HARRISBURG, Pa. (Erie News Now) – This month is Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) heritage month. To mark the annual event, the group Make Us Visible PA held a rally to advocate and educate Monday in Harrisburg.
In the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a substantial increase in hate crimes targeting Asian Americans around the country and here in Pennsylvania.
“I was scared for my children to go to school. I was scared for my parents to go outside. I was scared to even go to the grocery stores myself,” said Make Us Visible PA co-founder Ji Hyun Denise Hellenbrand.
When hate crimes against the Asian-American community spiked in 2020, Hellenbrand feared for her entire family. She co-founded the group Make Us Visible PA.
“Make Us Visible is looking for looking to help folks to see people like my daughter and my son, less of a foreigner, and more of a neighbor,” said Hellenbrand.
The group advocates for the inclusion of Asian American and Pacific Islander studies into the K-12 curriculum for public schools.
“We need to educate to combat the hate,” said State Representative Patty Kim (D-Dauphin).
Rep. Kim is the sponsor of House Bill 1917. The bipartisan legislation would require the Department of Education to develop a K-12 curriculum that includes AAPI history, as well as AAPI contributions to American society.
“I’m tired of seeing my children bullied. I’m tired of being bullied. I’m tired of feeling like the forever foreigner in the United States when I am an American citizen,” said Kim.
Lawmakers from both parties acknowledged the growing impact the AAPI community has on the United States and in communities throughout the commonwealth.
“Asian American Pacific Islanders are the fastest-growing racial group in the United States, and it’s our obligation as legislators to make sure that their contributions to the American story are taught in our schools for future generations,” said HB 1917 cosponsor, Rep. Todd Stephens (R-Montgomery).
With a growing AAPI population in Pennsylvania, lawmakers, officials, and advocates say it’s time for accurate representation in school textbooks.
“How can they find their place in this country when they cannot find themselves in their school’s textbooks,” said Stephanie Sun, Executive Director of the Governor’s Advisory Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs.
Hellenbrand says both the triumphs and tragedies experienced by the AAPI community throughout American history need to be shared.
“We are looking to integrate these contributions as part of history because Asian American history is American history,” said Hellenbrand. “The passing of House Bill 1917 is so important to me, my family and my community because it is the one way we can establish long-term, preventative measures against future Asian American bullying and violence,” she added.