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 Asian / Pacific American Heritage Month this May and throughout all of the months of the year.
Though Asian and Pacific Islander Americans (AAPI) 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.
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.
Confronting Exclusion and Building Belonging
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.
Study Guide: Teaching Farewell to Manzanar
Jeanne Wakatsuki was seven years old in 1942 when the United States government authorized the forced relocation of all Japanese Americans on the West Coast to internment camps. This guide interweaves a literary analysis of Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston’s memoir with an exploration of the relevant historical context surrounding her experience.
Included are engaging activities, teaching strategies, and recommended media to structure your students's reading of the memoir. Throughout their study, students will return to the central questions: How do our confrontations with justice and injustice help to shape our identity? How do those confrontations influence the things we say and do?
Professional Learning: Teaching Farewell to Manzanar: A Memoir of Japanese Internment
Watch this webinar to explore teaching Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston's powerful book that delves into her family’s unjust imprisonment at Manzanar Internment Camp in California.
Professional Learning: George Takei: Standing Up to Racism Then and Now
As part of the Facing History virtual Community Conversation Series, actor and activist George Takei discusses his family’s wrongful incarceration during World War II and how we can all take action against anti-Asian racism on the rise today.
Documentary: And Then They Came for Us
The history of Japanese American internment during World War II is retold in this documentary from Abby Ginzberg and Ken Schneider. It also follows Japanese American activists who spoke out against the Muslim registry and travel ban.
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”
Exploring Cultural Revolution
Study Guide: Teaching Red Scarf Girl
Help your classroom analyze the essential themes of Red Scarf Girl, including conformity, obedience, prejudice, and justice. This Study Guide is designed to accompany Ji-li Jiang’s engaging memoir that provides an insightful window into the first tumultuous years of the Cultural Revolution in China. Exploring the choices made by Jiang, her family, and her peers provides an opportunity for students to gain awareness of a significant moment in world history and provides them with a chance to reflect on their own roles within their households, schools, neighborhoods, and nations.
Mini-Lesson: Indigenous Rights and the Controversy Over Hawaii’s Maunakea Telescope
Since mid-July 2019, Native Hawaiian protesters have been blocking the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) on Maunakea (also spelled Mauna Kea), the highest mountain in Hawaii. Maunakea has some of the clearest views of the skies in the world, and it also is one of the most sacred places to Native Hawaiians. Many Native Hawaiians view the plan to build this telescope on Maunakea’s peak as the latest affront to their rights over their ancestral lands. The events on Maunakea raise important questions about the US government’s treatment of indigenous peoples and Native Hawaiians’s claims to sovereignty. This Mini-Lesson provides historical context for the protests against the Thirty Meter Telescope and helps students explore the reasons why many Native Hawaiians oppose its construction.
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