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As a teacher of U.S. History and Government and Politics courses at a private international school in suburban Long Island, N.Y., teaching “History” months can be quite a novelty to almost half of my students who are from various parts of the world. Many have never studied American History before, in particular, my pan Asian students. Furthermore, my Asian students do not consider themselves Asian. They are Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Korean, etc. Thus, my introduction to Asian American and Pacific Islander History Month posed a unique challenge and required my heightened sensitivity.

I chose to begin the month with Retro Report’s video and materials for Vincent Chin and Asian American Civil Rights. I am so glad that I did. This is a powerful story and was especially poignant for pan Asian students in my grade 12 Government class. My domestic and international students were unfamiliar with the killing of Vincent Chin and the subsequent legislation, as well as the characteristics of “hate speech” and “hate crime”. The classroom was uncharacteristically quiet and students were invested in the video, yet were eager to share their feelings and reactions to his targeting.

Vincent Chin is humanized by the painful testimony from his relatives, and his fate is vindicated by the resulting federal and state legislation to study, track, combat, and institute stricter punishments for expanded definitions of hate crimes that followed the cries of the persecuted pan Asian communities across the country. Later, this would influence other persecuted groups who were targets of hate crimes to seek their own protections.

This lesson provides an excellent opportunity to expand the discussions about civil rights and the protections of so many “unsung heroes” in our history. It addresses the racially targeted violence triggered by hate and fear, a pattern we have traced throughout our American History studies. Lessons like these make a tremendous impact on my students and enhance the curriculum with interesting and moving content that they have not yet learned but are eager to do so.

How I did it:

  • I planned two class periods of 70 minutes each to complete the activities in their entirety to allow ample time for my heterogeneously grouped classes (inclusive of ENL and IEP students).
  • The legislation-based activities required students to read and analyze the primary sources in the context of civil rights. Questions that they had about retribution were answered while completing this section of the activity.
  • Students’ curiosity was piqued by the “Hate Crimes: Laws and Policies” as well as the “Hate Crimes: State Specific Information” pages. They took the initiative to investigate beyond the required questions and draw conclusions about Asian populations and other minority groups around the country, based on statistical data.

Kelly A. Mandia is a History and Government teacher at The Knox School in St. James, N.Y. She is also a Retro Report Teacher Ambassador.

This article first appeared in Retro Report’s newsletter. You can subscribe here and view past newsletters here.