Our education erases Asian Americans

Anna Arnsberger

Though this year’s attacks on the Asian-American community have been particularly appalling, they are just another chapter in a long history of anti-Asian racism. Anyone with a DCPS education is likely not to know that.

Asian American narratives are almost entirely absent from history and English classes. Just like the rest of society, our education system ignores Asian Americans, perpetuating their invisibility and un-Americanness. So when atrocities like the Atlanta shootings occur, people are left shocked and confused.

If it weren’t for my outside reading, I would have no idea about the 1871 Chinese massacre, which was the largest mass lynching in US history. If I hadn’t done my own research, I never would have realized how the celebrated Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 led to the idea of the model minority—a myth weaponized to fuel anti-Blackness. If I solely paid attention to what is taught in school, I would believe that Amy Tan is the only Asian author of literary merit.

What I learned about Asian Americans in my AP US History class is almost exclusively related to the Chinese Exclusion Act. The rest of the course proceeded as if Asian Americans ceased to exist until World War II, for which my textbook devoted a paltry paragraph to Japanese internment—followed by four more about the objectively anticlimactic election of 1944. Not only is this erasure a disappointment to Asian students, it’s a gross misrepresentation of American history.

And as ignorant as the history curricula are in relation to Asian Americans, English classes are worse. Not once in my entire DCPS education have I been required to read a book by an Asian author (while some of my AP English Language classmates read “The Joy Luck Club,” I was not assigned The Exclusive Asian Book). For Asian students who are constantly reading authors of other races, they are conditioned to think that their experiences are neither valid nor appreciated.

This issue is so pervasive that we fail to recognize it. As someone who is half-Korean, I’ve never known what it’s like to see my Asian identity included in the classroom—I’ve grown used to being ignored. It’s only through exploration out of class, by seeking books by Asian-American authors and getting lost in Google rabbit holes of history, that I have realized the power of learning one’s own heritage. 

There’s something exhilarating about reading prose that perfectly encapsulates my relationship with race or simply seeing the mention of tteokbokki in a novel; I can’t help but feel jealous that others get to experience that on a regular basis.

Lack of representation is particularly harmful for a race that is already seen as a faceless monolith—if they’re seen at all. Despite being an immensely diverse group that has existed in the US for centuries, Asian Americans are considered to be generic, perpetual foreigners. Without proper education about the complexity of the Asian American experience, these stereotypes are given room to thrive.

In no small part due to the model minority myth, there is a common misconception that racism against Asians is not real. Non-Asians aren’t the only ones who subscribe to that toxic belief—it has crept its way into the minds of many Asian Americans, who feel compelled to downplay their own struggles. 

We need classes that elevate Asian-American narratives, illustrating all their complexity and challenges. Because if one truly wants to combat anti-Asian violence and hatred, they must begin by recognizing that it exists.