On July 9th, Governor J.B. Pritzer signed the Teaching Equitable Asian American History Act (TEAACH), into law, making Illinois the first state to mandate Asian American history be taught in all public schools. The historical measure will be enforced in the 2022-2023 academic year and is a significant, public step in recognizing the enduring contributions of the Asian American community in the state of Illinois.
The signing of the TEAACH act comes at a time when rising numbers of Asian Americans have become the target of hate crimes during the Covid-19 pandemic. With this recent increase in violence against the Asian American community, Governor Pritzer attests teaching students about Asian American history including their rich contributions and traditions will help combat ignorance and false stereotypes.
During the bill signing ceremony at Niles West high school in Skokie, Pritzer acknowledged the positive impact the new law will have: “Today, 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.”
The TEAACH Act was originally introduced in February by Illinois House Rep. Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz, and later passed the House in April and the Senate in May with strong bipartisan support. The legislation adds a new section on Asian American History study to the Illinois School Code. Per the new law, all public elementary school and high school curriculums must include the contributions of Asian Americans toward advancing civil rights from the 19th century onward, contributions made by individual Asian Americans in government, arts, humanities and sciences, and contributions of Asian American communities to the economic, cultural, and social-political development of the United States.
“Asian Americans have played a significant part in our country’s history, but for decades those experiences have been neglected in American education. It’s time to correct that oversight,” said Gong-Gershowitz during a February 2021 press release. Gong-Gershowitz who is the second Chinese American to serve in the Illinois General Assembly received early support from Ram Villivalam – the first Asian American in the Illinois Senate and by the non-profit organization Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Chicago
U.S Census data has shown Asian Americans have the fastest rate of growth compared to other racial groups, reinforcing the importance of Asian American history. According to a PEW study based on 2000-2019 census data, Asians are projected to become the largest immigrant group in the U.S, surpassing Hispanics by 2055. This rapid growth will see the current Asian population of 23 million grow to 46 million by 2060 – With Illinois home to the fifth-largest Asian population in the country, state officials are optimistic that the TEAACH act will lay a strong foundation for inter-racial understanding and community building.
As the Asian American community continues to grow, the TEAACH Act serves as a positive step forward in creating more inclusive and empathetic environments for students. The legislative milestone will encourage a more complete picture of the Asian American story in Illinois public schools. Sponsors of the bill hope the TEAACH Act can inspire a nation learning to reconcile its complex past. After all, Asian American history is American history.
Reid Arné is a participant in the Young Professionals Program at the East-West Center in Washington. He is a graduate student at Chulalongkorn University concentrating in international development studies. His research interests include economic development and international financial policy.