It all started last year, when Julianna Loretto and Medina Lam were sitting in class. They were being given a presentation on the Chicanx/Latinx History course offered at Berkeley High School (BHS) when they texted each other, noting how no similar classes were available for Asian Americans and Pacific Islander (AAPI) students. So, Loretto and Lam decided to create one themselves.
“In the wake [of] hate crimes against Asian American people, it felt like there needed to be more done,” said Lam, a junior in Academic Choice (AC). “Something that I noticed, [and] I think many other Asian American students were acutely aware of this too, is that there was no representation of Asian students at BHS, [whereas] there is [for] other races, and it’s important that everyone is represented.”
At BHS, there are currently no classes specifically focusing on the AAPI community. Sakiko Muranaka, a Berkeley International High School (BIHS) English teacher, helped write an AAPI literature course to be offered next year. “A big focus for this course was to make [it relevant] to our AAPI experiences … while also linking contemporary context [in] the history of AAPI in America and kind of looking at those connections through literature,” said Muranaka.
Le Tran, a social studies teacher at BHS, is another founder of this class, helping plan and design course materials. “This class is a direct response to student and staff requests for more AAPI-related topics [to] be taught at BHS. We recognize that there is a need to expand our study of AAPI experiences and knowledge,” Tran said.
“Part of the intention behind this course is that we want to focus on histories, experiences, and cultures of AAPI topics beyond what is commonly covered in general eleventh and twelfth grade humanities classes,” Tran added.
In history classes, most BHS students are only taught about Chinese migrant workers, Japanese internment, and the struggles of Vietnam against imperialism. The new course would provide an opportunity to dive further into different AAPI perspectives, and build community among students and teachers.
Muranaka is excited for the new class, and happy students will be able to experience something she never had the chance to at her high school. “I didn’t really have Asian American teachers. … I can remember maybe one, but I didn’t really have teachers that looked like me. In history, [we] touched on some aspects of Asian American history, but just very briefly,” she said.
Loretto said she was glad BHS students would have a chance to learn more about AAPI literature. “This is not something that’s been offered to me, and my knowledge of Asian history kind of stops at the Gold Rush,” she said.
According to Time, there are 22 million Asian people in the US, and according to the Census Bureau, California’s Asian population has increased 25 percent in the last decade, making it the state’s fastest growing ethnic population.
Loretto also hoped the class will allow people to learn how Asian history is tied to current events and the racism behind the COVID-19 pandemic. “I’m hoping that … not just Asian students take the class, that everyone takes it, because it’s not exclusively for Asians and I want people to be educated on this topic,” Loretto said.
“It’s something that largely is not represented in the curriculum,” Lam said, speaking about AAPI history and literature. “It felt like something that I wanted to be able to learn about my own culture and history on a more personal or connected level to who I am.” She hopes that the class will create a sense of community, and a place for everyone to learn about their own or different cultures that haven’t yet been largely taught about.