In July 2021, Illinois set a historic benchmark and became the first state in the United States to require its public schools to teach Asian American history. And now, New Jersey is poised to follow in its footsteps with similar state education requirements.
Tat Bellamy-Walker of NBC News reported that the New Jersey legislature approved a bill requiring public schools to teach Asian American history. The bill, which passed both the state Senate and the General Assembly in December 2021, now moves to Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy, who is expected to sign it into law.
“If signed, New Jersey would become the second state to mandate Asian American history as part of its public school curriculum, after Illinois did so earlier [in 2021],” Bellamy-Walker wrote.
Census data gathered in 2020 shows that more than 1 million Asian Americans live in the Garden State, making the population the fastest-growing ethnic group within New Jersey.
In a statement, Kani Ilangovan, founder of the advocacy group Make Us Visible New Jersey, said: “It’s affirming our sense of belonging to this country and also that we deserve to feel safe. It’s very sad, but during the pandemic, there’s been a huge rise in anti-Asian violence, and we feel education is the best antidote to hate.”
The new AAPI education bill was sponsored by Assemblyman Raj Mukherji and state Sen. Vin Gopal, the first Indian American to be elected as a state senator in New Jersey.
Gopal said he regrets that he was never given the chance to learn about Asian American history in school and wanted to help right the wrong for future generations.
“What I didn’t learn was about people who look like me, those who were from the AAPI community that have had significant contributions to our great country we live in today,” he said. “I am proud to sponsor legislation that can help kids who look like me know that they can be anything.”
Mukherji added that the recent spike in anti-Asian hate during the pandemic made passing the bill a priority for him.
“It is not a secret that hate incidents against Asian Americans are on the rise at an alarming level since the pandemic. When you have people with a platform referring to the disease as the ‘kung flu’ or the ‘China virus,’ I’m not so sure that’s shocking,” Mukherji said. “Hate comes from a place of ignorance, and if we can educate our young people about the Asian American immigrant experience, about our history, we will not only be teaching them, but we will be building empathy.”
Murphy is expected to sign the AAPI education bill into law. Once approved, a commission will be created to help advise the New Jersey Department of Education on how the curriculum should be implemented across the state.