By Misha Gandhi
Unlike their parents and previous generations of Asian Americans, today’s Asian youth are more outspoken and active in civic movements. They take action for themselves to represent their Native, Hawaiian, Asian American, and Pacific Islander (NHAAPI) identities as well as progress as a generation for the future generations aside from them. With the age of social media marketing, Asian youth were able to create an online movement to not only teach Asian Americans advancing civil rights and the contributions Asian Americans have made in government, the arts, sciences, economics and politics but also highlight the stories of those who have been targeted and reach a target audience across the nation; even in remote circumstances.
I had the great honor of working with Hana Center, a Chicago-based non-profit providing social services to the Asian community, on passing the Teaching Equitable Asian American History (TEAACH) Act in Illinois. Illinois is the first state in the United States to pass Asian American History Curriculum to be implemented into the educational system. Introduced by Sen. Villivalam and Rep. Gong-Gershowitz, the Act was signed on July 9th, 2021 and put into place for Jan 1, 2022. As Governor Pritzer of Illinois said “We are setting a new standard for what it means to truly reckon with our history. It’s a new standard that helps us understand one another, and, ultimately, to move ourselves closer to the nation of our ideals”.
Not only was TEAACH passed by government officials but also students and youth themselves. Alongside the Act, efforts are being made by non-profits, student organizations and community organizers to build a structured curriculum so teachers and students can adopt the Act with ease. Asian Americans Advancing Justice, a non-profit to advance the civil and human rights for Asian Americans and to build and promote a fair and equitable society, created Bystander Intervention Training. Kan-Win, a non-profit to eradicate gender-based violence, has been doing youth leadership groups called Elevate to combat gender based violence as well as discuss current events. With Hana Center, teens were exposed to youth power projects that allowed them to be represented and to voice their opinions rather than being silenced; just like they have been in adultism platforms. This use of marketing let youth know that they were able to make change with other people just like them for the next generation upcoming. They were also able to see the long-term effects as well as the adult processes needed in their project, allowing them to have control over the work they accomplish.
Working with the Hana Center on TEAACH has been an incredible experience for me. Personally, I had no experience in social work or public policy so it was a start-to-finish process where I really had to make sure I had guidance and mentorship to learn what I really needed to accomplish. The community organizer of Hana Center was really able to reach those goals by strengthening communication, keeping together progress checks and just being a friend at times.
It was important for me to get involved because I helped bring one student voice which really makes a difference because one student, one voice can really make an impact. I also recruited a few people to get involved in the process by presenting at local libraries and club meetings with a partner. This helped bring awareness to the topic rather than just focusing on it within a small group.
Zaina Anarwala, a freshman at the University of Illinois in Urbana Champaign, who was involved in the focus group conversation as well as present during the signing stated “I took Asian American Studies and one of the coordinators met with us regarding TEAACH. I initially did not know what we were going to do but I realized the legislation Hana Center was helping pass was a huge step forward, that I definitely wanted to be involved with. I am very happy it was over zoom because Hana Center is based in the city and I live in the suburbs. Everything that Hana supported was to help people and to uplift people reviving education that isn’t representative of the Asian American community. It was a great opportunity.”
Kirsten Ng, a junior at Niles North High School in Illinois, an executive board member of Pan Asian Student Association and present during the signing stated “Hana Center helped me start my work in activism. I was able to learn more about Asian American struggles that I never realized other people also went through. I thought the pandemic actually pushed me to Hana Center, without an online opportunity to access the TEAACH Act group, I probably would have to start my own activism group. Although now I wish that it could be more in person so I can form deeper relationships with my peers.”
For anyone looking to start a project such as this, I really recommend reaching out to community organizers and non-profits because their goals and strengths are to help you and your passions thrive. They also have a lot of connections which are crucial for the mission to pass along; even by word of mouth. Even one person who is willing to guide you makes wonders. You’ll never realize the impact of one voice, one helping hand or one smile until you see it for yourself.
Also, never give up on the dream even if it takes time. People for years have been trying to bring awareness to Asian Americans and TEAACH will finally do that in Illinois but the mission doesn’t stop here because there are so many voices that are still concealed, curriculums to be made and states to be reached.