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America’s History is the History of Minorities

Updated: 4 days ago

Dear Asian Youth,

A banana: yellow on the outside, white on the inside. A racial description often used to describe someone of Asian descent that has been “whitewashed” — someone who lacks a connection to their cultural heritage.

As a second generation Asian American, I am all too familiar with the term. My grandparents immigrated to the U.S. in the 1950s. My parents were born and raised in the American public education system. I grew up in a predominantly Asian immigrant community near East San Jose, California. A lot of my peers were first generation and spoke their native language. I often felt alienated since my personal experiences and home life were very different. Often, when my peers met my parents who spoke perfect English or learned about my inability to speak Cantonese, I was condemned as a "banana."

I never thought I was out of touch with my culture though; my family still celebrated Chinese holidays and ate traditional foods. My grandmother would always cook traditional Cantonese food at home and we would go out for Dim Sum every week. We would hold large banquets and pass out Lai See (red envelopes) on Chinese New Year and eat Mooncakes on the day of the Mid-Autumn Harvest Festival. Every year, my family would visit the cemetery to pay our respects to our ancestors, following Chinese tradition.

Growing up, it was also important that my parents taught me my family history: how my great grandfather immigrated through Angel Island, how my grandfather came to the U.S. at 14 to help support his family in China, and how my other relatives had to buy papers to be able to immigrate to the U.S. My parents also made sure I knew the true history of the Chinese in America. I learned about the transcontinental railroad, the Chinese Exclusion Act, the history of Chinatowns, and the extensive racism, violence, and hatred the Chinese faced.

Yet, when I began school, I often found the stories and narratives I learned growing up to be omitted from public school curriculum. There were mentions of Chinese building the transcontinental railroad and the Chinese Exclusion Act, but nothing more than a few sentences in a history textbook. For a class full of Asian kids, I questioned why we never learned about our own history and contributions to America. Why was there so much importance placed on European figures and their narrative in shaping the country?

Even from first grade, we were taught that America is the best country on Earth: the richest country, the land of the free, the home of the brave. We discussed the Founding Fathers and the great ideas our nation was built upon. And yet, there is a completely different narrative that seems to exist between all this: the narrative of the minority — one of racism, oppression, hate, and exclusion.

Last month, PBS aired a documentary called “Asian Americans.” The documentary detailed the complex history of Asians in the U.S., from Supreme Court cases involving Asian Americans that defined race, ethnicity, and property ownership in the U.S. to pioneering Asians in the entertainment industry. From the complex race relations in the L.A. riots to the role Asians played in American politics. Personally I was furious to have learned that our contribution to American history goes without recognition. We played a part in creating laws and policies that still affect us today, we built and fought for this country, and regardless, we still face incredible amounts of racial discrimination and violence. This is the history that my immigrant family was a part of for more than 80 years. And still, there is only a sliver of a sentence mentioning Asian Americans in our textbooks.

American history in school is very one-sided. It’s often written from a white, eurocentric perspective. Writing history from a singular perspective omits the history of a lot of people and often distorts some events. Even when discussing the darker parts of American history, textbooks fail to grasp the full gravity of a subject, portraying the United States as the overcomer — the bold achiever.

The New York Times article, “Two States. Eight Textbooks. Two American Stories,by Dana Goldstein highlights this exact issue. The article compares content from two different textbooks: one from California, the other from Texas. Both textbooks have the same publisher and credit the same authors as sources. But there are actually hundreds of subtle differences between the books, proving that the history we are taught is not objective in the slightest. As summarized by Goldstein, “Conservatives have fought for schools to promote patriotism, highlight the influence of Christianity and celebrate the founding fathers... The left has pushed for students to encounter history more from the ground up than from the top down, with a focus on the experiences of marginalized groups such as enslaved people, women and Native Americans.” Learning the history of minorities has become a partisan issue, which often leaves POC students with the short end of the stick. Rather than writing history