HARRISBURG, Pa. — As a child growing up in the Philly suburbs, Serena Nguyễn was ashamed of her last name.
“It was a strange, unfamiliar, hard-to-pronounce sound connecting me to a land distant in time and space. It seemed un-American,” said Nguyễn, who has since become a community activist and founded anti-prejudice nonprofit Pop the Bubble.
Anti-Asian bias has lasting impact, advocates say. The damage ranges from self-image to an increase in hate crimes targeting Asian Americans in recent years.
A shooting in Atlanta last year left eight people dead—six of them Asian women.
Just last week, a gunman opened fire in a Koreatown hair salon in Dallas, injuring three Korean women. Police are investigating the incident as a hate crime in relation to two other shootings of Asian-owned businesses in the area.
Pennsylvania lawmakers believe the solution to stopping the prejudice needs to start young.
A proposed bill would create an Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) history curriculum and recommend it for all Pennsylvania K-12 schools.
“We need to educate to stop the hate,” said State Rep. Patty Kim (D-Dauphin), a sponsor of the bill.
The curriculum would highlight societal contributions of Asian Americans and how they have shaped the nation. Examples include the thousands of Chinese laborers who largely built part of the Transcontinental Railroad in the 1860s and several high profile labor leaders who helped organize farm workers in the mid-20th century.
The bill comes amid National Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Members of the AAPI community now make up 3.9 percent of Pennsylvania’s population.
“Asian Americans have been part of American society since the birth of our nation, and we want to make sure everyone knows that we’re here, too,” said Ahmad Tamim Hasani, school board director in Upper Moreland Township, Montgomery County.
The curriculum would not be required.
“If a school district doesn’t want to go ahead and teach it, then they don’t have to. But the resources will be available for any school districts that do,” said State Rep. Todd Stephens (R-Montgomery).
The House bill has sponsors from both sides of the aisle, and a companion bill will soon be introduced in the Senate by State Sen. Nikil Saval (D-Phila.).
The proposed curriculum would start at the start of the new school year in the fall.