Aiming to deepen students’ cultural understanding of Asian history and heritage, legislation was signed into law to create the Commission on Asian American Heritage in the New Jersey Department of Education devoted to amplifying the inclusion of relevant educational programs in schools across the state.
In 2020, reports of anti-Asian hate crimes rose nearly 150% while overall hate crimes fell by 7% in the largest cities throughout the country. In New Jersey, data from the New Jersey State Police shows that the frequency of anti-Asian bias incidents, which incorporate shunning, racial slurs, and physical attacks, rose by nearly 75% over the past year.
“People of Asian descent experienced discrimination long before 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic clearly exacerbated acts of hatred and bigotry,” said Assemblyman Gordon Johnson (D-Bergen), prime sponsor of the measure. “Even more frightening is the fact that many incidents go unreported, leaving open the question of just how many people have experienced harassment, or even violence. Hate has no home in New Jersey, and we have a responsibility to teach our children the importance of tolerance and acceptance.”
This law (formerly bill A-3369/S-3764), also sponsored by Assemblymen Sterley Stanley and Robert Karabinchak (both D-Middlesex), who represent the 18th Legislative District, which has the highest percentage of Asian Americans of any legislative district in New Jersey, aims to combat discrimination and prejudice by ensuring children participate in educational programs that foster cultural awareness and understanding of the contributions of the Asian American community.
“The Asian American and Pacific Islander community has enriched every corner of New Jersey’s culture, economy, schools, arts, businesses, and so much more,” said Stanley, the first person of South Asian descent from Middlesex County to join the New Jersey General Assembly. “The programs developed under this law will reinforce to students that our state’s diversity is our strength.”
“Representation matters. This law will ensure people of Asian descent are included in our students’ curriculum, potentially bringing in-depth Asian history to some classrooms for the first time,” said Karabinchak. “There’s never been a more important moment for us to broaden children’s understanding of the world around them and promote inclusivity and respect.”
Under the law, the 21-member commission will:
- provide assistance and advice to both public and nonpublic schools in the State regarding implementation of cultural and educational programs associated with individuals of Asian and Asian American descent;
- infuse the history of Asian Americans into the social studies curriculum in order to provide an accurate, complete and inclusive history;
- ensure that New Jersey teachers are equipped to effectively teach the New Jersey Learning Standards in Social Studies;
- meet with county and local officials, as well as other interested organizations, to assist with the planning, coordination, or modification of courses of study that engage the culture, history, and heritage of individuals of Asian or Asian American descent;
- survey and catalog the current status of curricula regarding the extent of Asian and Asian American heritage and cultural awareness integrated into educational programs;
- compile a roster of volunteers who are willing to contribute to experiences in classrooms, seminars, and workshops regarding the culture, history, and heritage of individuals of Asian or Asian American descent; and
- coordinate events focused on the culture, history, and heritage of individuals of Asian or Asian American descent, as well as identify volunteers willing to contribute to commemorative events that would enhance student awareness.