The umbrella term Asian-American often hides the great diversity of historical contexts, cultures and current-day issues faced by different peoples within its scope. Educators can help challenge the stereotype that all Asian peoples have the same language, culture or history by reflecting on their own assumptions and knowledge gaps and by including a variety of Asian-American voices throughout their curricula.
Teacher Reflection Questions
- Do I have images, texts and/or lessons that focus on the histories and current-day realities of Asian-American people?
- Do my curriculum and materials portray the diversity of experiences, cultures, languages and histories included under the term Asian-American?
- What do I know about the ethnic background of my Asian-American students?
- Do I have assumptions or stereotypes about the ethnicity of my Asian-American students?
- How might those assumptions show up in the classroom?
- Do I expect all the Asian-American students in my class to be or act a certain way?
- What are some steps I can take to learn more about my Asian-American students’ backgrounds? What are some steps I can take to challenge my assumptions about them?
Teaching and Learning Resources
Smithsonian Education: Asian Pacific American Heritage Teaching Resources
Asian Pacific American Heritage Teaching Resources includes links to a variety of curriculum guides, online resources and lesson plans to help educators teach about the histories and cultures of Asian-American peoples. The website includes interdisciplinary lesson plans on the history and experiences of Korean Americans, Japanese Americans, Vietnamese Americans and other Asian peoples. It also links to online exhibits on particular moments in Asian-American history, such as the Japanese internment camps, Chinese immigration to California and the creation of the state of Hawaii. Many of the lessons focus on the experiences of young people and include primary sources written by young people.
A Century of Challenge and Change: The Filipino American Story is an interactive, multimedia curriculum for students that follows the lives and experiences of Marissa and Jordan, two young Filipino-Americans. Students travel with the two young characters through Filipino history and culture; highlighted words are linked to word definitions, photographs and more detailed information about names and terms. The units also include a chance for students to “talk back to history” and share what they learned with others.
Asian Nation: Asian American History, Demographics, and Issues is curated by a Vietnamese-American professor of sociology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. The purpose of the site is to provide demographic and historical information about Asian-American communities as well as articles and blog posts about current issues that affect Asian-American communities, such as the portrayal of Asian Americans in the media, international adoption, assimilation and interracial dating. The site also links to primary sources.
As the site points out, two dominant stereotypes about Asian Americans are that all Asian Americans are the same and that all Asian Americans are foreigners. To challenge those stereotypes, ask students to research immigration stories and timelines for various ethnic groups using the “Ethnic Groups” link on the website. The page on the history of Chinese Americans provides a useful counterpoint to the stereotype that all Asian Americans are recent immigrants.
This subpage on socioeconomic statistics and demographics could be used to start a research project in which students investigate the differences among Asian-American ethnic groups today. You could ask students to research the causes of differing levels of educational attainment or economic conditions between different groups of Asian Americans.