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IL becomes 1st state to require Asian American history in schools as Gov. Pritzker signs TEAACH ACT

Originally published on ABC 7 on July 9, 2021.


SKOKIE, Ill. (WLS) -- Asian American history is now a required curriculum in public schools in Illinois.


This historic legislation makes Illinois the first state in the nation to require the teaching of Asian American History.


It's called the "TEAACH ACT" or Teaching Equitable Asian American Community History.

"We are setting a new standard for what it means to truly reckoned 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," said Governor J.B. Pritzker.


The bill's sponsors said this will help future generations understand the perspectives and contributions of Asian Americans and create a more inclusive and comprehensive understanding of American history.


It comes in response to the rise in Asian hate crimes.


Pritzker signed the historic bill Friday morning at Niles West High School in Skokie.


"Today wouldn't be possible without your vision and tireless efforts," Pritzker said. "Together we have transformed the pain of the recent rise in anti-Asian hate into a call to action here in the state of Illinois, and that call to action is real progress. We have taken it to a point where we're genuinely moving this state forward."


For members of that community this legislation brings hope that education can help reduce prejudice and the attacks it has spawned.


This legislation makes available instructional materials to schools so every public elementary school and high school in the state can include Asian American history in the curriculum.

Supporters said this will help empower students to help create a better and more inclusive future.


Emily Choi was walking with her 20-month-old son in University Village last month when a man ran up, told her to, "Go back to Asia," and then yelled, "White Power," before walking off.


"He chose to attack my identity because that's not something I can change," Choi said.

The new inclusive curriculum will cover contributions of Asian Americans to civil rights, as well individual contributions by Asian Americans to government, arts, humanities and science.


"I think it will be life changing for people to realize that there are people who made an impact who were of Asian American, who are Asian Americans," Choi said.


A number of recent high school students helped provide input on the legislation.


"It gives me a lot of hope for the next generation, that the little digs that I may have received in the past are not going to happen to the next generation and it makes me very excited," said Kiana Kenmotsu, 2021 Niles West High School graduate.


"If people don't have the capacity to understand in terms of people's cultures and their communities, then they will never be able to have empathy," sadded Phong Ngyn, a 2021 Lane Tech graduate.


With the recent attacks against Asian Americans here and across the country, advocates said it's important to be proactive.


"Education alone will not solve racism, but it is an important first step," said Grace Pai, executive director for Asian Americans Advancing Justice Chicago.


The state board of education will set the basic guidelines for the curriculum, but leave the decision about what to actually teach to individual school districts. It will be implemented starting in the fall of 2022.

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