A Republican legislator in Rhode Island has introduced a bill that would require Asian American history be taught in public elementary and high schools starting next fall.
State Rep. Barbara Ann Fenton-Fung, who represents District 15, says she wants students to learn about the achievements of Asian Americans, as well as the struggles they have faced as a community throughout history.
Asian Americans are “a group of people whose story has historically not been told,” she told the Boston Globe. “If you talk to people, they want their history to be part of the great American story.”
The bill, introduced on Feb. 2, would require all public schools to provide at least one unit of instruction in Asian American history, which can be taught online. The curriculum would cover the history of Asian Americans in Rhode Island and the Northeast as well as the contributions of Asian Americans toward civil rights advancement, government, sciences, humanities, the arts, and the country’s economic, cultural, social and political development.
Fenton-Fung, who assumed office in January 2021, first mentioned her proposal during a debate in which she supported a similar bill for African American history last May, according to the Boston Globe. At the time, she floated the idea of introducing an equivalent for Asian American history.
Prior to assuming office, Fenton-Fung, who is also the wife of Rhode Island’s first Chinese American mayor Allan Fung, also drew attention to the language barriers faced by Asian Americans amidst ongoing vaccination efforts. In an op-ed for the Providence Journal, she stressed the importance of having multilingual channels to reach struggling communities.
“Very few and far between are the official government communications based in Khmer script for our Southeast Asian residents, or Chinese pictographs, or Arabic for our neighbors from the Middle East,” Fenton-Fung wrote. “My own mother-in-law’s native language is Cantonese, and I can remember her not quite understanding the full scope of what COVID was or why there was such a big deal when it hit our state. Once my husband laid it out in her native language, she became the biggest promoter of guidance from our public health leaders.
“In order to have better outcomes, we need to go the extra mile in different languages via digital video communications, mailers and multilingual media entities to reach those we didn’t metaphorically capture last time around.”
The bill is expected to be heard before the House Education Committee next Wednesday.