Bill would require Asian American unit in history classes

Legislation passed through an Illinois House committee on Wednesday that would require all public Illinois schools to include a unit on Asian American history.

The legislation passed through the Elementary and Secondary Education: School Curriculum and Policy committee strictly on party lines with 14 Democrats voting yes and nine Republicans voting no.

State Rep. Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz, a Democrat from Glenview, sponsored the legislation, House Bill 376, and added six suburban lawmakers as co-sponsors.

"We already teach American history. We're not asking you to add anything; we're asking that Illinois public schools teach it inclusively," Gong-Gershowitz said to the committee. "Inclusion is a choice. So is exclusion. The drafters of current American history curriculum chose not to include Asian Americans in teaching our shared history."

Waukegan Democrat Rita Mayfield signed on as a co-sponsor Wednesday, joining fellow suburban Democrats Anne Stava-Murray of Naperville, Deb Conroy of Elmhurst, Janet Yang-Rohr of Naperville and Terra Costa-Howard of Glen Ellyn on the legislation.

"If our history books, if they were correct, we wouldn't have a need for these types of bills," Mayfield said. "But, because we know the history books were written for a European superiority slant, we would not have these issues. All cultures need to be represented, and they need to be represented accurately."

Rep. Natalie Manley, a Democrat from Joliet, also supported the bill, saying any history that is factual needs to be taught to children in schools. "I support this and any other measure that teaches reality, people's experiences, documented fact and the existence of, whether it's good or bad, something we are proud of or not, we have to teach the history, oftentimes so we don't repeat it," she said.

Gong-Gershowitz said the legislation is personal to her as a third-generation Chinese American and during a time in America where discrimination against Asian Americans is growing.

"(The legislation) ensures that Asian American stories and experiences are taught at a time when anti-Asian racism, discrimination and xenophobia are on the rise," she said.

The legislation specifically aims to mandate the teaching of Japanese incarceration during World War II and the contributions of Asian Americans to the American war effort.

None of the Republican members of the committee voiced opposition to the legislation Wednesday, yet all nine voted no on the bill, including suburban Republicans Steve Reick of Woodstock and Tom Morrison of Palatine.

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