Classroom Resources on AAPI History and Contemporary Life | Facing History & Ourselves
Angel Island Immigration Station Graphic

Classroom Resources on AAPI History and Contemporary Life

These resources can help you explore the complexities of Asian and Pacific Islander American histories and contemporary experiences with students.
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Here at Facing History, we see awareness months as opportunities to deepen our knowledge of and attention to the histories and contemporary experiences of historically marginalized communities. However, the focus on celebrating these communities over one particular month can further marginalize the very experiences we are hoping to elevate. With this in mind, what follows is an invitation to engage with important themes raised by AAPI Heritage Month this May and throughout all of the months of the year.

Though Asian and Pacific Islander Americans have faced racist attacks in the United States for centuries, the endurance of this racism has become more visible in recent years as an uptick in violence targeting AAPI peoples entered the national consciousness. This virulent racism and the structures that allow it to persist demand response, and education is one of our most powerful tools for raising awareness and taking steps toward repair.

For many educators who are eager to begin exploring AAPI history and contemporary experiences with students, it can be challenging to know where to start. We invite educators to use the following curricular resources and professional development offerings to begin a journey of reflection, dialogue, and learning in the classroom.

Exploring Identity and Belonging

Unit: My Part of the Story: Exploring Identity in the United States
This collection of six lessons is designed to launch a course about United States history, literature, or civic life through an examination of students’ individual identities. Students will come to better understand that their voices are integral to the story of our country.

Interview: Centering AAPI Students in the Classroom: An Expert Interview
Dr. Guofang Li and Dr. Nicholas D. Hartlep, leading scholars in the field of Asian American Education, discuss obstacles to delivering quality education to Asian and Pacific Islander American (AAPI) students, the emergence and pervasiveness of the “model minority myth” (or “stereotype”), and how educators can actively center the needs and experiences of their AAPI students.

Professional Learning: Making the Invisible Visible: Exploring and Teaching the AAPI Experience
Author and activist Helen Zia explores the history of anti-Asian hate, as well as stories of resistance, perseverance, and pride within the AAPI community.

Understanding Histories of Immigration and Legacies of Exclusion

Inquiry: Angel Island Immigration Station: Exploring Borders and Belonging in US History
Most Americans think of the Ellis Island Immigration Station in New York as a haven for “huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” and the Angel Island Immigration Station is often characterized as its West Coast counterpart. While both stations served to restrict immigration, people passing through Angel Island faced much more exclusionary policies and harsher treatment. Many Asian immigrants, often from China, were kept in detention amid harsh conditions for prolonged periods of time spanning many months or more.

In this C-3 style inquiry, students engage with the history of the Angel Island Immigration Station to think critically about the concept of borders—not simply geographic borders but the social, economic, and political boundaries erected throughout US history to separate “in” groups from “out” groups.

Activity: Supporting Question 3: Navigating the Borders of National Belonging
Students explore the supporting question “How does the history of immigration through Angel Island help us understand how we create and challenge borders today?”

Mini-Lesson: The Legacies of Chinese Exclusion
Help students explore the Chinese Exclusions Act, an immigration law passed in 1882, and its lasting impact on attitudes toward citizenship and national identity in the United States today.

Mini-Lesson: Bearing Witness to Japanese American Incarceration
March 21, 1942 marks the date that Congress passed Public Law 503. This legislation authorized the federal courts to enforce President Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066, which sanctioned the forced removal and incarceration of Japanese Americans on the West Coast in internment camps.

This Mini-Lesson probes some of the complex issues arising from the history of Japanese incarceration during World War II. While not comprehensive, these resources and activities enable students to explore difficult questions about national identity, institutional racism, and the boundaries of US citizenship.

Professional Learning: Teaching George Takei’s They Called Us Enemy and Japanese American Incarceration
Facing History & Ourselves selected George Takei’s graphic memoir, They Called Us Enemy, for a 2023-2024 All Community Read. This webinar introduces the memoir and provides strategies for reading this book with your school community.

Study Guide + Documentary: Becoming American: The Chinese Experience
The film Becoming American: The Chinese Experience describes the ways the first arrivals from China in the 1840s, their descendants, and recent immigrants have "become American." It is a story about identity and belonging that will resonate with all Americans and the goal of the Study Guide is to explore this universal theme within this particular history. Students are encouraged to relate the experiences of Chinese Americans in America to their own community arc and the history of the nation as a whole.

The documentary is available in three parts on Facing History’s website:
Part One - “Gold Mountain Dreams"
Part Two - “Between Two Worlds”
Part Three - “No Turning Back”

Connecting Past and Present through Exercises in Memory

Lesson: Monuments to Japanese American Incarceration
This offers an opportunity for your class to analyze monuments to Japanese American incarceration and consider the purpose and emotional impact of these monuments. Students will consider the monuments’ design, emotional impact, and purpose.

Teaching Strategy: Connecting the Past to the Present Using Oral History
This strategy invites students to engage with oral histories in order to deepen their understanding of how past events impacted individuals and communities, and to gain new perspectives on the present.

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