Southeast Asian history and cultural experiences will soon become an integral part of the social studies curriculum in California public schools. California’s State government recently approved Bill 895, which seeks to include experiences of Vietnamese refugees, the Cambodian genocide, and Hmong history in the schools’ K-12 curriculum.
State Senator Janet Nguyen authored the bill, which mandates that students receive instruction on not only the Vietnam War and the Cambodian Genocide, but also on the experiences of Vietnamese refugees, and the victims of the Khmer Rouge. The bill has also directed the model curriculum to reflect the contributions made by members of the Hmong community during the Vietnam War and teach students about Hmong culture and history.
The Hmongs belong to an ethnic group that traces its origins to China. Over time, many Hmongs migrated to various Southeast Asian countries, such as Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam. In the aftermath of the Vietnam War and the communist revolutions of the 1970s, many members of the Hmong community fled to Thailand, the United States, Australia, and others. Recognizing the diversity within the Hmong community, the bill recommends an active role for Hmong advocacy groups and community members in constructing the model curriculum.
The bill also seeks to include the oral testimonies of survivors, rescuers, and fighters in the model curriculum. These testimonies may include in-person testimonies, videos, etc. Oral testimonies also ensure that students gain a better understanding of the events and receive culturally accurate information. The State Board of Education will receive the model curriculum by December 31, 2022, and will have the opportunity to review and revise the curriculum, before implementing it by March 31, 2023.
The inclusion of diverse Southeast Asian experiences in California education is important given California’s history with Southeast Asian migrants and refugees, many of whom fled political persecution and violence in their home countries during and after the Vietnam War. According to the US Census Bureau, around 2.7 million Southeast Asian Americans resided in California in 2016, making it the state with the largest Southeast Asian American population in the United States. California is home to the largest community of Vietnamese people outside of Vietnam with a population of 699,418. California also has big Cambodian and Hmong communities — the census estimates Cambodian and Hmong residents in California at 114,665 and 96,255 respectively.
Southeast Asian American communities have been instrumental in spreading more awareness about Southeast Asian history, culture, and tradition in the United States. On March 23, 2018, Congress passed a law allowing national cemetery burials for Hmong veterans who fought in a secret war against the North Vietnamese army in the 1970s. In 2017, the California State recognized the month of September as the Hmong History month.
Tanvi Banerjee is a research intern at the East-West Center in Washington. She is a fourth-year undergraduate student at the George Washington University studying International Affairs, with a double concentration in Asia and International Development.