Supporters of a bill that would require Asian American Pacific Islander education in schools met in Trenton on Dec. 2, 2021. (Daniella Heminghaus for New Jersey Monitor)
Students in New Jersey schools next year will learn about the history and contributions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, if Gov. Phil Murphy signs a bill the Senate passed unanimously Monday.
Activists who have pushed for such representation in school curriculum applauded the Legislature for its “bold and timely leadership” at a time when New Jersey’s Asian American population is growing — and as anti-Asian racism has risen too. The bill passed in the Assembly last month. Murphy has until Jan. 18 to sign it.
“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,” said Dr. Kani Ilangovan, a founder of Make Us Visible NJ. “With the rise of anti-Asian violence, education is the best antidote to hate.”
Sadaf Jaffer, who will be sworn in Tuesday as a new assemblywoman, was one of many people who testified in support of the bill. She teaches South Asian Studies at Princeton University.
“In my classroom, I teach students that the American dream is an aspiration. For Asian Americans, aspiring to the American dream is difficult when our stories are lost or ignored,” Jaffer said. “Knowledge is a powerful tool to heal our social fabric, and I’m proud of New Jersey for taking this important step to build a stronger and more inclusive future.”
New Jersey is one of several states around the country mandating curriculum as a way to fight anti-Asian hate and increase cultural sensitivity. In July, Illinois became the first state to require schools to teach Asian American history.
More than 1 million people statewide identify as Asian, either entirely or in part, according to the 2020 census. New Jersey’s Asian population grew faster in the past decade than any other large ethnic or racial group, increasing 44% since 2010, census figures show.
“These needed guidelines will help school leaders and educators keep up with the changing student population in the classroom,” said Sima Kumar, a public school teacher who had testified in support of the bill.
Both chambers also unanimously passed legislation that would create the Commission on Asian American Heritage in the state Department of Education.
Assemblyman Gordon Johnson (D-Bergen) was the prime sponsor in the Assembly.
“People of Asian descent experienced discrimination long before 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic clearly exacerbated acts of hatred and bigotry,” Johnson said. “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.”
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