Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month: How Educators Can Teach Asian and Pacific Islander Cultures and Histories

By Kate Humphrey

Did you know that in 2019, 23.2 million Americans identified as Asian-American and in 2018, an estimated 1.6 million Americans cited Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander heritage? With influential people such as Senator Tammy Duckworth, chef Roy Choi, fashion designer Vera Wang, actor Dwayne Johnson, and poet Emelihter S. Kihleng, AAPIs have contributed in countless ways to American life and history, enriching the country with their achievements and cultures. So, every May since 1978, we honor these incredible people with Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.  Even though AAPI Heritage month is winding down, the below lessons are certainly relevant and important regardless of the time of year.

CLASSROOM ASSIGNMENTS

An important step in introducing AAPI heritage to students is including it in your school’s curriculum. Younger students can have fun engaging with lessons such as ‘Person of the Week’ or ‘Country of the Week’ that highlight AAPI. You can include fun recipes like Christine Ha’s Vietnamese Chicken and Glass Noodle Soup or the late Floyd Cardoz’s Chicken Makhani. For older students, assign research projects that allow them to delve into AAPI history, people, and customs such as the Wakamatsu Tea and Silk Farm Colony, or Soh Jaipil, a Korean-American political activist. They can even attend virtual and in-person events to enhance their education, such as ones hosted by the Smithsonian or the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin.

BOOKS

To supplement your school’s curriculum, and to help guarantee that it reflects the diversity of Asia and the Pacific Islands, we have compiled a small list of inclusive books by AAPI authors:

Children

  1. Drawn Together by Minh Lê and illustrated by Dan Santat
  2. Eyes That Kiss in the Corners by Joanna Ho and illustrated by Dung Ho
  3. Pele and Poli‘ahu by Malia Collins and illustrated by Kathleen Peterson
  4. The Most Beautiful Thing by Kao Kalia Yang and illustrated by Khoa Le
  5. You Can Do It, Yasmin! By Saadia Faruqi and illustrated by Hatem Aly

Young Adult

  1. A Thousand Beginnings and Endings edited by Ellen Oh and Elsie Chapman
  2. Displacement by Kiku Hughes
  3. Kino and the King by Jen Angeli
  4. Love Boat, Taipei by Abigail Hing Wen
  5. The Marvelous Mirza Girls by Sheba Karim

Adult

  1. America Is Not the Heart by Elaine Castillo
  2. Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu
  3. Marriage of a Thousand Lies by SJ Sindu
  4. Pidgin Eye by Joe Balaz
  5. The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi

Given the importance of incorporating a diverse range of perspectives, voices, and histories into the classroom year-round, we hope that you are able to use our suggested activities and book lists so your students can learn more about the rich cultures and traditions of Asian American and Pacific Islanders.

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