History is the recognition of past events. It is an ongoing story of human progress, a story interwoven with successes and failures of societies that have come before us.
But let’s face it: U.S. history is whitewashed.
In the United States, children’s early history courses are often taught through a unilateral perspective. In my own experience within my childhood education, I was able to learn parts of the country’s captivating stories including the history of Indigenous peoples, the Civil Rights Movement era, and even colonization. However, as I grew older I quickly realized that it was all taught within a distorted narrative, including missing many stories that are part of U.S. history.
During my childhood, I wish I was able to learn about the vibrant Asian communities across the Chicago area or the contribution we made toward U.S. history, including our impacts within the Civil Rights Movement or even in the film industry. I wish I saw representation among Asian Americans at an earlier age so that, while growing up, I did not have to experience being lost and out-of-place with my own identity.
My family’s story of immigrating to the United States, their struggle to find community, navigating financial instability, and seeking cultural belonging is a story I have to carry with me and a story I want others to know. I want to hear the stories of other young Asian Americans who share similar stories to mine and our classmates to hear us all.
As an Asian-American, this loss of history also equates to the loss of my identity.
Seeing the lack of representation for Asian Americans in society, I only believed that this was due to the fact that we were not normal or important enough.
Even from age 7, I began to understand society’s treatment of Asian Americans. During this part of my life, almost every child wanted an American Girl doll that looked just like them. However, as I walked through the store, the only doll I could ever find that was slightly similar to me was a Chinese American girl named Ivy. She was the only Asian American doll that the brand offered. I did not understand why there was such a lack of representation within dolls who had different backgrounds. Did we not matter?
This confusion soon developed into hatred of being Korean. When I was 10, I was entering a new school. All I wanted was to finally fit in. I decided to first change my name from Jiyun to Bailey. I thought that if people stopped hearing my Korean name, they would also forget the stereotypes that came with it.
I continued to ignore this part of me until the end of my freshman year, or the beginning of the “Kung-Flu.” Although the pandemic fueled anti-Asian American hate, it also led to the most representation I ever saw. People were finally speaking about the issues that have been our realities for our entire lives. Our history and culture was finally beginning to be recognized, but hate should not have to be the cause of change.
From the moment our ancestors stepped foot into the “Land of the Free,” we were excluded, attacked, and silenced. Our voices were locked in a chest for hundreds of years.
However, history never disappears. The blood of our people will still continue spilling unless we begin to unfold the chapters of the forgotten past and present. We need to start at the root of this problem, with education. That is why the Teaching Equitable Asian American Community History Act (TEAACH) is a necessity.
The TEAACH Act would ensure that the Asian American story is heard in schools across Illinois. From the history of the California Gold Rush to Angel Island, the voices of our ancestors will finally be heard.
It would not just increase the representation of Asian Americans, but also open a path toward the fight against racism and oppression embedded within the soil of our society.
From my experience of learning from the distorted history of American society, I understand the importance of representation among minorities. We need to learn from one another and listen to each other’s history in order to develop the real American story first by passing the TEAACH Act in Illinois. Please call your legislators and ask them to pass the TEAACH Act this session.
• Bailey Hwang is a 16-year old sophomore at Glenbrook South High School and is part of the HANA Center, an organization that works to empower Korean-American and multiethnic immigrant communities through social services, education, culture, and community organizing to advance human rights.
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May 26, 2021 at 04:24PM