The Gradient of Asian American Education
Today was my first day of college. Well, I’ve been here for about a week now but it has felt more like an extremely social summer camp rather than school. Some small successes for me is that I somehow managed to get a “new student week leader” lanyard that is much more visually appealing than the freshman one, I found someone who owns a large pot to make ramen in, and my memes in our new student week GroupMe reached a solid three likes.
I attended the very first session of my Asian American Literature course today, and I truly could not be happier with that class (shout out to Nancy Cho). However, when the professor went around and asked us to share Asian and Asian-American literature that we have read, the responses were miniscule. It soon became apparent that I had been incredibly lucky during high school, as I was the sole student in that class who had been able to take ethnic studies and the only one who had Asian American units in their humanities courses during high school.
During my ethnic studies class, and later, in my Black studies class in high school, the teacher made it adamantly clear that though the education we were receiving should be the standard, we were lucky. Every day, we watched the news and wrote reports on teachers around the country that had been fired for teaching content that promoted or even slightly suggested promoting racial equity, intersectionality, and critical race theory. Many didn’t even know that was the concept that they were teaching until they were fired for it. We dove into the details of each case and discussed the implications that came with the news reports.
The idea of studying Asian Americans in some capacity — whether that be as a homogenous group or as individual ethnicities — is stated to have truly originated from Berkely and George Tayakai specifically. Although I’m sure that this topic has been wished to have been offered by a great deal of people before him in the United States, he was the one to actually instate the program.
Over the years, this curriculum has grown nationwide in collegiate institutions. Although not perfect, it has been and continues to be a successful field and offering of classes. However, that does not extend to high schools for the most part. I attended a public school that basically was a giant magnet school in Central Seattle. Although it certainly has its faults, I am forever grateful for the education I received there and more importantly, the people I got to meet and befriend for the rest of my life. My high school especially tried to develop and promote classes and curriculum that were as progressive as could be within the constraints and limitations of budgets and the set AP curriculum. They offered Black studies before school as a zero period, and ethnic studies was offered during the day. These classes were difficult to get into due to high demand. And, in every single one of my history and english classes, we read at least one book written by an Asian or Asian-American author.
While I feel grateful and lucky, I also recognize that from many perspectives, that is the bare minimum. I agree. But sitting there in this 200’s level Asian American literature class and seeing how few people got what I consider to be a mid amount of education — that was deeply saddening and yet incredibly telling to me.