FRAMINGHAM — Sixteen-year-old Gared Wong is urging Framingham school leaders to make Asian American history more than a footnote.
Wong, a junior at the high school, is Chinese American and says textbooks largely erase or minimize Asian Americans. The message is that their stories are not as valued, said Wong.
“They choose the most important pieces of information and that’s what they teach and then you realize you’re not in the curriculum. It makes you feel like you’re not important enough,” he said.
That absence creates obliviousness toward the struggles of Asian Americans and further normalizes racism toward them, said Wong, co-president of the Asian Student Association at the school.
Amid a nationwide increase in anti-Asian sentiment, teens like Wong are taking action. San Francisco-based Stop AAPI Hate, which tracks discrimination and xenophobia against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, tallied nearly 3,800 such incidents from March 2020 through February 2021.
In the wake of an Atlanta shooting on March 16 that left eight people dead — including six Asian women — Wong sent Superintendent of Schools Robert Tremblay an email asking for more inclusion in the curriculum.
“To stop generations of hatred, Asian American history MUST be implemented into the FPS curriculum…People will not understand the racism Asian Americans have faced if they are simply not being taught about it,” Wong wrote in the email.
That history is barely in classrooms today, Wong and other students in the group told the Daily News, and it’s something they’re hungry for.
In a World History class, 17-year-old junior Sylvia Rodrigues remembers a teacher covering the Vietnam War with a page of fill-in-the-blank notes.
Rodrigues, who is of Vietnamese and Salvadorian descent, said she’s heard “terrifying stories” from family members about the war. She pointed to the Mỹ Lai massacre, the 1968 mass murder of unarmed South Vietnamese people by U.S. troops; or “Agent Orange,” a powerful plant-killing herbicide the U.S. military used during the war that has led to disease in both civilians and veterans.
The lesson felt like “just brushing off the war,” said Rodrigues.
“There’s so much history not being taught and that one page of fill-in-the-blank notes was not enough to cover all those issues that run deep,” said Rodrigues, vice president of the Asian Student Association.
Emily Gee, a 17-year-old junior and co-president of the group, said she’d personally like to learn more about the Cambodian civil war from 1967 to 1975, saying her grandparents were there at the time. She’s also curious about early Asian history, Vietnamese refugees and present-day North Korean politics.
If Asian teens want to learn their own history, they have to take to Google, said Gee, and sift through potentially unreliable information.
“It’s just different than being taught in the classroom where they teach you things even if you’re not interested,” said Gee, who is Chinese American.
If he could build his own curriculum, Wong said he’d start with the origins of the model minority myth. The idea is a persistent stereotype that all Asian Americans are successful, educated and wealthy. Its roots can be partially traced to the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which Congress passed to encourage skilled immigrants to enter the U.S. to fill a need for technical manpower.
Highly educated Asian Americans with high incomes and professional white-collar jobs were given preferential admission, which helped construct Asian Americans as the model minority.
Rodrigues said the myth promotes the idea that Asian Americans are monolithic, and is also used to pit them against other racial minorities.
“Not all our experiences are the same,” she said.
Rise in anti-Asian hate
Results of an annual survey conducted by the Anti-Defamation League showed that during the pandemic, Asian Americans had suffered the largest spike in severe incidents of hate and harassment online.
Wong said he feels there’s a link between the erasure of Asian American history in textbooks and anti-Asian hate.
“We’re not taught about this and we’re not aware of this and it will create hate toward us,” he said. “If we’re not in American history, we look like foreigners, we look like immigrants,…