Asian-American Studies: New Social Studies Elective at West


Kaitlin Almalbis

The Niles West Asian-American Studies class

By Eiman Navaid, Staff Writer

The 2019-2020 school year brought a new social studies elective to Niles West High School: Asian-American studies, taught by Niles North teacher Albert Chan.

This class is only available to sophomores, juniors, and seniors, as there is a Modern World History prerequisite.

According to the D219 coursebook, “students will learn about the experiences of Asian Americans including the history, culture, assimilation, struggles, and modern issues of interest.”

The class focuses on the study of East, South, and Southeastern Asians, including Chinese, Filipinos, Koreans, Japanese, Indians, Pakistanis, Cambodians, Laotians, Pacific Islanders, and many others.

Director of Social Studies Sanlinda Cheng stated that the Asian-American Studies class did not have enough interest from students to run at West when the class was first introduced three years ago, but this year, there were enough students to make up one section. Cheng said that the reason for adding the class to the Niles West social studies elective curriculum was that there was not a class highlighting the Asian American experience, which is something students were interested in learning and understanding.

“I know from years of sponsoring student clubs like Filipino Club and APC that there is a lot of interest in the experiences of Asian Americans in this country and how those perspectives inform our overall knowledge of American history,” Cheng said.

Chan believes that the students of West are gaining a great opportunity with the addition of the class due to the large Asian-American population that exemplifies the diversity of the school.

“They have a class that allows them to explore their heritage and their identity, history that may not be in an ALCUSH or an APUSH class,” Chan stated.

Chan states that the exclusion of Asian-American history from the core history classes leaves a lot of Asian people invisible and that invisibility is also shown in society, media, and positions of power.

“A class like this allows students to explore some of those topics and issues so they can discuss that and learn something about what it means to be Asian-American,” Chan said.

Chan believes that the new class will allow students to learn about Asian-American history and identity, along with law and court cases that apply to the Asian-American community both historically and currently. “There’s a lot of opportunity for students to connect with who they are through that history, through other people, or through politics, where they might not have had that lens or that perspective to do so in other classes,” Chan stated.

A class like Asian-American studies is not common in most high schools, according to Chan. “I think it’s cool that we’re cutting edge and figuring out how to craft a course that pertains to our student body.”

The Asian-American studies curriculum starts with identity, critical race theory, and a general introduction to who an Asian-American is, and students are able to learn that through stories and testimonials of other Asians and Asian-Americans. The class follows with the first contact of Asians with America, the stereotypes and perceptions they faced, and how that still exists today. Mass migration of all types of Asians is covered next, and the class ends with a unit about activism, what it means to be Asian-American, the model minority myth, hate crimes, Islamophobia, and media representation.

Chan’s goal when teaching Asian-American studies is to get students talking about who they are, the Asian-American experience and why it’s valuable, important, and what they can do about it. “For those students that are Asian-American, it’s very relevant to them because it’s very personal. For students who are not Asian-American, it gives them an opportunity to explore that because they will have friends who will be Asian-American, they will see people on television or a movie about Asian people or with Asian characters in them. I’d like to give them that opportunity through the class to critically analyze, engage and think about what they’re seeing and what they’re experiencing,” Chan said.

Being Asian-American himself, Chan states that the class gave him a lot of opportunities to explore the intertwining of cultures within himself while teaching his students. “I feel like I’m on a journey with the kids too,” Chan said.

Senior Kaitlin Almalbis took the class because she felt that there were a lot more Asian cultures to be uncovered in classes like World History and U.S History. Almalbis believes that although these classes are important, they mostly center around Western European history.

“It’s important for a class to not only uncover Asian heritage and cultural differences over the years but to also include how Asians in America are still considered to be minorities and tell the stories of our struggles,” Almalbis stated.

Almalbis believes that although it is a brand new class at West and it is early in the year, the class has been a great and positive experience. “It’s been nothing but engaging and enlightening, We discuss not only the past but intersectionality in modern times as well,” Almalbis said.

Talk to your counselor if you’re thinking about joining the class in the future.