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date: 07 October 2022

Asian American and Pacific Islander Childrenfree

Asian American and Pacific Islander Childrenfree

  • Valerie Ooka Pang, Valerie Ooka PangSan Diego State University
  • Benjamin Chang, Benjamin ChangThe University of North Carolina at Greensboro
  • Yoon K. Pak, Yoon K. PakUniversity of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
  • Audrey Hokoda, Audrey HokodaSan Diego State University
  • Noreen Naseem RodríguezNoreen Naseem RodríguezUniversity of Colorado, Boulder
  •  and Esther June KimEsther June KimWilliam & Mary


Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) are often invisible to others. AAPI children are even more ignored in schools. They comprise many different groups with diverse cultures, languages, values, geographical roots, and ethnicities. This is why we have chosen to write about AAPI young people and not to limit our discussions to Asian Americans. We believe in inclusivity and so use the pan-Asian term of AAPIs. Some children may be Guamanian American, Thai American, Taiwanese American, Samoan American, Hawaiian American, Fijian American, Filipinx American, or a combination of several ethnic or racial backgrounds. Not all AAPI youth are the same. This is a major AAPI issue that teachers need to understand. Often teachers hold the misconception that most AAPIs are Chinese American. This is not true.

One of the reasons that teachers and the general public are not aware of the educational, social, or psychological needs of AAPI children is because of the model minority myth. Not all AAPI students do well in school. Research has shown that young people have different academic strengths and vulnerabilities. These distinctions may be due to many variables such as ethnic membership, class status, parent education, and language proficiency in English. The model minority stereotype hurts and conceals the hardships that many AAPIs face, from low self-esteem to academic limitations. In addition, there are AAPI students who must deal with trauma from microaggressions that young people face because they are bullied due to accents, differences in physical appearance, and cultural conflicts. Others have come to the United States experiencing trauma as refugees who fled civil persecution or war. In addition, students who are LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning) and AAPI may have to deal with the trauma of homophobia. Teachers must be able to identify ways to reduce trauma in schools like using culturally relevant/responsive strategies to help lessen student depression and anxieties. There are numerous approaches that teachers can take to develop compassionate classrooms in a democracy where all students are accepted and respected. They can teach compassion and kindness. Educators can teach about the contributions of various AAPI civil rights role models such as Grace Lee Boggs, Larry Itliong, Kiyoshi Kuromiya, Philip Vera Cruz, Patsy Mink, and Yuri Kochiyama in the curriculum. Teaching about civil rights activists demonstrates to children and adults that AAPIs have been actively fighting for the rights of all. In addition, teachers can integrate AAPI children’s literature so students are aware of cultural values, experiences, and knowledge that has arisen from AAPI communities. All students should have the opportunity to see photos and drawings of various AAPI people in picturebooks and other texts. AAPI students are not super students; they are not math whiz kids. They are Americans like anyone else, with strengths and limitations.


  • Curriculum and Pedagogy
  • Professional Learning and Development
  • Education, Cultures, and Ethnicities
  • Educational Purposes and Ideals
  • Education and Society

Context of Asian American and Pacific Islander Children

Many U.S. schools often ignore and neglect the needs of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) children and youth (Chang & Au, 2009; Hartlep, 2021a; Lew, 2006; Ng et al., 2007; Pang & Cheng, 1998; Poon et al., 2016; Sue & Okazaki, 1990, 1991; Suzuki, 1977; Wing, 2007).1 Schools are not politically neutral and often reflect the racism that exists in society (Coloma, 2009; Muriel & Singer, 2020; Pak, 2021; Ross & Vinson, 2014). Many educators believe that Whiteness is seen as “normal” and at the center of society, which hampers the ability of teachers to provide equity for all students (Chang, 2013a, 2013b, 2017; Coloma, 2009; Goodwin, 2002; Kim & Cooc, 2020; Kumashiro, 2006; Muriel & Singer, 2020; Pak et al., 2018; Pang , 1995; Pang et al., 2004; Poon et al., 2016; Quinn & Crooc, 2015; Ross & Vinson, 2014; Suzuki, 1977).

Though numerous educators believe that AAPI youth do well in school, AAPI students show a broad spectrum of achievement; some do well while others have trouble with core subjects (Lee, 1994; Lew, 2006; Pang et al., 2011; Sue & Okazaki, 1990; Wing, 2007). There are numerous reasons for the invisibility of AAPI youth and why their needs are overlooked in schools (Pang & Cheng, 1998). This article describes the educational achievements of AAPI youth and the obstacles they face in attaining equity. The article also describes theoretical constructs of cultural interpretations of achievement, the model minority myth (MMM), and relative functionalism. Additional information is presented about how trauma and bullying affect AAPI populations and issues that AAPI LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning) face. The article ends with implications about how schools can deal with trauma and integrate curricula about AAPI populations.

Appropriate Classification: Asian Americans or Asian American Pacific Islanders

The authors acknowledge the particularities of histories embedded when using the terms Asian Americans (AAs) or AAPIs. Recent scholarship in AA studies addresses the role of U.S. settler colonialism in the formation of such group nomenclatures (Chang & Au, 2009; Coloma, 2009; King, 2000; Pak et al., 2014). The authors’ own positionalities as AAPIs and their political, educational, cultural, and generational experiences further influence how AA or AAPI should be used.2 Despite these varied perspectives, the focus on AAPI youth figures centrally in this article. Initially, AAs and Pacific Islanders (PIs) were pejoratively referred to as “Orientals” and Yellow Peril. They were and continue to be perceived as foreigners and outsiders (Wu & Nguyen, 2022; Ng et al., 2007). The MMM added to the racialization of Asians and their oppressive marginalization, creating a paradox: Asians are lauded for their high achievement, while poor Asians are ignored though living in poverty, not graduating from high school, and having parents who do not understand mainstream American culture (Chang, 2013a, 2013b; Chang & Au, 2009; Hartlep, 2021a, 2021b; Hirschman & Wong, 1986; Kumashiro, 2006; Lee, 1994; Museus & Kiang, 2009; Ng et al., 2007; Teranishi, 2008; Wing, 2007; Yu et al., 2002). The MMM is also used to counter claims of racism and supports White Supremacy, showing evidence that racial oppression can be overcome with perseverance and hard work (Chang & Au, 2009; Lew, 2007; Poon et al., 2016).

Origin of the Term “Asian American”

In 1968, Emma Gee and Yuji Ichioka assembled individuals who wanted to become politically active. Most were Japanese Americans and Chinese Americans. In this effort, Gee and Ichioka created a pan-Asian term to counter the label of “Oriental.” They chose AA and named their civic collective the Asian American Political Alliance (Bae, 2017). The term brought together various ethnic communities whose roots were originally in Asia but who were culturally and politically different from each other. Gee and Ichioka also created alliances with other groups like the Black Panther Party (Bae, 2017).

Origin of the Term “Asian Pacific American”

The Asian Pacific American label was created by the U.S. government for the 2000 Census and included PIs (King, 2000). The U.S. Census Bureau allowed AAs and PIs to choose not only a pan-Asian designator but also a multiracial or specific Asian category. People identified their specific ethnic affiliations. During this process, many Native Hawaiians (NHs) and PIs felt that their identity and issues were eliminated by the overarching AA label. They preferred NH and PI as separate categories (Kim & Cooc, 2020; King, 2000; Pak et al., 2014). These researchers also noted that, like Indigenous people in the United States, Native Americans, NHs, and PIs have different health, economic, and educational issues that diverge from those of many East Asian Americans, South Asian Americans, and Southeast Asian Americans (Ho, 2008; Kim & Cooc, 2020; Saranillio, 2010). The military-backed overthrow of the Hawaiian government led to the annexation of Hawaii as a territory of the United States and a major reason for some Hawaiians to call for their nation’s independence from the United States (Saranillio, 2010). Like many Native Americans, they believe in self-government. They support categories for NHs and PIs separate from AAs. However, there are scholars who believe in the AAPI category since it is an inclusive term based on a history of exclusion and rejection of Asian communities (M. Chang, 2017). Some events they cite include the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 to the military annexation of the Philippines and Guam with the Treaty of Paris that ended the Spanish–American War in 1898 (Odo, 2002). Some scholars advocate for the inclusion of PIs in the AA categorization so that Indigenous communities are not disregarded. It is vital to encourage PI and NH scholars to continue to increase their contributions to the scholarship of NHs and PIs and to expand discussions on AAPI issues (M. Chang, 2017).

Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders: Who Are They?

The authors hold varying beliefs about which ethnic communities constitute the AAPI collective. For the purpose of this article, the following groups, though not exhaustive, comprise the AAPI population (Pak et al., 2014)3:

East Asians: Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Taiwanese, and Tibetan.

NHs and PIs: Carolinian, Chamorro, Chuukese, Fijian, Guamanian, Hawaiian, Kosraean, Marshallese, NH, Niuean, Palauan, Pohnpeian, Samoan, Tokelauan, Tongan, and Yapese.

Southeast Asians: Bruneian, Burmese, Cambodian, Filipino, Hmong, Indonesian, Laotian, Malaysian, Mien, Papua New Guinean, Singaporean, Timorese, Thai, and Vietnamese.

South Asians: Bangladeshi, Bhutanese, Indian, Maldivians, Nepali, Pakistani, and Sri Lankan.

AAPIs are heterogenous (Kao, 1995; Pang, 1990; Singh et al., 2020; Suzuki, 1977) and include mixed-race individuals and Korean adoptees (Palmer, 2010). As listed above, the category comprises extremely diverse populations who are culturally, linguistically, geographically, historically, and academically different. The diversity of AAPI groups reinforces how the social construction of race is sociopolitical in nature, created to maintain a racial hierarchy where Whiteness remains at the center (Chang & Au, 2009; Hartlep, 2021a, 2021b; Pak et al., 2014; Poon et al., 2016). Race has also been used to create destructive stereotypes about the academic performance of AAPI children, whose needs are often ignored and neglected in schools (Chang, 2013a; Ng et al., 2007; Pang et al., 2011; Wing, 2007).


For this section, we draw from the most recent (2018) statistical data available from the U.S. Census and its American Community Survey (ACS) and analysis of that data by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center (2021). We also draw from the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) publication Status and Trends in the Education of Racial and Ethnic Groups 2018 (deBrey et al., 2019), which analyzes Census and ACS data up to 2018.

Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in General

According to the Census’s most recent projections, about 22.6 million American residents are identified as Asian, which is up from about 11 million in 2000, making the population the United States’ fastest growing racialized group. It is predicted that by 2060, the population will be 40 million (Budiman & Ruiz, 2021a). The largest groups under the AAPI umbrella include 5.2 million people of Chinese descent (not including Taiwanese), followed by those of Indian (4.5 million), Pilipinx (4.1 million), Vietnamese (2.2 million), Korean (1.9 million), NH and PI (1.5 million), and Japanese (1.5 million) descent. The next largest groups are those of Pakistani (527,000), Thai (329,000), Hmong (320,000), Laotian (262,000), Bangladeshi (213,000), and Taiwanese (213,000) descent. These ACS estimates represent those who reported being of a specific Asian group alone as well as those who reported the Asian group in combination with one or more other Asian groups or another race (or races). About 14% of AAs identified as “mixed race,” Whites were the most common combination racialized group (70% of this subgroup), and those of Japanese descent were the most likely to be of “mixed” heritage. Other relevant statistics include the percentage of females to males being listed at 53% to 47% and those proficient in English being reported at 72%. Economic indicators like median household income and those living in poverty vary to a great degree across categories such as ethnicity and immigration history.

Fifty-seven percent of AAs were born in another country and comprise 14% of unauthorized immigrants (about 1.54 million) to the United States (Budiman & Ruiz, 2021b). The states with the highest numbers of AAs are California (6.7 million, 17% of the state’s population), New York (1.9 million, 9.8%), Texas (1.6 million, 5.5%), New Jersey (958,000, 11%), and Washington (852,000, 11%), and Hawaii has the highest concentration of those of Asian descent (807,000, 57%). Almost half of all AAPIs live in the western region of the United States (45%, 9.8 million), which, contrary to popular stereotypes, is followed by the South (24%, 5.3 million), the Northeast (19%, 4.2 million), and the Midwest (12%, 2.7 million).

Asian American and Pacific Islander Children

NCES data shows that for children of the traditional K–12 schooling ages (5–17 years), those of AAPI descent comprised 5% (2.69 million) of the total U.S. population as compared with 14% Black, 25% Latinx, 51% White, and 4% of “mixed race” heritage. Of AAPI children under the age of 18, about 80% were born in the United States and 12% were living in poverty according to the Supplemental Poverty Measure. Of AAPI children who lived in single-parent households with their mother, about one-third lived in poverty. Amongst the 19 largest AAPI ethnic groups, Bangladeshi (37%), Burmese (36%), and PI (23%) children had the highest percentage of those under 18 living in poverty, while those of Pilipinx, Japanese, or Indian heritage were at the lowest percentage (all at 6%).

In terms of types of schools attended, AAPIs make up 6% of all children in private schools, and 65% of AAPI children attended schools that had a majority enrollment of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) students. Of the 6.7 million students being served under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 7% were of Asian descent (469,000), which was the lowest percentage amongst racialized groups. Contrary to some notions of the MMM, AAPIs made up the highest percentage of children receiving services for autism (21% of the total were AAs and 8% were PIs; 39% had speech or language impairments). With regard to linguistic needs, 10.5% of AAPI children are designated as “English language learners” (ELLs) (511,700), and Arabic, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Hmong, respectively, are the most prevalent Asian “home languages” for “ELL” designees. Regarding school discipline, 1.1% of AAPI students received out-of-school suspensions and 0.1% received expulsions: both are the lowest percentages of any racialized group. Similarly, AAs had the lowest dropout rate for 16- to 24-year-old students in the United States (2%), although it should be noted that the rate for those born outside the United States (3%) was triple that of those born domestically (1%).

As far as formal educational attainment, about 97% of AAs ages 18 to 24 had a high school diploma or equivalent, which is slightly higher than the national average for all groups (93%). Eighty-eight percent of NHs and PIs have earned a high school diploma (UCLA Asian American Studies Center, 2020). For people 18–24 years of age, 58% of AAs and 39% of PIs were enrolled in 2- or 4-year colleges and universities, and 54% of AAs (25 or older) had a bachelor’s degree or higher. These numbers for high school completion, college enrollment, and bachelor’s degree attainment are the highest of the racialized groups in the United States. When a more cursory observation of such statistics is applied, it may be understood why popular discourse often frames AAPI children as the model minority. However, when the many categories and groups herded under the AA monolith are disaggregated, it becomes clear that labelling Asians as the model minority is problematic and obfuscates the challenges and assets of many AA communities (Uy, 2009); leads to inappropriate policy, funding, and pedagogy; and requires a much more rigorous and dynamic analysis towards equity. Thus, key analytical approaches that have been applied to AAPI children are the focus of the next section.

Theoretical Constructs: Cultural Values and Acculturation, Model Minority Myth, and Relative Functionalism

Research on AAPI children and young adults is increasing, though it is still sparse. Getting access to AAPI youngsters is more difficult because there are few places where large numbers live. Within this context, we share the following theoretical constructs that are often used to describe the academic achievement and experiences of AAPI young people.

Cultural Values and Acculturation

Many researchers have identified Confucian culture and its values (Choi et al., 2020; Kitano, 1976) as a primary source for AAPI achievement. Confucian beliefs emphasize the significance of education, family honor, harmonious relationships, and respect for elders. Not all AAPI communities have Confucian roots; however, people from East Asia and Vietnam may follow these teachings. Teachers should not believe that all AAPIs hold these values and should recognize the historical record of racialized populations in the United States who have always valued family and education in particular (Pak, 2021). AAPIs represent many different countries of which Confucianism may not be a major aspect, such as the Philippines, Laos, Cambodia, Pakistan, and India. Confucianism is most often taught in East Asian nations. Also, research about cultural values has been mixed and has shown that although AA students report that they are members of authoritarian families in comparison with White peers, their achievement is still high (Choi et al., 2020; Sue & Okazaki, 1990).

Another aspect of achievement that seems to arise from Confucius values is the belief in effort (Chen & Graham, 2018; Chen & Stevenson, 1995; Stevenson & Stigler, 1992). Research demonstrated that many AAPI students believe that high achievement may be due to the amount of effort they put into school work in contrast to having exceptional cognitive abilities. Chen and Stevenson (1995) found that AA students thought studying hard was more important than having an excellent teacher. Chen and Graham (2018) reported that East Asians and Southeast Asians in middle school believed individual effort was most important. Though they had significantly higher GPAs than their White, Black, and Latinx peers, the AA students demonstrated lower effort attributions and lower self-esteem scores (Chen & Graham, 2018). The high expectations that some AAPI parents and students placed on themselves seem to connect to the MMM.

The Model Minority Myth

One of the most destructive constructs that has been used to explain AAPI academic achievement is the MMM (Chang, 2017; Chang & Au, 2009; Hartlep, 2021a; Hirschman & Wong, 1986; Kao, 1995; Kasinitz, 2016; Museus & Kiang, 2009; Ng et al., 2007; Pak et al., 2014; Pang, 1995; Pang et al., 2011; Sue & Okazaki, 1990). The MMM is the belief that all AAPIs reach high levels of educational achievement, occupational attainment, and economic success even though they face continual and extensive societal racism. The term model minority was first used by sociologist William Peterson (1966), who referred to Japanese American students in the New York Times as “whiz kids”.

Some researchers hold a priori pseudoscientific beliefs that AAPIs do well in school and are upwardly mobile because they are genetically superior (Lynn, 1991). Others vehemently disagree with this position, citing methodological problems and misinterpretations of cultural values (Sue & Okazaki, 1990, 1991). Unfortunately, the MMM has been used by many to counter the need for equal educational opportunity programs for AAPIs (Suzuki, 2002).

The MMM has been used to denigrate BIPOC and suggest that they be more like AAPIs. This pits them against AAPIs (Chang & Au, 2009; Hartlep, 2021b). MMM reinforces the standard of Whiteness and a deficit orientation toward Black and Brown students and some AAPI groups. This perspective maintains White dominance (Poon et al., 2016). Some teachers hold higher expectations for AAPI students (Kasinitz, 2016; Lee & Zhou, 2015, 2017). Poon and colleagues recommend that AAPI researchers move discussion away from the MMM to institutional and systematic discrimination that AAPIs continually face in society, which includes schools. This leads to a discussion of relative functionalism (Sue & Okazaki, 1990, 1991).

Relative Functionalism

AAPIs live in a societal context of racism and discrimination (Chang, 2017; Chen & Graham, 2018; Hartlep, 2021a, 2021b; Pak et al., 2018; Pang et al., 2011; Poon et al., 2016; Suzuki, 1977, 2002; Tran & Birman, 2010). Sue and Okazaki (1990) developed the construct of relative functionalism where they assert that AAPIs respond to social oppression and racism by working harder. Additionally, AAPIs deem that the best avenue to secure social mobility is through education. Some AAPIs think that to be as successful as Whites, they must earn extremely high grades in school, attend Ivy League colleges, and work toward careers as engineers, physicians, and scientists (Goyette & Xie, 1999; Kao, 1995; Pang et al., 2011). They seek careers in math, science, and technical fields because they will have more opportunities to advance and experience less discrimination due to their perceived linguistic and communication weaknesses (Xie & Goyette, 2004).

Kiang and colleagues (2016) described numerous examples of historical oppression of AAPI communities and report how racism has impacted the development of many AAPI children. The MMM places mental pressure on AAPIs to be perfect (Kiang et al., 2016). They believe the continually changing and bigoted views of Chinese Americans as “valued laborers to treacherous foe to wartime allies to the model minority” (Kiang et al., 2016, p. 999) may lead AAPI children to rebel against excelling in school and result in more generational conflicts with their parents.

Consistent with Sue and Okazaki’s relative functionalism, Alva (1993) studied AAPI high school students where the researcher reported a belief in the connection between academic achievement and future social mobility. Alva also reported that students who were more involved in school activities developed stronger bonds with peers and teachers. This led to stronger engagement in academic pursuits and higher GPAs.

Cross-Cultural Comparisons in Educational Achievement &

AAPIs have demonstrated strong achievement in education especially after World War II and in the latter part of the twentieth century (Hirschman & Wong, 1986; Hsin & Xiu, 2014; Sue & Okazaki, 1990). Researchers have also found that some AAPIs continue to do well and are high achievers (Choi et al., 2020; Paik et al., 2017). For example, in 1980, 50% of AAs ages 20 to 21 were going to college while about a third of Whites were college-bound. However, specific percentages of AA ethnic groups differed: 74% of Chinese Americans, 62% of Japanese Americans, 55% of Korean Americans, and 38% of Filipinos were in college (Hirschman & Wong, 1986). There are various reasons for different levels of achievement, such as contrasts in immigration status (Hsin & Xie, 2014; Lee & Zhou, 2015; Turney & Kao, 2009), various levels of cultural and social capital (Chang, 2013a; Kao, 1995; Lew, 2006; Paik et al., 2017; Tran, 2016; Zhou & Blankston, 1998), differences in assimilation levels (Rumbaut & Portes, 2001), refugee experiences (Caplan et al., 1991; R. Y. Kim, 2002; Ngo & Lee, 2007; Rumbaut & Ima, 1988), student mental health (Choi et al., 2020; Paik et al., 2017; Pang, 1991; Pang et al., 1985), social class (Chang, 2017; Lesser et al., 1965; Lew, 2006;

Ngo & Lee, 2007; Paik et al., 2017; Uy, 2009), student self-management skills (Okagaki & Sternberg, 1993), and parental values and involvement (Eng et al., 2008; Goyette & Xie, 1999; Hsin & Xie, 2014; B. L. Kim, 1980; Liu, 1991). This section will highlight selected research involving AAPI student populations and examination of their cognitive development and academic achievement.

One of the earliest studies conducted to examine cross-cultural cognitive abilities of AA children with other youngsters involved six- and seven-year-olds who lived in New York City (Lesser et al., 1965). Lesser and colleagues looked for patterns of mental abilities in children from diverse U.S. cultural communities. His research team examined the performance of children from lower-class and middle-class Chinese, Jewish, Negro (sic), and Puerto Rican communities. The cognitive abilities assessed were verbal ability, reasoning, number facility, and spatial conceptualization; the researchers were mindful of cultural bias and attempted to develop instruments that were culturally neutral. They administered tests in the students’ primary language and English, depending on which language children were more comfortable with. Patterns of mental abilities emerged based on ethnicity. One of the major findings was that equivalent patterns of cognitive performance were exhibited in both lower- and middle-class students. The specific cognitive patterns that middle-class students demonstrated were also found in lower-class children in the same group though at lower levels of performance. For example, if middle-class Chinese students scored lower on verbal reasoning and higher on spatial conceptualization, lower-class Chinese children demonstrated the same pattern. The researchers reported that on verbal ability Jewish children had the highest scores, followed by Negroes (sic), Chinese, and Puerto Ricans. On reasoning, the Chinese children ranked first, followed by Jews and then Negroes (sic) and Puerto Ricans. Lesser and his team suggested that teachers develop curriculum and instruction to address the strengths and weaknesses of various cultural groups.

Initially, research was conducted on the academic success of Asians from Asia in comparison with White Americans in the United States (Chen & Stevenson, 1995; Stevenson et al., 1985). During that time, there were considerable concerns that the U.S. educational system was not effective, resulting in Black and Brown students failing in schools (Stevenson & Stigler, 1992). Some individuals and organizations were against educational programs aimed at closing the achievement gap and used the academic success of Asians from countries like Japan and China to counter the argument that more financial resources should not be used to educate Black and Hispanic students. This social context gave impetus to examine cross-cultural differences and student outcomes in Asian countries and the United States (Chen & Stevenson, 1995; Stevenson et al., 1985).

Stevenson and colleagues (1985) conducted a study that examined general cognitive abilities of three different cultural groups of children from the first and fifth grades. The children were Chinese from Taiwan, Japanese from Japan, and Whites from Minnesota. By the fifth grade, researchers found there were more similarities among the three groups of children than differences in intelligence and cognitive abilities.

Another study utilized 11th graders and included a pan-AA sample from the United States, Caucasian American youngsters, Chinese students from Taiwan, and Japanese students from Japan (Chen & Stevenson, 1995). The researchers found that AAs did significantly better than Caucasian Americans but less well than their Japanese and Chinese peers on mathematics. In addition, Japanese and Chinese from Asia believed that individual effort was a key factor in math achievement, as did their AA counterparts; however, more Caucasian American students believed that having a good teacher was a more important influence on student performance.

Research on the achievement gap was conducted at Berkeley High School, which consisted of over 3,000 students from 1996 to 2002. Of the total population, AAPIs comprised about 10% of the student body (Noguera & Wing, 2006; Wing, 2007). Wing makes the point that AAPI students are members of many different ethnic communities, and she identified diverse student populations at Berkeley High, including Filipino, Indonesian, Mien, Thai, Korean, Pakistani, Lao, Chinese, Japanese, Cambodian, Hmong, Indian, and others (2007). Many teachers and students mistakenly thought that AAPI students were members of the same ethnic group without understanding distinct immigration history, languages, and cultural backgrounds. Most AAPIs were invisible to the staff, and not one member of the administrative and clerical staff spoke an Asian language. Wing and colleagues found that some AAPI high school students drop out of school in the tenth grade or earlier because of pregnancy or poor English proficiency skills. AAPI graduation numbers did not reflect these withdrawals. Some AAPIs felt isolated and experienced prejudice from other students. A female AAPI student was hurt when a classmate remarked, “Oh, you’re going to get an A on that and you’re going to screw up our entire group” (Wing, 2007, p. 475). She transferred from that class. Wing noted that the school was concerned about the needs of Black and Brown students, but AAPIs were seen as stereotypically high-achieving and the performances of all AAPIs were lumped together and viewed as a monolith.

Though some researchers use AAPI aggregates (Curran & Kitchin, 2018), other researchers present disaggregated data based on ethnic membership (Choi et al., 2020; Kao, 1995; Pang et al., 2011; Singh et al., 2020). They believe that AAPI children have different strengths based on ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Pang et al. (2011) studied the performance of 13 different AAPI subgroups totaling over 272,000 seventh graders from California on reading and mathematics: Asian Indian, Cambodian, Chinese, Filipino, Guamanian, Japanese, Korean, Lao, NH, Other Asian, Other PI, Samoan, and Vietnamese. Data from the California Achievement Tests found that the use of the AAPI aggregate resulted in covering over the needs of many AAPI children. Analysis showed that a majority of AAPI ethnic groups—Vietnamese, Filipino, NH, Cambodian, Lao, Samoan, Other Asian, Guamanian, and Other PI—performed significantly lower than their White peers in reading or math or both (Pang et al., 2011). Though many educators believe that AAPI students are achieving at high levels, this study demonstrated that the educational needs of many children are being overlooked because districts and states often use an AAPI aggregate.

Another team of researchers examined the performance of students on the Common Core State standards aligned English Language Arts Smarter Balanced Assessment in the state of Hawaii comparing achievement between Whites and AAPI subgroups in grades 3–5 (Singh et al., 2020). The state of Hawaii is one school district and has the largest numbers of PI and NH students in the nation. Student achievement was identified using six major ethnic groups. The following describes the student populations. Asian was composed of Chinese, Japanese, and Korean and comprised 15.3% to 16.1% of the students; Filipino comprised 22% to 22.5% of the population; NH comprised 22.5% to 28% of the population; PI (Samoan, Tongan, and Micronesian) comprised of 9.5% to 10.1% of the population; White comprised 16.2% to 19.7% of the population; and Other (American Indian, Black, Guamanian, Hispanic, Portuguese, and multiple ethnicities) comprised 9.1% to 9.8% of the population. Researchers found that disaggregating the four AAPI groups indicated differences in student-ethnic group performances in comparison with their White peers. They reported that achievement scores for both PI and NH achievement were lower than their White peers in language arts. However, the performance scores of Filipinos and Asian students were higher than their White peers. If only an AAPI aggregate has been reported, these differences would have been invisible. The researchers (Singh et al., 2020) recommended that disaggregate statistics be used so school personnel can identify the reading comprehension and literacy skills that students need in the early grades. They recommended that schools address the literacy needs of students when they are young and not wait until middle school when so many of their learning habits have been developed.

AAPI children, like other students, deal with a variety of issues besides academic performance. The next section describes the issues that AAPI LGBTQ+ students encounter daily in schools and society.

LGBTQ Issues

AAPI LGBTQ+ youth in schools face a myriad of challenges that are both similar to and different from fellow youth of Color. In this section, LGBTQ+ and queer will be used interchangeably, especially to recognize how the LGBTQ+ communities have reappropriated a historically problematic term (queer) to claim agency and ownership. This usage is not meant to reify monolithic constructs but rather to note that identities are not fixed and that AAPI queer youth experience and express a range of gender fluid identities.

To begin, a key aspect of queer youth experiences in schools is how they are misidentified and dismissed by educators, especially during adolescence, as a phase they will eventually grow out of (Greytak et al., 2016). Research studies show that young people acquire a strong sense of themselves earlier than previously understood, beginning in elementary and middle school years (Greytak et al., 2016). This process of active identification development comes into conflict when students enter schools where adherence to heteronormative, gendered constructs structures their realities. There are issues of mental health (Chiang et al., 2017), bullying (de Guzman & Hom, 2011), negative academic performance (Aragon et al., 2014), substance abuse (Dermody et al., 2014; Kanagala & Oliver, 2019; Mustanski et al., 2014), and lack of school supports (Kosciw et al., 2013) that exacerbate how LGBTQ+ youth of Color experience schooling as racialized and sexual minorities from their White counterparts (Hahm & Adkins, 2009). Degrees of familial acceptance and religious beliefs (Ngo & Kwon, 2015) also influence how queer youth of Color navigate their complex intersectional identities interlaced with homophobic and racial microaggressions (Sue et al., 2007). AAPI LGBTQ+ youth are more likely to open up and come out to their friends than to family (AsAm News, 2020).

The unique experiences of AAPI queer youth are further complicated by educators’ general ignorance of the range of histories, ethnicities, languages, and immigration status of AAPIs and where the stereotype of the model minority prevails. This is compounded by educators’ own biases in the ways that homophobia is replicated in school culture (Allen, 2020). The prevalence of East and South Asian American youth in certain communities limits further understandings of the dozens of ethnicities that comprise AAPI groups. While research on AAPI queer youth has grown in the last two decades, there remains a gaping hole in published scholarship. Some exploratory studies on adolescents address the importance of focusing on AAPI mental and emotional well-being (Homma & Saewyc, 2007; Wong, 2020) in addition to paying particular attention to the needs of females (Chang Wang, 2020). Particularly missing are qualitative studies that forefront AAPI queer youth voices and narratives conducted by queer AAPI scholars (Kumashiro, 2004; Varney, 2008).

Promising developments have come from advocacy groups such as GLSEN (formerly Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network) through a series of survey research reports on queer students of Color, in general, and AAPI youth in U.S. schools, in particular (Truong et al., 2020). The report is the most comprehensive survey of AAPI LGBTQ+ youth in U.S. schools to date and provides critical findings:

Over half of AAPI LGBTQ students (51.8%) felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation, 41.1% because of their gender expression, and 26.4% because of their race or ethnicity.

Over a quarter of AAPI LGBTQ students (27.6%) reported missing at least one day of school in the last month because they felt unsafe or uncomfortable, and nearly one-tenth (8.4%) missed four or more days in the past month.

AAPI LGBTQ students who experienced higher levels of victimization based on race/ethnicity at school (a) were almost twice as likely to skip school because they felt unsafe (35.5% vs. 18.4%) and (b) experienced lower levels of school belonging and greater levels of depression.

Two-fifths of AAPI LGBTQ students (40.0%) experienced harassment or assault at school because of both their sexual orientation and their race/ethnicity. Compared with those who experienced one form of victimization or neither, AAPI LGBTQ students who experienced both forms of victimization experienced the lowest levels of school belonging, had the greatest levels of depression, and were the most likely to skip school because they felt unsafe (Truong et al., 2020, pp. xvi–xix).

Addressing the range of barriers that AAPI queer youth face requires an inclusive and intentional design to address the ecosystem of students’ experiences. Recommendations include developing curriculum that addresses AAPI combined with LGBTQ+ histories and how intersectional identities are woven into young people’s lives in their everyday interactions in schools with educators and peers. Providing teacher education training that recognizes structures of inequality with appropriate, relevant sources must be offered (Kanagala & Oliver, 2019). A commitment to culturally sustaining pedagogies (Paris & Alim, 2017) for AAPI queer youth is paramount in this endeavor.

Positive peer networks, support from teachers/school administrators, and the existence of ethnic/cultural clubs such as GSAs (Gay/Straight or Gender Sexualities Alliance) enhance strong youth identity formation (Truong et al., 2020) and reduce depression and suicidal behaviors (Chiang et al., 2017). An expansion of these support networks through formal and informal mechanisms within the school ensures that more AAPI queer youth matter. These contributive factors assist to counter deficit mindsets of AAPI queer youth as those who need to be “fixed.” The efforts must also be structurally supported in policies and laws that fully recognize the practical and substantive needs of AAPI LGBTQ+ youth in schools and in society (Mangiliman & Quon, 2012). Diversity of gender and sexual identities is a fact of life regardless of religious, racial, or ethnic backgrounds. For our AAPI queer youth, developing policies that recognize true equity in all public schools is paramount. Trauma and violence toward AAPIs are not rare. The next section describes trauma and violence that have affected many AAPI populations.

Trauma and Its Effects on Students

Exposure to trauma is prevalent among youth in the U.S., and roughly 45% of school-age children experience adverse childhood experiences and trauma (Sacks & Murphey, 2018). Traumas are threatening, frightening events that can include exposure to war, community and family violence, poverty, bullying, and other events perceived as dangerous to one’s well-being and safety (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2014).

Childhood trauma has a long-term impact on physical and mental health (Felitti et al., 1998; Van der Kolk, 2014). Chronic exposure to trauma can cause one to respond to everyday stressors with heightened fear and can impact executive functioning skills such as staying focused on tasks, remembering things, planning, and problem-solving (National Child Traumatic Stress Network, Justice Consortium, Schools Committee, and Culture Consortium, 2017). In the classroom, heightened fear may lead traumatized children to show hypervigilance and be continually alert to environmental cues they perceive as dangerous. They may overly strive for perfection and control as this helps reduce their anxieties and fears. They may also show avoidance behaviors: become withdrawn, depressed, or less engaged and exhibit somatic symptoms (e.g., headaches). Heightened fear, arousal, and diminished executive functioning affect the ability to regulate emotions. In school, these children may seem overly excitable or irritable, disrupt class with outbursts, or show aggressive behaviors with peers (National Child Traumatic Stress Network, Justice Consortium, Schools Committee, and Culture Consortium, 2017).

These trauma symptoms impact the ability to learn and thrive. Traumatized children who have difficulties with memory, attention and problem-solving are at-risk for having lower achievement scores and failing a grade (Perfect et al., 2016). Children displaying trauma symptoms (e.g., depression, somatic symptoms, inability to regulate emotions) may be at risk for poor school attendance and increased teacher report of behavioral concerns (Blodgett & Lanigan, 2018).

Trauma can have an intergenerational influence on families as parents’ experiences with trauma impact their beliefs about their safety, (Janoff-Bulman, 1992), how they cope with stressors, and how they interact with their children (Isobel et al., 2019; Lehrner & Yehuda, 2018). In addition, there is evidence that epigenetics may contribute to the transmission of trauma effects across generations (Lehrner & Yehuda, 2018).

Trauma Faced by Asian American and Pacific Islander Students

AAPIs represent diverse cultural communities, and they vary in key indicators (Chang, 2017) that affect their risk for trauma and its effects on health and well-being. For example, AAPIs differ in exposure to premigration trauma (e.g., refugee, war experiences) and postmigration stressors (e.g., poverty, community violence, English proficiency) (Jaycox et al., 2002; Li & Anderson, 2016). Several studies underscore this diversity in experiences and symptoms among AAPI subgroups (e.g., Davies-Mercier et al., 2017). For example, some groups (e.g., Southeast Asians, PIs) may have experienced more violence and loss than others (e.g., Ho, 2008; Pelczarski & Kemp, 2006).

AAPIs experience ethnic bullying and racial trauma—that is, racial discrimination, exclusion, violence, and threats (Comas-Díaz et al., 2019; Dinh et al., 2020; Gee & Cooc, 2019; Kiang & Bhattacharjee, 2016; Kiang et al., 1995). Ethnoracial threats include experiencing or witnessing macroaggressions (e.g., increased violent assaults on AAPIs in the United States) (Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism [CSHE], 2021) and being bullied for their appearance, having an accent, or engaging in family and cultural traditions (Wang et al., 2021). AAPIs also experience microaggressions (Sue et al., 2007) that are more subtle and frequent. Microaggressions include comments that assume AAPIs do not speak English or are immigrants and foreigners and comments that suppose they are academically advanced because of the MMM (Nadal et al., 2015). Other microaggressions invalidate AAPIs’ ethnocultural experiences (e.g., denial of racism). Frequent exposure to racial microaggressions can create chronic stress and relate to traumatic stress symptoms (e.g., anxiety, depression), affecting identity formation and well-being (Carter et al., 2020; Nadal et al., 2015; Pang, 1991). Racial trauma also has intergenerational effects; the impact of the World War II imprisonment of Japanese Americans on future generations whose parents and grandparents were incarcerated has been documented (Nagata & Patel, 2021). The next section discusses ways in which educators can provide various services for student trauma and violence, a teacher education program, and curriculum to integrate AAPI history and literature into schools.

Implications for Educators

Educators need to address the issues we have discussed in this article. Teachers and students need to understand the great diversity which makes up AAPIs and that they should not be seen as foreigners or model minorities. In addition, trauma-informed schools is one way to make sure that students have access to trauma interventions by training teachers to identify behaviors such as high anxiety, inattention, and anger management problems. Teachers can provide students with instruction in anger regulation, relaxation, and mindfulness. In addition, school curriculum can include AAPI role models and literature where students see themselves as Americans and can identify with positive representations of members from their communities.

Creating Trauma-Informed School-Based Programs

Trauma-informed school policies have reduced trauma symptoms and behavioral referrals and improved engagement in class (e.g., Dorado et al., 2016; Ingraham et al., 2016; Rossen, 2020). Evidence-based school programs (e.g., Cognitive Behavioral Intervention for Trauma in Schools [CBITS]) address trauma through multitiered programming with universal, secondary, and tertiary services for students (Jaycox et al., 2012). Programs incorporating core features of trauma-informed schools (National Child Traumatic Stress Network, Justice Consortium, Schools Committee, and Culture Consortium, 2017) educate school staff on identifying the effects of trauma on learning and teach ways to address traumatic stress. Staff are taught to recognize that inattention, high anxiety, perfectionism, impulsivity, and anger problems may be signs of trauma rather than of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, disrespect, defiance, or lack of intelligence. Programs include group and individual sessions for students that teach social emotional skills affected by trauma, such as anger regulation and problem-solving. Relaxation training and cognitive behavioral strategies that challenge depressive thoughts are also taught. Acknowledging traumatized students’ heightened threat and fear responses, trauma-informed programs not only emphasize safety with predictable schedules and safe quiet places to relax and reflect but also include lessons on mindfulness, breathing, movement, and other strategies that address hyperarousal and emotional dysregulation (Craig, 2016; Mancini, 2020; Mendelson et al., 2015).

Trauma-informed schools are culturally responsive/relevant and strength-based; they focus on building protective factors in traumatized students and their families (National Child Traumatic Stress Network, Justice Consortium, Schools Committee, and Culture Consortium, 2017). To create psychological safety, culturally responsive/relevant school staff are humble, seek to understand their students’ perspectives (Pickens, 2020), and support them in developing a narrative of their traumatic experiences (Jaycox et al., 2012). Similarly, Blitz and colleagues (2016) promote the importance of culturally responsive/relevant pedagogy that teaches students to process and challenge social injustices. Understanding the sociocultural context, political ideologies, and xenophobic attitudes underlying racial trauma helps students reframe the trauma and avert self-blame. Culturally responsive/relevant education that integrates knowledge of students’ history, values, and community into class lessons is student-centered, compassionate, and empowering and increases the motivation to learn (Pang, 2018; Pang et al., 2021). Focused on strengths, trauma-informed, culturally responsive/relevant programs honor students’ ethnic and cultural identities and aim to instill pride in their history, resilience, families, and cultural practices that help in the face of trauma and stressors (Pickens, 2020).

To create a safe and culturally responsive/relevant school, bullying prevention strategies that address ethnic bullying and racial traumas are imperative. Sue and colleagues (2019) propose a framework that helps prepare victims, allies, and bystanders to respond to racial microaggressions. Teachers also need training to explore their own implicit biases and to identify and appropriately respond to microaggressions in the classroom (Burleigh & Wilson, 2021). Ethnic-racial socialization can also contribute to healing from racial stress and trauma (Anderson & Stevenson, 2019); studies highlight the importance of parents’ engagement in ethnic-racial socialization in contributing to students’ positive ethnic-racial identity (Woo et al., 2020) and success in school (Wang et al., 2020). Incorporating core features of trauma-informed schools (National Child Traumatic Stress Network, Justice Consortium, Schools Committee, and Culture Consortium, 2017) that focus on relationship-building and working with families, the CBITS program modified for immigrant students includes additional sessions for parents and families (Kataoka et al., 2003).

Providing mental health services addressing trauma in schools removes possible barriers to treatment (Mancini, 2020). Although seeking services for mental health may be stigmatizing for some AAPIs (Chu & Sue, 2011; Leong & Lau, 2001), they may be more willing to receive services in a school setting (Guo et al., 2014). Others prefer to go to family or community elders before seeking help from mental health professionals (Chu & Sue, 2011; Sue, 2009), so trauma-informed school programs may connect with community partners (e.g., cultural brokers) who can help engage families (National Child Traumatic Stress Network, Justice Consortium, Schools Committee, and Culture Consortium, 2017). Wang et al. (2021) presents a bullying prevention program for AAPI families involving partnerships with school and community organizations (i.e., Chinese American Parent Organization, Chinese language schools, Pan-Asian health clinic, a large school district, a university). This program, utilizing a multisystemic, ecological model (Suárez-Orozco et al., 2018), informs how we can address risks and promote resilience in AAPI students at the individual, school, family, and community levels within current, historical, sociocultural, and political contexts. The next section discusses how two teacher educators made a difference in an AAPI community.

Teacher Education: Success Story in a Hmong Community

Two professors, Tanabe and Rochon (2006), saw there was a sizeable Hmong refugee population residing in the La Crosse, Wisconsin area; however, there were no teachers or principals of Hmong descent in their local districts. They reached out and created trusting relationships with members of the Hmong community. Their connections led to a grant written with the purpose of admitting Hmong students into college and then credentialing them. Initially, some first-generation Hmong applicants were concerned that they might need tutoring as their linguistic experiences in local public schools were not always positive. Tanabe and Rochon reassured Hmong elders that they would work with students so they were successful. In that process, they established solutions for their language and cultural concerns. In the first six years of Project Teach, 40 teachers graduated from the credential program and one principal was certified. The heart-warming story about the dedication of the AA and Black American professors to the Hmong community demonstrated how significant goals can be attained.

Curriculum: Integrate AAPI History and Literature

AAPI experiences and histories have rarely been presented in a PK–12 curriculum. When included in textbooks, standards, and teacher resources, historical narratives are generally limited to Chinese exclusion, railroad workers, and the Japanese American incarceration. Too often, the AAPI curriculum is shaped by and continues to reinforce notions as forever foreigners and a monolith of East Asian descent with less representations of Southeast Asian American protagonists (Rodríguez & Kim, 2018; Yi, 2020). These stereotypes overlook the complexities and strengths of AAPI stories and experiences (Kana’iaupuni, 2005; Rodríguez & Kim, 2018; Yi, 2020). Children’s literature is a major avenue for teachers to incorporate the diverse experiences and histories of the AAPI community. AAPI heritage month can provide opportunities for AAPI students and their classmates to learn about and read the voices of AAPI peoples.

Asian American and Pacific Islander Histories

AAPI (hi)stories can be readily integrated into the curriculum through social studies and literacy. For example, An (2020) described how first graders learned about examples related to school segregation. Typically, this topic is treated as something that impacted Black students only. However, across the United States, race and language have been used as reasons to include some students in particular public schools while excluding them from others. Three major court cases with AAPI plaintiffs play an important role in this history: Tape v. Hurley, Gong Lum v. Rice, and Lau v. Nichols. The first two cases were brought by Chinese American students who were denied entry into public schools because they were not considered White; the third was a landmark Supreme Court case that mandated public schooling support for students who spoke languages other than English. These cases hold tremendous significance in AAPI history and should be an essential part of civil rights teaching and learning.

Like school segregation, the Civil Rights Movement is often taught through a Black/White binary. Curricula rarely acknowledge how Black activists inspired other marginalized groups, including AAPIs, and how AAPIs were involved in struggles for civil rights alongside Black Americans. For example, Chinese American Grace Lee Boggs lived and worked in the Detroit community, advocating for civil and labor rights particularly for communities of Color (Boggs, 1998). She was vocal in recognizing the intersectional marginalization of AAPIs while urging the community to work with other BIPOC. In New York, the mural, From Harlem with Love: A Mural Project for Yuri & Malcolm, offers another narrative of AAPI and Black solidarity. The life and work of Japanese American Yuri Kochiyama had few borders as she joined efforts led by Malcolm X, anti-war activists, those protesting for Puerto Rican independence, and supporters of World War II incarceration reparations (Kochiyama, 2004). Further complicating the Black/White binary of civil rights, the work of Filipino American laborers Larry Itliong and Philip Vera Cruz alongside Cesar Chávez and Dolores Huerta in the Delano grape strike in California firmly place AAPIs within multiracial labor struggles and activism. Itliong’s story is the subject of Journey for Justice (Mabalon & Romasanta, 2018), a middle-grades biography that can disrupt representations of farmworkers and labor activists as exclusively Latinx.

When intersectional identities are considered, the activism of Kiyoshi Kuromiya brings attention to AAPIs in the struggles for LGBTQ rights (Keehnen, 2020). In addition to his anti-war efforts and his connections with Martin Luther King Jr. and the Black Panther Party, Kuromiya was a founding member of the Gay Liberation Front of Philadelphia and active in HIV/AIDS care and research advocacy. The importance of multigenerational voices and narratives highlighted by other activists brings attention to intersectionality in AA experiences. In lessons about labor rights both historical and current, the work of Sue Ko Lee and the Dollar Store strike in the 1930s can be paired with the activism of Ai-jen Poo and the National Domestic Workers Alliance founded in 2007. The teaching of civil rights and gender issues might include Patsy Mink’s coauthorship of Title IX and Amanda Nguyen’s efforts to legally protect survivors of sexual assault, offering yet another way to address curricular absence of AAPIs. Jose Antonio Vargas also brings light to erased/ignored experiences of undocumented AAPIs, adding complexity to a simplified and often celebratory immigration history.

AAPIs may be included in curricular units about immigration, but this history is far more nuanced than is usually taught. Many educators teach extensively about Ellis Island, which overwhelmingly emphasizes European immigration. Meanwhile, few students learn about Angel Island, which was the primary immigration station through which Asian immigrants (as well as immigrants from Russia, Central and South America, and Australia) were processed from 1910 to 1940 (Rodríguez, 2015). On the few occasions when it is taught, the AAPI immigration curriculum often erases the narratives of the South Asian diaspora whose legacies continue to emerge in the family and community histories of Punjabi Mexican Americans (Prashad, 2000) on the west coast and Bengali Black Americans in New Orleans and Harlem (Bald, 2013). In addition the histories of Filipino immigrants are rarely included (Cordova, 1983). Fortunately, a number of nonfiction and historical fiction pieces of children’s literature are ideal resources for curricular change, such as Paper Son (Leung, 2019) and Step Up to the Plate Maria Singh (Krishnaswami, 2017). Additional contemporary stories of AAPI immigrants and refugees—such as the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 and exploration of how U.S. military intervention and other events have led to multiple waves of Asian refugees’ arrival in the United States in recent decades—are also missing from traditional textbooks and curricula. These stories are important for educators to include to broaden student understandings of who is considered American and how and why people come to the United States. It is important also to disrupt notions that AAPIs are all recently arrived immigrants when in fact some families have lived in the United States for several hundred years.

Using Children’s Literature

Whatever the historical content, AAPI stories must identify systemic inequities while emphasizing individual and collective activism. Unfortunately, popular children’s literature often emphasizes the individual hero triumphing mentally over racism rather than attending to racist structures and community agency (Rodríguez & Kim, 2018; Rodríguez & Vickery, 2020). For example, some picturebooks that tell stories of Japanese American incarceration sanitize the historical moment, using the passive voice to shift blame away from the U.S. government and to the families themselves, ultimately downplaying systemic racism. Yet, when well-researched and attentively chosen, children’s literature may also provide content and a starting point pedagogically to classroom discussions about social justice. Extending the example of Japanese American incarceration, books that reveal the overt and also nuanced resistance by the community—ones that do not shy away from clearly illustrating armed guards in watchtowers pointing guns at Japanese Americans, for instance—provide far more honest and complex narratives.

Contributing new narratives that challenge stereotypes of AAPIs are voices of Southeast Asian authors such as Bao Phi and Thanhhà Lai, who draw from their own experiences to portray the challenges of refugee communities while conveying the love and joys of their families. Bao Phi authored A Different Pond (2017), where he tells his son how fishing was about survival of his family and not a sport of catch-and-release often found in the United States. Another picturebook that integrates the experiences of NHs and PIs is A is for Aloha (Feeney, 1980), where photographs of many AAPI children bring life and fun to this alphabet text. The beautiful photos of young children from Hawaii provide AAPIs the opportunity to see youngsters like themselves in print. We recommend that teachers use books that describe genuine experiences of AAPIs and not to focus on “food, fun, festivals, flags, and films” (National Council for the Social Studies [NCSS], 2017) that exotify or “other” non-White cultures. Children’s literature must be carefully chosen and included in the school curriculum.

Literature for Middle and High School Students

Integrating AAPI literature is vital for older students with fact-based and fictional stories addressing issues of immigration, labor exploitation, refugee experiences, exclusion, incarceration, and militarism. Though historical information can provide readers with events and dates, it is critical that students grapple with human challenges that AAPI communities have faced. The following books give readers insights into the lives of many families. War is one of the continual issues that have disrupted the lives of AAPIs. Some examples include the overthrow of the Hawai’ian Kingdom by White businessmen and U.S. military forces, resulting in military annexation, and the incursion of U.S. military forces in the Vietnam conflict with subsequent fleeing of refugees from Southeast Asia. The graphic novel by Thi Bui, The Best We Could Do, describes the refugee experience of her Vietnamese family and how difficult it was to understand the struggles her parents faced when they fled from their home nation with nothing. As a parent herself, Bui more fully comprehended the fears and doubts of her parents as refugees from Vietnam in the United States.

Another novel about war experiences is No-No Boy by John Okada (2014). This book for high school students and adults challenges them to think about and discuss how they would feel if they were native-born citizens of the United States but were imprisoned in concentrations camps in their own country. Would rage arise out of their fears and disappointments from a country founded on democracy? Okada wrote this novel about a young man during World War II whose loyalty as an American was questioned; he felt his country let him down because of how he looked. After serving in prison for resisting the draft, the main character returns home and is conflicted. Is he Japanese or American?

Another classic in AAPI literature is Aiiieeeee! An Anthology of Asian American Writers, edited by Frank Chin et al. (1983). This collection of AA poets, writers, and essayists was originally published by the Combined Asian Resources Project and is a foundational text in AAPI studies. The robust collection includes materials by Carlos Bulosan, the Filipino American novelist; Diana Chang, a Chinese American poet and novelist; and Shawn Wong, a Chinese American novelist, professor, and activist.

The classic immigration story comes from Carlos Bulosan (2014), who wrote America is in the Heart. Bulosan was an immigrant from the Philippines and described his dreams and heartbreaks as a migrant worker in the United States during the 1930s and 1940s. Filipino Americans suffered from extreme prejudice and racism especially as laborers and POC. Many Filipinos were brought to the United States to take the place of other Asian workers who were later excluded, like Chinese, Japanese, and Korean immigrants. Though Filipinos were given the implied promise of U.S. citizenship, their country as a colonialized territory never received that right. Bulosan saw America at its most destructive and oppressive, yet he continued to have faith in the United States, always hoping that life would change for Filipino Americans. His work is a powerful piece of literature and has become a cornerstone of Asian American studies; his sensitive writings documented the cruelty of his peers while holding to his dreams of America in his heart.

Recommendations for the Future

Education has always been a political endeavor, designed to perpetuate a system of Whiteness. In this moment, however, it is paramount to create curricula and school programs that integrate the true voices of AAPI communities along with other communities of Color (Chang, 2017; Chang & Au, 2009; Goodwin, 2010; Pak, 2002; Pang, 2005, 2018; Pang & Park, 2011; Paris & Alim, 2017; Rodríguez & Kim, 2018). AAPI students are an extremely diverse community whose cultural values are wide-ranging. Their ethnic backgrounds are exceedingly distinct. According to the Pew Research Center’s (2021) latest report on the U.S. Census, AAs as a “racial” group grew at the fastest rate since 2000 with an increase of 81%. Their numbers increased proportionately more than any other racial group in the United States. The AAPI population was 18.9 million in 2019; this is substantially more than the 10.5 million recorded in 2000. Every state in the United States witnessed an increase in AAPI populations, and North and South Dakota experienced the fastest rate of growth since 2000. However, the states with larger AAPI populations had the largest increases in overall numbers. The top five states with AAPI populations are (in decreasing order) California, Texas, New York, Washington, and New Jersey.

There has been an increase in violence against AAPIs. They have been blamed for the coronavirus pandemic, though this is an extension of perennial racism. Many AAPIs have been verbally harassed, assaulted, shunned, refused service, and threatened online. Stop Asian Hate (2021), an organization that tracks discrimination against AAPIs, found that from March 2020 until June 2021, there were over 9,000 hate incidents. More than two-thirds were directed at AAPI women (Yellow Horse et al., 2021). At the same time, more AAPIs are speaking about various issues like discrimination and mental health. Naomi Osaka, one of the top tennis stars in the world, raised her powerful voice about the need to care for her mental health. Osaka is Japanese American and Haitian American. During much of her life, she was a dual citizen of Japan and the United States. She grew up in the United States. Osaka has talked about the importance of maintaining positive mental health. Though an accomplished global tennis star, she has suffered from bouts of depression since winning the U.S. OpenTennis Championship in 2018 (Brown, 2021). Her call for attention to mental health has been received positively around the world.

This article provides the reader with issues that describe not only the strengths of APPI students but also their educational, social, and psychological needs. AAPI children can be major contributors to a democracy because of their strong beliefs in family and social justice; however, they must be mentored and taught to be self-empowered; they should not be ignored by teachers and society (Chang, 2013a, 2017; Chang & Au, 2009; Coloma, 2009; Goodwin, 2002; Hartlep, 2021a; Kiang, 2002; Kumashiro, 2004; Lew, 2006; Ng et al., 2007; Pang, 2006, 2009, 2018; Rodríguez, 2015; Rodríguez & Kim, 2018; Wing, 2007). Educators must ensure that educational equity is delivered to AAPI children and young people. Stereotypes and misconceptions about AAPIs have seriously hampered how our nation dispenses equitable resources. Educational personnel must examine their biases and misunderstandings. We call on all educators to furnish AAPI students with culturally responsive/relevant guidance and mentoring in ways that all students of Color should receive. Here are six important beliefs about AAPI youth (Wing, 2007):

AAPI students are not all high achievers and outperform their White peers.

AAPIs are not all exceptional in mathematics, science, and technology.

AAPIs are not from the same cultural or ethnic group.

Not all AAPI parents hold the same cultural and educational values.

Not all AAPIs have the same high achievement goals.

AAPIs face layered discrimination like other students of Color. They may be prejudiced against because

they are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender.

they are poor.

they are women.

they have a disability.

they speak a language other than English.

Unfortunately, children are often victims of intersectional prejudice.

We encourage all educators and teachers to develop trusting relationships with their AAPI students and celebrate their abilities while encouraging AAPIs to make vital contributions to our democracy.

Further Reading



  • 1. We have chosen to research AAPI children rather than college students because there is less research on this younger population. We would like to bring attention to the issues they face.

  • 2. Valerie Ooka Pang is a third-generation Japanese American. Her research challenges the beliefs that AAPI children are all model minorities and high-achieving, have no problems, belong to the same ethnic group, and receive equitable education in schools. She grew up in a predominantly rural, White community. Her mother and uncles, U.S. native-born citizens, along with their parents were held prisoner in a concentration camp during World War II at Minidoka, Idaho for about three and a half years. She teaches diversity and curriculum courses in teacher education.

    Benjamin Chang is the son of Chinese diasporic immigrants who migrated through China, Hong Kong, Vietnam, and Taiwan because of civil war and Asian, European, and American imperialism. He grew up with experiences often associated with U.S. students of Color (e.g., police harassment, gang violence, individualized education program, English as a Second Language). He also grew up in a middle-class multiracial neighborhood, with privileges often afforded to able-bodied straight cisgender males and with parents with some tertiary education who are from dominant groups under the Asian American umbrella. Chang’s scholarship draws from this majoritized/minoritized positionality to better understand and challenge inequities faced by marginalized communities.

    Yoon Kyung Pak is a 1.5 Korean American born in Seoul, South Korea and grew up attending K–12 schools in the Steilacoom School District in Washington, populated by many multiracial and military families. Her scholarship is deeply influenced by her mother’s stories of the Japanization of Korea and of childhood trauma during the Korean War. Issues of immigration, racism, diversity, and equity have always been central features of how she views the world.

    Audrey Hokoda is third-generation Japanese American, born and raised in Los Angeles. Impacted by the resilience of a family that faced discriminatory immigration policies at Angel Island and incarceration during World War II, she obtained her doctorate degree in clinical psychology with an emphasis on social and developmental issues. Her research and grant-funded projects address violence and trauma in marginalized communities.

    Noreen Naseem Rodríguez is the daughter of immigrants from the Philippines and Pakistan. She was raised in a multilingual, multiethnic, and multigenerational home in San Antonio, Texas. Her experiences as a self-proclaimed Pakipina in predominantly Latinx spaces have led her to explore what Lowe (1996) describes as the hybridity, multiplicity, and heterogeneity of Asian American experiences and how these ideas manifest (or not) in teaching, U.S. history, and children’s literature. She is a former bilingual elementary educator who engages Asian American critical race theory to study the pedagogical practices of Asian American teachers and Asian American curricular representations.

    Esther June Kim is second-generation Korean American who grew up in Southern California. She never learned Asian American histories until her graduate studies where women Scholars of Color took the time to mentor her. In her work as a Social Studies teacher educator, she seeks to ensure that fewer students have the experience of curricular invisibility in their K–12 education.

  • 3. Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders is a broad term. For the purpose of this article, we are not exhaustive in listing all Asians. For example, people from West Asia, which includes peoples from Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen, may not self-identify as Asians and are not included in this article (Pak et al., 2014). We also do not include communities from Central Asia, such as Afghanis, Armenians, Georgians, and Mongolians (Pak et al., 2014).