UC Davis wins $190,000 grant to help K-12 teachers educate on Chinese American history

A University of California, Davis history workshop won a six-figure grant to improve K-12 education on California’s Chinese American history.

The $190,000 National Endowment for the Humanities grant, which was won last week, went to a program called “Building Community in California: The Chinese American Experience” which will educate 72 teachers in K-12 public schools nationwide on California’s Chinese American history and help them design curriculum for their students.

The workshop will be run by UC Davis’ The History Project, which trains K-12 teachers in the Sacramento area. It will be led by Dr. Robyn Rodriguez, UC Davis Asian American studies department chair, and Stacey Greer, director of The History Project.

“There is this vast knowledge that’s been produced by Asian American Studies scholars that we think many educators may not have had access to,” Rodriguez said. “We’re really excited to be able to have this chance to share among a broader audience, giving them this unique lens into the Chinese American experience, but really also the broader Asian American experience.”

What’s unique about the workshop is its emphasis on field study. Participants will be given a week-long tour of major California landmarks in Chinese history, such as San Francisco’s Angel Island, where many Chinese immigrants to the U.S. were detained, and the Donner Summit, where Chinese railroad workers laboriously cut into the granite mountain to pave way for the Transcontinental Railroad.

At each landmark, visiting historians, community advocates and even artists will educate teachers on the rich and complicated history of Chinese Americans in the state. The bulk of the funding will go toward travel costs and stipends for the teachers, Rodriguez and Greer said.

Chinese American history isn’t given due diligence in California education, they said, and they hope the workshop can help fill in those important gaps. It’s also part of the department’s commitment to make Asian American Studies research more accessible to the public.

But both emphasized this project only scratches the surface of northern California’s overlooked histories. The dream would be to offer this workshop for many other communities’ histories, Greer said, such as California’s indigenous, Filipinx and African American populations.

“We tend to focus on (John) Sutter and the Gold Rush (in California’s history education),” Greer said. “But there’s so many other layers here. We always tell the same stories and we don’t get to the other communities whose stories haven’t been told. This is just one example.”

Although they’re aiming for next summer, they aren’t sure when the workshop will start due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. But the rise of anti-Asian racism also makes this education particularly timely, they said. They want K-12 classrooms to become a place where students can learn early on about the origins of anti-Asian hate and its consequences.

Rodriguez hopes the workshop can be a model for the kind of teacher training that should be required in the K-12 system, especially in California.

“Asian Americans, and particularly Chinese Americans … deserve more attention than they have been given in our curriculum,” Greer said. “This area is so rich in landmarks that Chinese Americans have contributed to. … We’re only giving a glimpse at part of this history. We wish we could do more.”

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