A new law in Florida mandates the teaching of Asian American and Pacific Islander history in public schools. But many Asian-Americans aren’t celebrating, pointing to how other marginalized communities are being impacted by the state heavily limiting instruction on systemic racism and gender identity in the classroom.
Asian American academics and civil rights organizations are speaking out after Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the bill into law last week, which requires Asian American and Pacific Islander history to be included in the plan. of studies K-12. The move coincides with another bill signed into law Monday that no longer allows public universities to spend money on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts. It also limits how race and gender will be taught in the state’s institutions of higher education.
Gregg Orton, national director of the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans, a coalition of 38 AAPI organizations, said the landmark law is far from a «victory» for the Asian American community, adding that «racial justice cannot be a sum zero». game for communities of color.
“When you introduce a bill that uplifts AAPI communities, but you don’t want to acknowledge the fact that in the same state there are real intentional efforts to black out or erase Black history, or [critical race theory], you’re on the wrong side of history,» Orton said. «With Florida, it’s hard to draw any conclusion other than that they’re actively trying to use the Asian American Pacific Islander community as a wedge here.»
Neither Gov. DeSantis nor Mimi Chan, president of the Florida chapter of Make Us Visible, the group that spearheaded the push for the legislation, responded to NBC News’ request for comment. But Chan told WKMG-TV that she hopes other states will follow suit by implementing similar legislation.
“I think it’s very positive for so many people, not just here in Florida, but across the country, to see and be inspired that the history of AAPI will be taught and that other states should definitely and hopefully follow,” Chan said.
The history mandate would require teaching the incarceration of Japanese Americans in World War II, immigration, citizenship, and the «contributions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders to American society.» By contrast, the Anti-Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Bill will, effective July 1, ban the teaching of courses that legislators say “distort significant historical events or include curriculum that teaches privacy policies.” identity». It also prohibits «theories that racism, sexism, oppression, and systemic privilege are inherent in the institutions of the United States and were created to maintain social, political, and economic inequalities.» The bills come after state officials rejected an advanced placement African-American studies course in January, prompting the College Board to water down its framework for the curriculum.
Pawan Dhingra, president of the Association for Asian American Studies, said the effort by activists to implement Asian American studies in schools is admirable. However, the broader context around racial education in the state cannot be ignored, he said. The language in the higher education bill, particularly its use of «identity politics,» Dhingra said, partly dismisses actual experiences and significant criticism from many groups.
“What they are saying is basically denying that there is a real injustice,” he said.
Furthermore, Asian American history is intertwined and inextricably linked to the experiences, challenges and struggles of others, said Russell Jeung, a professor of Asian American studies at San Francisco State University. Omitting those aspects of education would create a misrepresentation, he said.
“Asian-American history has been shaped and structured by the way other groups have been treated,” Jeung said.
Manjusha P. Kulkarni, co-founder of Stop AAPI Hate, similarly noted that Asian American experiences cannot be separated from those of Black, Indigenous, and other groups, questioning which «version» of history will be taught in schools.
Kulkarni said: “We cannot tackle racism and hate in a silo. We know that our communities are interconnected.”
He added that the story mandate also coincides with DeSantis’ signing of SB264, a law that partly prohibits Chinese citizens who do not have US citizenship from buying property or land in the state.
“DeSantis and Florida officials are not really interested in seeing our full humanity. And that raises more questions about what the signing of the AAPI history bill means,” he said.
There is much more work to be done before Asian Americans and other groups see significant advancement in the race-related curriculum.
“A real win would be if they introduced an Asian American curriculum along with a critical understanding or deeper understanding of the role of race and racism in our society, and helped students explore that issue and develop racial empathy. Jung said. “They could rescind these anti-CRT bills. They would recognize the role of race. They would recognize that we need to address the disparities and inequities in our society.”
For now, experts say, progress is still some way off.
“I don’t want to discount our community’s enthusiasm, desire and hunger to see progress like this,” Orton said of the landmark mandate. «But it can’t be done at the expense of others.»