Key takeaways:

  • Fills a need. Fifty-eight percent of Americans were unable to name a prominent Asian American.
  • Customizable lessons. Chapters will be designed for a single class period or a week-long series.
  • Project meets the moment. California and other states have mandated teaching ethnic studies in high school and college.

The UCLA Asian American Studies Center has received $10 million in state funding that will propel the development of a free multimedia learning experience that will equip teachers across the country with materials that can fill a curricular gap about the experiences of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

The AAPI Multimedia Textbook will feature an open-access, online platform with lessons for students in high school, college and lifelong learners. Its chapters will highlight the histories, struggles, cultures and contributions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States. It will integrate content developed by scholars from across the country, and engaging learning activities in flexible modules for teachers and students. The materials will focus on high school and college students.

“The textbook will be the most comprehensive, scholar-informed, online history of AAPIs that redefines the American narrative and opens unlimited possibilities for building a just, multiracial and democratic future,” said Karen Umemoto, Helen and Morgan Chu Endowed Director of the UCLA Asian American Studies Center. One of the key features of the multimedia textbook is its curation by members of Asian American and Pacific Islander communities.

The one-time funding from the California budget provides an infrastructure to support broad curriculum development as well as aid the procurement of multimedia materials, build and test a new online learning platform and launch a national training program for teachers and school districts. The center will also evaluate and refine the content for future editions.

The budget allocation was championed by the Asian American Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus.

“This AAPI Multimedia Textbook produced by the UCLA Asian American Studies Center will provide an authoritative and invaluable resource for California high schools and colleges as we prepare for the teaching of ethnic studies throughout the state,” said Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi. “I look forward to continuing to collaborate with UCLA to ensure that Asian American and Pacific Islander history and perspectives are properly taught in our classrooms.”

Teachers will have flexibility

The online platform will allow students to navigate chapters on different topics, periods and places with visual, audio and archival artifacts that bring history to life, Umemoto said. Chapters will be standalone and operate as customizable modules designed for a single class period or a week-long series that educators can “take off the shelf” to teach in their classrooms.

“The work that Dr. Umemoto and the UCLA Asian American Studies Center is doing is more important than ever,” said Assemblymember Mike Fong. “The increase in anti-AAPI hate crimes is an indication of the lack of understanding and appreciation for the contributions made by our community to California and our nation. I am grateful for the support from the AAPI Legislative Caucus, the legislature and the governor, and I look forward to seeing the final product of the AAPI Multimedia Textbook project.” 

Chart showing that 71 percent of Asian Americans say they do not feel respected and are discriminated against in the U.S.; that 33 percent of respondents to a survey agreed or completely agreed with the statement that Asian Americans as a group are “more loyal to their countries of origin than the U.S.”; and that 58 percent of Americans could not name one prominent Asian American.

Following a long history of racism in the United States, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders became scapegoats of the COVID-19 pandemic, facing xenophobia, physical violence, bigotry and hate. While the mainstream media has helped make this surge of anti-Asian racism more visible to the public, scholars and policymakers believe the dearth of AAPI history in classrooms is a critical gap that enables these racialized ideologies to persist generation after generation.

“As California requires ethnic studies for high school graduation, the Asian American Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus secured funding for the AAPI Multimedia Textbook, which brings together distinguished scholarship, open access technology and ethnic studies pedagogy as a critical resource to teach AAPI history,” said Dr. Richard Pan, state senator and chair of caucus. “We are thankful to the UCLA Asian American Studies Center for leading the project and look forward to its widespread use.”

In 2021, California legislation made ethnic studies a graduation requirement for all public high schools, Cal State University campuses and community colleges in the state.

Many other states and school districts across the country are also starting to require ethnic studies as a high school and college graduation requirement. Illinois and New Jersey now have requirements that AAPI history be taught in every public elementary and high school.

“There will be a tremendous need for high-quality curricula that reflect cutting edge Asian American studies scholarship and pedagogy with learning outcomes that will equip future leaders to build a more just and equitable future,” said Kelly Fong, co-director of the project and a lecturer in UCLA’s Asian American Studies department.

Dangerous ignorance about the contributions of Asian Americans

Umemoto was part of an academic advisory committee for the 2022 Social Tracking of Asian Americans in the U.S. Index that found the contributions of Asian Americans continue to be invisible and unfamiliar to the American public. Fifty-eight percent of Americans were unable to name a prominent Asian American and 42% were unable to name a significant Asian American historical moment more recent than the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II.

The AAPI Multimedia Textbook Project will help improve understanding of how AAPIs have influenced and shaped the United States, as well as foster a sense of belonging and acceptance of Asian Americans.

“For decades, Asian American and Pacific Islander communities have been longing to be seen and heard. In my experience growing up, I didn’t learn anything about AAPI history in school. It’s as if we didn’t exist, which contributes to perceptions that we don’t belong in America,” said Phil Ting, who chairs the Assembly’s budget committee. “Inclusion in textbooks and lessons are key to fostering greater understanding and acceptance, and I’m happy to champion state funding that help us reach those goals.”

The UCLA Asian American Studies Center is deeply grateful for the support of the State Senate and State Assembly budget committees along with Gov. Gavin Newsom, and the entire Asian American Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus, Umemoto said.