Asian American Education Project offers resources to teach and learn often overlooked history

Anabel Munoz Image
Tuesday, June 20, 2023
Asian American Education Project highlights often overlooked history
History books in schools across the country cover pivotal moments over the centuries. Yet, the diversity and richness of historically marginalized communities is often more of a glimpse than a deep look.

History books in schools across the country cover pivotal moments over the centuries: the American Revolution, the Civil War and more. Yet, the diversity and richness of historically marginalized communities is often more of a glimpse than a deep look.

"My K-12 experience was absent of Asian American history," said director of the San Diego State University APIDA Center, Dr. Virginia Loh-Hagan. "It was more arts and crafts related than it was historical."

Dr. Loh-Hagan is ethnically Chinese and her parents were Cambodian refugees. Among her many titles: children's book author.

"A lot of them are about Asian American themes. And you know, part of that is my commitment to remembering how I felt to be seen and heard in books," she said.

She's also the director of curriculum development of the Asian American Education Project.

"People need tools and resources," said Loh-Hagan.

They designed dozens of lessons that offer a more comprehensive look at a APIDA history, which stands for Asian Pacific Islander Desi American.

"It is very disappointing that it hasn't happened before, and that there's an invisibility of this very fast-growing ethnic group," said co-executive director and co-founder of the Asian American Education Project, Stewart Kwoh.

Asian Americans are the fastest growing ethnic group in Los Angeles and the country. You could say this education initiative is decades in the making.

In 2006, Kwoh co-wrote a book titled "Untold Civil Rights Stories: Asian Americans Speak out for Justice." His wife, Patricia Kwoh, led the development of curriculum for the book and later for the PBS documentary, Asian Americans.

"We realized the hatred against Asian Americans was increasing," said Kwoh. "We really wanted to push education in the schools, in particular so that the stereotypes of Asian Americans could be reduced or stopped."

Their work covers the violence against Asian Americans over the years. Like the story of Vincent Chin, a Chinese American man beaten to death in a racist attack in Detroit, Michigan in 1982, and his mother Lily Chin's courage to speak out.

There are stories of social change: the founding of East West Players, the country's first Asian American theatre. Among its co-founders was Beulah Ong Kwoh, Stewart Kwoh's mother.

The lessons also show examples of cross-cultural solidarity, such as the Thai garment workers who fought for freedom. They were found imprisoned in sweatshop conditions in an El Monte apartment in the 90s. They later partnered with Latino garment workers and helped establish more statewide labor protections in the industry.

"Our histories are not linear. They're intertwined with each other. And there's a solidarity and there's a movement building that I think hasn't always been taught in traditional courses," said UTLA secretary and ethnic studies liaison, Arlene Inouye.

The Asian American Education Project offers teacher trainings and free lessons on their website. The resources can be used alone or integrated into other subjects.

"For math teachers, for science teachers, for English teachers, social studies teachers, you name it. We can integrate our lesson plans into the lesson plans that they are already teaching," said Kwoh.

They developed a high school curriculum for the second largest school district in the country: The Los Angeles Unified School District.

"I have heard so many young people as well as adults, who said that ethnic studies saved their lives," said Inouye. "I mean, they literally found themselves, whether it's a poem that they read, whether it's the content."

"The ultimate goal is full integration; that when we teach American history that we are including diverse voices in marginalized communities, that it is not a separate thing," said Loh-Hagan. "Right now, I completely advocate for needing to have separate ethnic studies. We need it because it's not happening in the mainstream curriculum."