Photo by Kleigh Balugo
I think we’ve all realized by now that the education we receive from kindergarten to twelfth grade is not very comprehensive, especially when it comes to the history of those who are not straight white men.
As a Filipina American, I never learned anything about Filipino Americans in my history classes, whether it was US history or world history. Maybe there would be a paragraph about how the United States acquired the Philippines, the Philippines-American war, or a sentence about the Philippines’s role in World War II. But we were never worth anything more than that in those textbooks, only relegated to a sentence, if we were lucky, a paragraph. They never mentioned the Filipinos living in America, or a specific name of any Filipino. It was like we didn’t even exist.
Why do I know more about the history of Europe than the history of the country where my parents were born and raised? Why do I know the names of so many white men who colonized and exploited the lands we live on, but not the names of the Filipino Americans who paved the way for my family to come here and be successful? This erasure made me subconsciously believe that people who look and talk like my family and me could never fit into the pages of history books.
Even if people want to bring up the fact that in American schools, we should learn American history, there is no denying that US history classes are centered around the straight white male. We learn about the Founding Fathers, but very little about the women who rallied behind the revolution as well. We know about Abraham Lincoln, and a little bit about Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman, but no other abolitionists, and especially not much about women abolitionists. When it comes to women’s suffrage, we hear about Elizabeth Stanton and other white women who fought for the right to vote, but not about Black women suffragists. The list of people of color who have made a difference in our country but are erased from our history books and curriculums is a long one.
This semester, I am lucky enough to be taking an Asian American history class and a class on Black women in politics. These classes are what sparked my idea for this article. It’s only been two weeks, and I have already learned so much in both classes that I wish I had known before. Going into the semester, I knew there was a lot I did not know, but these classes have truly emphasized how much I do not know about my own history and the history of those who are not straight white men.
I’m genuinely excited and interested to be learning more. But sometimes the things we learn in both classes anger and upset me so much. There is so much cruelty and ignorance in history, especially when you look at the history of the ones who have been ignored.
For instance, in my Asian American history class, we watched a great documentary about the fight for ethnic studies. We learned about how UC Berkeley and San Francisco State students in 1969 protested and risked their futures to demand ethnic studies courses and departments in their universities. Then in 1999, UC Berkeley students had to protest again against the budget cuts and lack of courses and faculty in the ethnic studies departments. Students were brought to the ground and arrested when they were sitting down on the campus that they paid to attend and simply asking for changes to their education.
It made me so angry to think about the fact that they paid these institutions to teach them, yet when they asked to be taught about their own history and cultures, they are treated violently. Why are students being punished for wanting to learn? As angry as it made me, I am glad to have this knowledge and have an understanding of how valuable these ethnic studies courses are. I appreciate them so much more now.
Anyway, all of this is to say, stop excluding us from the history of our country and our world. Teach us about all of the people who made great contributions to our country, regardless of their skin tone, gender, sexuality, or religion. Stop defunding the faculty and departments who do provide us with this information, that people had to fight so hard to get.
We’re tired of being footnotes in your history textbooks. We want to learn about our history and cultures, so we can feel seen, so we can feel like we belong. And these classes are not just for people of color. Everyone should take them and learn the full and complete history of this country, including the good, the bad, and the ugly.