NJ Governor signs legislation requiring APPI studies in schools K to 12; FilAm educators urge NY lawmakers to craft similar law

by Ricky Rillera

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signs several legislations on Jan. 18 | Photo via Facebook

Gov. Phil Murphy | File Photo

NEW YORK – New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy recently signed legislation P.L. 2021, c.416 (S4021/A6100 and S3764/A3369) to ensure that the contributions, history, and heritage of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) are included in the New Jersey Student Learning Standards for Social Studies for students in kindergarten through Grade 12 (K-12). Senate Bill S4021 will create an AAPI curriculum requirement for schools and Senate Bill 3764 will establish the Commission for Asian American Heritage within the Department of Education.

The legislation makes New Jersey the second state in the nation to require the curriculum change, after Illinois.

“By teaching students about the history and heritage of our AAPI community, we can ensure that the diversity of our state is reflected in our curriculum and create a more tolerant and knowledgeable future for New Jersey. I am proud to sign these bills into law,” Murphy said in a statement.

When asked for comment about the legislation, former Jersey City Councilman Rolando Lavarro Jr. told the Philippine Daily Mirror, “Racism is predicated on ignorance, and only education can effectively conquer the rise in Asian Hate crimes. The inclusion of AAPI history in New Jersey’s school curriculum is an appropriate, necessary and timely response to the bigotry. More importantly, the law represents the best of New Jersey, namely our diversity and commitment to inclusion. I’m glad Jersey City was able to do our part.”

Rolando Lavarro Jr. | File Photo

In late 2021, with support and advocacy of the Jersey City Asian American Pacific Islander Coalition (JCAAPI), then-Jersey City Councilman Lavarro introduced a resolution supporting the state legislation as the prime sponsor. Councilmen Rich Boggiano and James Solomon were co-sponsors. The resolution was adopted unanimously by the Jersey City Municipal Council.

Make Us Visible NJ, a coalition of students, parents, educators, and community members who led the efforts in support of the bills, said the new laws are “a concrete way to prevent anti-Asian hate and support the mental health of Asian American children.” The coalition spent months meeting with schools boards and teacher’s unions to implement AAPI lessons in classrooms, organized rallies, and met regularly with state lawmakers.

“The New Jersey Asian American community applauds Governor Murphy and the Legislature for their bold and timely leadership incorporating the Asian American experience as part of our public-school curriculum,” said Dr. Kani Ilangovan of Make Us Visible NJ. “All children deserve to know they belong. All children deserve to feel safe. This law will help ensure Asian Americans are represented in our great American story. According to the latest Stop AAPI Hate report, 1 in 3 AAPI parents stated that their child experienced a hate incident in school in this past year. With the rise of anti-Asian violence, education is the best antidote to hate.”

Commission for Asian American Heritage

Governor Murphy also approved another law (P.L. 2021, c.410) that will establish a 21-member Commission for Asian American Heritage within the state’s Department of Education.

Under the law, the 21-member commission will:

  • provide assistance and advice to both public and nonpublic schools in the State regarding implementation of cultural and educational programs associated with individuals of Asian and Asian American descent;
  • infuse the history of Asian Americans into the social studies curriculum in order to provide an accurate, complete and inclusive history;
  • ensure that New Jersey teachers are equipped to effectively teach the New Jersey Learning Standards in Social Studies;
  • meet with county and local officials, as well as other interested organizations, to assist with the planning, coordination, or modification of courses of study that engage the culture, history, and heritage of individuals of Asian or Asian American descent;
  • survey and catalog the current status of curricula regarding the extent of Asian and Asian American heritage and cultural awareness integrated into educational programs;
  • compile a roster of volunteers who are willing to contribute to experiences in classrooms, seminars, and workshops regarding the culture, history, and heritage of individuals of Asian or Asian American descent; and
  • coordinate events focused on the culture, history, and heritage of individuals of Asian or Asian American descent, as well as identify volunteers willing to contribute to commemorative events that would enhance student awareness.

Reaction from FilAm educators

Three FilAm educators from New York lauded the move of New Jersey to incorporate AAPI studies in the curriculum of schools K-12. They urged lawmakers in New York to craft similar legislation in New York, especially in New York City.

Noel Pangilinan | File Photo

Noel Pangilinan, a Philippine studies professor at the College of Mount St. Vincent said the legislation is long overdue. “It is about time that states like New Jersey should include classes on Asian American and Pacific Island history.” He cited three reasons:

“First, the Asian population is the fastest-growing immigrant group in New Jersey, a state that prides itself as one of the most diverse in the United States. Asians now account for more than 11 percent of the state’s population, according to the 2020 Census;

“Second, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have long been making positive economic and historic contributions not just to the state, but the entire United States. Think of the 1840s gold rush, the Transcontinental Railroad and the 1900s sugar plantations of Hawaii and the vegetable and fruit plantations in the West Coast;

“And third, teaching the history of Asian Americans in this country will help the young population gain a fuller understanding of the U.S.’s history and a better appreciation of the Asian American and Pacific Islanders’ contributions. Hopefully, this could lead to a more tolerant, respectful society where racial bias and hate are unacceptable.”

However, Pangilinan hoped that the passage of the law is more about recognizing the Asian American communities’ contributions and achievements, and not because of awa (pity) due to the recent spike in physical and verbal attacks against members of the AAPI communities.

In 2020, reports of anti-Asian hate crimes rose nearly 150% while overall hate crimes fell by 7% in the largest cities throughout the country. In New Jersey, data from the New Jersey State Police shows that the frequency of anti-Asian bias incidents, which incorporate shunning, racial slurs, and physical attacks, rose by nearly 75% over the past year.

“People of Asian descent experienced discrimination long before 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic clearly exacerbated acts of hatred and bigotry,” said Assemblyman Gordon Johnson (D-Bergen), prime sponsor of the measure. “Even more frightening is the fact that many incidents go unreported, leaving open the question of just how many people have experienced harassment, or even violence. Hate has no home in New Jersey, and we have a responsibility to teach our children the importance of tolerance and acceptance.”

Ramil Buenaventura | Facebook

Meanwhile, Ramil Buenaventura, a school teacher in New York City lauded the passage of the New Jersey law. “I hope it will also be done in NYC. It’s needed more as NYC is a diverse city and making people acknowledge the contribution of various nations/cultures (including the API) will definitely build a culture of acceptance and community,” he told the Philippine Daily Mirror. “They need to know that we Pinoys have been both victims and allies in the formation of this great nation.”

Buenaventura is a middle school math teacher in New York City for 18 years. The Department of Education of New York City honored Buenaventura in 2014 with the Big Apple Award as one of the top teachers in the biggest school district in the nation with close to 75,000 teachers

Ernesto Pamolarco Jr. | Facebook

Ernesto Pamolarco Jr., a special education teacher in New York City, also hoped that New York should do the same because of the rising cases of Asian hate crimes in New York City. “The children should know the greatest contributions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders to the United States of America,” he said. “They should show respect and treat them equally like the way they treat other racial groups. Asian Americans are the highest income, best educated, hardworking, and the fastest-growing racial group in the US.”

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