable “to swear away the life of a citizen.” This decision placed Chinese people alongside people of Native and African descent as individuals who could not testify in courts against white Americans. This was one of the earliest acts that led white Americans to be able to get away with practically any hate crime they desired to commit against Asian Americans.
I bring this up because I never learned about this case in school. I didn’t know who Ling Sing or George Hall were, but now they are all I can think about. Although we have recently made great strides toward educating our students about discrimination against BIPOC, it feels as if we have fallen short when it comes to Asian Americans.
Educational reformer and professor emerita at California State University, Monterrey Bay Christene Sleeter investigated the state of California’s history and social studies class curriculum in public K-12 schools. In her studies, she found that out of the 100 Americans that were recommended to be subjects studied in class, 77 of them were white, while none were Asian American. This is just one example of how our schools are still lacking Asian American and Pacific Islanders representation, which continuously leads to Asian American students feeling left out and unsure of what our identity is.
Furthermore, the National Center for Education Statistics reported that Asian American teachers only make up less than 2% of America’s teaching workforce. This number continues to remain extremely small even as the number of Asian American students rises. This means Asian American students often don’t have the opportunity to see ourselves portrayed by those educating us.
As Americans, we like to think of ourselves as the land of the free and home of the brave. However, so many of us continue to be discriminated against, and many more still fear what they don’t understand. It is this fear that has led to our elders being attacked and has led to us being mocked and deemed “dirty” whenever COVID-19 is discussed. It is past time that our nation recognizes this discrimination, and we must speak out against it. Let’s stop playing pretend and confront the realities of who we are as a country. We are Asian Americans, and it’s time people recognize this. So educators, hear my plea: We want to be in the textbooks; We want our history back; We want to be seen.
As a high school student, I have managed to do a lot with the small number of resources I have, but so much more needs to be done. Here at Berkeley High School, we are speaking up through small school leadership branches and protests, and have been fairly effective this way. However, one of the challenges we face is our age and our inability to vote. That is not the case for most of you readers who are attending UC Berkeley.
If we join forces, and all come together, we will hold the necessary power to make real change in our education system. It is your job as much as ours to begin standing up with young students to help build a curriculum for all people, not just one that caters to a eurocentric view.
For my fellow high schoolers, we must start by advocating to our teachers and administrators about what we want to learn. This means calling out the current pattern of only learning through and about white voices. Ask to read more papers written by Asian Americans, and ask why we aren’t already. These questions might seem hard to bring up, and maybe even a little silly, but it’s what gets the ball moving in the right direction.
This is not just the job of Asian American students. Students of all races and ethnicities need to speak up and support each other in expanding our curriculum to reflect the real makeup of U.S. history as well as our classrooms. This is a fight no group should have to face alone. Asian American students need your allyship for this to work, and we need to start demanding more from our educators and leaders.
Abigail Lamoreaux is a junior at Berkeley High School and one of the lead organizers of Bay Area AAPI’s protest to Stop Asian Hate.