Why Ethnic Studies? ‘Chasing Representation’ in the Classroom
Growing up as a Japanese American in a culture where whiteness is the norm, it feels like I’ve spent my whole life chasing a sense of representation.
My family has lived in America for four generations. I grew up hearing stories of our struggles and contributions — my great-grandfather who emigrated from Japan only to end up working on railroads, my grandma whose property was seized when she was forced into the internment camps. I am proud of my heritage. But after over a decade of seeing its erasure in the classroom, it began to feel like those stories didn’t matter.
Recently, Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed the requirement for high school students to take an ethnic studies course in order to graduate. Without it, will students like me see our stories being taught in the classroom?
When I asked my teacher why we weren’t studying the stories of non-white Americans or learning about countries outside of Europe, they would say things like, “We don’t have time in this unit to cover industrialization outside of Europe.”
That is why ethnic studies for Black, Asian, Indigenous and Chicanx and Latinx Americans is crucial. We have a right to representation.