State legislature set to pass first in nation AAPI studies legislation
After activism from Make Us Visible campaign and AAPI advocates at Yale and across the state, state legislature prepares to pass AAPI education bill.
This year, Connecticut is set to become the first state in the nation to begin the process of including AAPI education in the state’s educational curriculum in their K-12 system with dedicated funding and stakeholder input toward achieving this goal.
Connecticut has been a forerunner in including BIPOC voices in its curriculum. In late 2020, Connecticut required all public high schools across the state to offer an Latinx and African American history elective starting during the 2022-23 school year. In 2021, AAPI history was added into K-8 history curriculum through HB 6619. Now, thanks to the work of Make Us Visible CT and other AAPI advocacy groups, HB 5282, a bill that would add AAPI history to state education statutes, has passed through the state legislature’s Education and Appropriations Committee. The bill has 89 cosponsors from both major political parties and is expected to soon impact classrooms statewide.
“You get a sprinkle about internment or the presence of Chinese workers in the early and mid 1800s,” said Quan Tran, Senior Lecturer in Ethnicity, Race, and Migration at Yale and intern coordinator for Make Us Visible CT. “What we’re trying to do is expand the conversation on the civic engagement and contributions of Asian Americans, the relationship between Asian Americans and other social groups in the history of the United States and the important roles that Asian Americans play in the history of this country.”
According to Jeffrey Gu, members of Make Us Visible CT and other AAPI advocacy groups came together to create HB 5282 with the support of members of the state legislature, including house education chair Bobby Sanchez. Gu said that the partnership began following a string of anti-AAPI hate crimes in Connecticut, including an insistence where a man in Milford was told to “go back to China.”
As a result of this experience and other cases of race-based hatred, Make Us Visible CT looked toward what they viewed as the root cause of this hatred: education.
According to Tran, Make Us Visible CT views education as the crux of combating anti-Asian hate since the organization believes that exposing children from a young age on AAPI history will help decrease discrimination and racially motivated attacks agaiinst the group.
HB 5282 came before the General Assembly’s Education Committee in mid-February. On Feb. 28, members of the Connecticut community, including Yale students and alumnae, came before the committee to testify in favor of the bill.
“As an Asian American, I did not learn about my family and community’s history growing up,” said co-founder of aapiNHV Jennifer Heikkila Diaz ’00. “The students and families with whom I had the privilege of working will tell you that working to make our learning experiences more culturally sustaining specifically for Asian American Pacific Islander-identifying students and families, or all of the above mattered and still matter to them and have shaped who they are and how they see the world in powerful and positive ways.”
Besides lip service to the AAPI community, the bill includes a commitment from the state to fund the creation of curriculums that include AAPI history, tradition and cultures. The amount committed is unspecified. This measure was voted out of the state’s appropriations committee unanimously, and the larger bill was voted out of the Education Committee with a joint favorable mark on March 7. According to Gu, the funding for this initiative will be $100,000.
This past Monday, the bill was placed on the state legislature’s calendar. According to Gu, Make Us Visible CT has been in contact with the offices of House Majority Leader Jason Rojas as well as Speaker of the House Matt Ritter and all parties are hopeful that the bill will be brought before the house for a full vote.
According to Gu, the bill has wide bipartisan support and the group is not worried about serious opposition to the bill.
In anticipation of its passage, AAPI advocates are preparing to help realize the bill’s promise of meaningfully including the community’s history in school curricula.
According to Tran, Make Us Visible CT has taken a three pronged approach to realize this goal with the bill’s passage being just the first prong. The next step is helping create the curriculum for students in K-12.
“We’re really dedicated to creating a localized curriculum because Asian American history is very west coast based,” said Kate Lee, Make Us Visible CT organizer and Fairfield County middle school teacher. “We are hoping to find and uplift the Asian American histories in all pockets of Connecticut … so we’ve been engaging a lot in a lot of conversations with community leaders and members in talking about their experiences and family history within the state of Connecticut.”
According to Lee, the group hopes to create a curriculum for students of all ages. Under one proposal, younger students would be exposed to Asian and Pacific Islander holidays, foods and traditions. The group is also hoping to increase representation of AAPI peoples in picture books and other educational devices.
Lee said that under that proposal, as students get older, they will be exposed to more “nuanced narratives” on AAPI peoples in the nation and how they have been historically marginalized as well as their interactions with other people in the United States.
Make Us Visible was founded in Connecticut in March 2021 and has now expanded to eight states across the nation.