At Central, students win the fight for Asian American studies

By Amy Liao

Central High School

Lin Lin, APIU president (seated), and Jaira Marcos, cabinet member, open the APIU town hall meeting by introducing the new Asian American Studies course at Central High School in Philadelphia, on Feb. 17, 2022.

A new Asian studies course is coming to Central High School next year after students in the school’s Asian and Pacific Islander Union fought for more Asian representation in the curriculum.

Course content was developed from student interest and co-created by students as part of the growing movement to add wider racial representation in school curricula across the country. New Jersey recently became the second state to require Asian American history to be taught in schools.

Central’s Asian American Studies concentration will be available to future juniors of all backgrounds beginning next school year as part of a joint English 3 and AP Seminar class.

The AP Seminar course with the Asian American Studies concentration will allow students to think critically about real-world issues involving race and power, while also providing the opportunity for students to learn about the struggles and joys of Asian Americans. The English 3  portion will enable students to research topics of interest and read books not taught in the typical school curriculum.

“APIU thought it was really important to have an Asian American Studies class at our school, especially since there has been a lot of Asian violence since the beginning of the pandemic, like the Atlanta shooting or even students being harassed on the subway,” said Kenneth Hung, who will be teaching the AP Seminar portion. “It was really important to have a place where Asian Americans could come together to learn about these issues.”

In February, the APIU club held a town hall meeting to introduce the new Asian American Studies course to freshmen and sophomores.

“Just a little quick challenge,” said senior and club president Lin Lin during the meeting. “If anyone can name any of these people or what they did, I’ll give you a piece of candy.” 

Lin Lin, a senior and APIU president, does an introduction activity during an interest meeting for a new Asian American Studies course at Central High School in Philadelphia, on Feb. 17, 2022. Lin hopes that more people know who the influential Asians shown in the activity are in the future.

Those shown included some of the most influential Asian activists and leaders to contribute to society: Grace Lee Boggs, Kiyoshi Kuromiya, Larry Itliong, and Yuri Kochiyama.

The leaders are a labor activist, an AIDS activist in Philadelphia, a Filipino labor organizer, and an advocate who fought for Black liberation with Malcolm X. About 20 mostly Asian American students peered at the Smartboard, yet only one could name a single activist.

Members of Central’s Asian and Pacific Islander club felt that the lack of Asian studies being taught in schools has had serious repercussions on Asian American students.

“Asian Americans have been in American history. I don’t know why we have to fight for that to be taught. You can’t just teach the white-front of it,” said Chloe To, a member of APIU’s junior cabinet. “You need to have a core understanding of who you are, who your people were, and a history of oneself to understand what your identity is. If we don’t have that and we have to learn that all by ourselves without the aid of school, then it’s vital for [APIU] to do whatever we can so other kids who look like us are able to learn Asian history.”

The course focuses on discussions, To said.

“We want to make sure you can connect to situations from the real world to identity, equity, and activism pertaining to the Asian American community,” she said.

Chloe To, an APIU junior cabinet member, and Jaira Marcos, a senior cabinet member, explain the content of the new Asian American Studies course to underclassmen during an interest meeting at Central High School of Philadelphia on Feb. 17, 2022.

The idea of an Asian American studies course has been a main goal of APIU for a long time. The club’s cabinet brainstormed with the club sponsors, teachers Hung and Nicholas Palazzolo.

“We first started out kind of small, like we would just say what we wanted to learn or any books that we wanted to be included in the course,” said cabinet member Jaira Marcos. “Then it started picking up more this year.” 

In January, APIU created a survey that went out to the Central community to gauge student interest in an Asian studies course.

“We were thinking if people wanted to take this course, they probably wouldn’t be able to, because they’re prioritizing college credits from IB and AP classes,” Marcos, a senior, said.

So the club came up with the solution of incorporating the Asian American studies course into the AP Capstone Program as motivation for students to take the course.

Since the course is for juniors starting next school year, current upperclassmen will not be able to take it. But members of the APIU cabinet said they feel fortunate to have made an impact on younger students by creating the course.

In an Instagram statement to upperclassmen, APIU wrote, “We couldn’t take it but we were able to set the path for our underclassmen to take it, which is an act of love.”

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