Illinois May Soon Introduce Asian American History in Schools

The act mandates public schools to teach a unit of Asian American history, amid concerns over anti-Asian hate.

South Asians
3 min read
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The State of Illinois has passed a Bill that requires public schools to teach Asian American history as part of the curriculum, amid growing concerns about anti-Asian hate and discrimination.

The Bill, which is awaiting the Governor’s nod, emphasises on being aware of the factors that led to the assimilation of Asian immigrants in US. It will also include study of the mistreatment of Japanese Americans during World War II.

The TEAACH, or Teaching Equitable Asian American History Act mandates elementary and high schools to include a unit studying events of Asian American history 2022 onwards.

Illinois is the first state to mandate such a law. Six percent of the population in the state identify as Asian Americans.


The Bill was introduced in the lower house jointly by Senator Ram Villivalam and State Representative Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz. It was passed in the lower house on 14 April with a vote of 98-13 before being discussed in the upper house where it received a nod on 4 June.

The Bill received positive applause from other administrators belonging to the community. Representative Grace Meng, who has been instrumental in pushing the anti-Asian hate crimes Bill, took to Twitter to congratulate the State of Illinois when the lower house passed the Bill.

Need for an Act

A UN report dated September 2020 explained how alarming the anti-Asian attitude has become during the COVID-19 pandemic. The report cited more than 1800 racist incidents. It accused the US authorities of failing to detect, monitor and prevent xenophobic incidents.

The Census shows 22.9 million citizens of the United States identify as Asian American. They form a major part of the American economy and society, and yet are often subjected to othering. Representative Gong Gershowitz, co-sponsor of the Bill emphasises the importance of knowledge about the Asian Americans among the American community.

“Asian Americans are a part of the American fabric but we are often invisible. Empathy comes from understanding. We cannot do better unless we know better.”
State representative Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz, a Democrat and co-sponsor of the Bill told Reuters

Experts say this gap in representation has severe impacts on Asian students, who don't see themselves woven into the tapestry of US history, and for non-Asian students who are not taught to value the contributions of communities with which they do not identify, a CNN report states.

“I didn’t see our community in our textbooks, and it was hard to understand who our community was in relation to everyone else. For Asian American students, [TEAACH] will be a chance to learn our history, the contributions our community has made.”
Sen Ram Villivalam, Twitter

There is a need to teach Asian American history as part of American history and not as something foreign. Americans and Asian Americans alike need to be made aware of the role a minority community plays in a cosmopolitan set up. There is a need to see them as part of the general population and accept them as Americans. Education can make that possible.

"If we don't teach it or teach it in a misrepresented way it can lead to violence," Sohyun An, a professor at Georgia's Kennesaw State University who has researched how US kids are taught about Asian-American history told Reuters.


What Does the Act Entail?

The Illinois general Assembly website reads the act to

  • Amend the Courses of Study Article of the School Code.
  • Require every public elementary school and high school to include in its curriculum a unit of instruction studying the events of Asian American history; contains provisions governing this instruction.
  • Provide that the teaching of history of the United States shall include the study of the wrongful incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II and the heroic service of the 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team of the United States Army during World War II.
  • Should be implemented academic year 2022-23 onwards.

What's Next?

States like Minnesota and California have also been trying to build bills for ethnic education and inclusion. Representative Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz said that she has been getting calls from other states to understand how they could pass the Bill in their states, Politico reported. The narrowed scope of the Bill attributing to elementary education of Asian American history led to the passing of the Bill as opposed to the wide ethnic Bill California has been pushing for. Representative Theresa Mah believes that the Asian Americans in the administration and Asian Americans are becoming visible alike and so are their aspirations and requirements.

(With inputs from Politico and Reuters)

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Topics:  Indian American   Racism   History 

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