CHAMPAIGN — Illinois is the first state to require the teaching of Asian American history in public schools.
As schools start implementing the requirement, some private groups are taking up the charge on their own.
Yingying Han is a library sciences graduate student at the University of Illinois. She’s leading a series of history workshops on the topic.
“I had a kid before share how he was bullied at school because he couldn’t speak English when he moved to the United States,” Han said. “I want to give the kids the confirmation that your story matters.”
The organization Stop AAPI Hate estimates about one in five Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders experienced verbal, physical or another kind of racial harassment in 2020 or 2021.
Han wants students to understand their history within the United States. She hopes this will help them understand and combat racism they may experience themselves.
In the first workshop, students will compare a children’s book about 1860s railroad construction written by a white author to a description by an Asian American museum.
“One way of writing it is to give credits to the company’s boss – how they designed the project. And in the whole narrative, there is no mention of who did it at all,” Han said.
Who did the construction? Around 15,000 Chinese migrants, according to New York City’s Museum of Chinese in America. At one point during construction, Chinese migrants made up 90 percent of the railroad workforce.
“Working together, a team of eight Irish rail workers and 5,000 Chinese workers laid more than ten miles of track in less than twelve hours,” reads the museum brochure.
Han will tie each lesson to present day themes, like the importance of getting credit for your work or reporting racist comments to adults.
She started the series last fall at weekend Chinese language classes for kids at the Chinese Heritage Center in Champaign. Now, she’s expanding to the New American Welcome Center.
The workshops are each Tuesday in February from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Han designed the lessons for Chinese and Chinese-American students between 8 and 18. Children of other ages and backgrounds are also welcome.
The lessons will be taught in both English and Chinese.
Emily Hays is a reporter for Illinois Public Media. Follow her on Twitter@amihatt.