Can learning Asian American history diffuse future ethnic profiling and anti-Asian American violence?
By Frances Kai-Hwa Wang
“We need to make sure we don’t repeat the mistakes of the Cold War,” said U.S. Rep. Judy Chu of California, Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus Chair. “That means not spreading unfounded suspicions that paint all Chinese people as threats and which put innocent Chinese Americans at risk.”
On June 30, in the wake of University of Tennessee engineering professor Anming Hu’s mistrial, Reps. Chu and Jamie Raskin of Maryland, Oversight Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Chair, held a roundtable discussion on “Researching while Chinese American: Ethnic Profiling, Chinese American Scientists and a New American Brain Drain.”
Temple University physics professor Dr. Xiaoxing Xi and hydrologist Sherry Chen recounted their false arrests and prosecution by the FBI and Department of Justice, and advocacy organizations such as Committee of 100 and Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAAJ-AAJC) submitted testimony.
“Biased prosecution of American scientists of Chinese descent hurts American research and competitiveness and ruins the lives and careers of Americans who are unfairly prosecuted,” said Zheng Yu Huang, Committee of 100 president. “We must balance national security with civil liberties and America’s ability to continue to attract the world’s best talents. Racial profiling is antithetical to all these goals.”
While ethnic profiling of Chinese American scientists can impact all Asian Americans, education in Asian American history can potentially help all Americans.
On July 9, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker signed into law the Teaching Equitable Asian American Community History (TEAACH Act). Beginning in the 2022-2023 school year, all public elementary and high schools in Illinois will be required to teach one unit on Asian American history, including the history of Asian Americans in Illinois and the Midwest, and the contributions of Asian Americans in advancing civil rights. Although some states require ethnic studies, educators say that this law focusing on Asian American studies is “pace setting.”
“Like a lot of legislation, this has been a topic of conversation for a while,” said Illinois State Rep. Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz who co-sponsored the bill with Illinois State Sen. Ram Villivalam. “But it occurred to us and the TEAACH coalition and [Asian Americans] Advancing Justice Chicago that this was the best way for us to respond to the rise in anti-Asian hate and xenophobia that we have seen in the pandemic. And so the strategy to pass this legislation now was very much motivated in part by what we saw happening in the world.”