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This map shows Desi roots in NJ date back 250 years

The learning resource is designed to get teachers to comply with the AAPI curriculum mandate.

Note: You’ll be seeing a new byline today as Central Desi welcomes our first associate editor! Tehsin Pala hails from India and just graduated with her master’s in journalism from New York University. Tehsin is passionate about reporting on the Desi diaspora in New Jersey and the United States. In addition to reporting stories about the community, she’ll be leading our social media. Slide into our DMs to say hello or share a story idea!

(While you’re there, do check out our fellowship wrap-up and stay tuned for information on the next application round!)

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Map shows deep Asian roots in New Jersey

Although New Jersey has become one of the first states to require that Asian American history be taught in public schools, actually getting teachers to follow the mandate—and empowering them with resources to do so—is another matter.

The latest effort on this front is “Roots and Routes,” a colorful map with graphic-novel-style depictions of 18 notable Asian American figures, organizations, landmarks and events throughout the State of New Jersey. It recognizes a serviceman of South Asian origin who served in the Revolutionary War and the arrival of Bengali merchants in South Jersey in the late 1800s, as well as nods to more recent celebrities from the community, including Kal Penn and Connie Chung.

The map, created by AAPI New Jersey as part of its Teach Asian American Stories initiative, aims to address a key problem with the recently passed mandate to teach Asian American history in public schools: There is no way of enforcing whether it’s taught, or to what degree. Some schools have simply sent an email notice to parents about AAPI Heritage Month as a way of checking the box.

Moreover, even teachers who want to teach Asian American history don’t have the resources to do so in compelling ways. Often, when they teach diverse histories, they use old posters with celebrities that even the students’ parents wouldn’t even recognize.

“One of the common themes that we hear about from students today in New Jersey is that they're invisible, that our histories aren't told, and they really aren't recognized for how diverse Asian America is in their classrooms,” said Roslyne Shiao, co-executive director of AAPI NJ.

Why posters and maps?

Teachers often buy interactive learning tools out of their own pockets to turn dry text into exciting examples with inspiring characters. Since many people are visual learners, students might remember the posters and maps they see every day, even if it takes time for them to dive deeper into South Asian history in New Jersey, explained Shiao.

“I was trying to think of a fun way to get our foot in the door that's visual, that's fun, but then also opens the door so that we can start talking about race and identity in a different way,” Shiao said.

During AAPI Heritage Month, AAPI NJ distributed posters for free to 1,000 teachers across New Jersey, and they are planning another distribution in the fall. With more than 100,000 classroom teachers in the state, the distribution is just a start, but it is among the most significant efforts, ever, to ensure that Asian Americans are depicted in K-12 classrooms.

The posters come with lesson plans for all grades, the first of which focuses on Sana Amanat, a Pakistani American comic book editor and executive producer at Marvel Studios. Growing up in the predominantly white town of Montville, NJ, Amanat noticed not only the lack of brown people around her but also the absence of relatable brown characters in comics. In response, she co-created Kamala Khan, also known as Ms. Marvel, a Pakistani American Muslim girl from New Jersey.

Kelly Lan, the founder of Hello Prosper, an organization that produces diverse educational products, was one of the key designers behind the posters and maps. Lan's own story mirrors that of Amanat: Growing up in Bucks County, she was the only Asian girl from kindergarten through college.

“It was really a mental dissidence of what I was seeing in my peers and what I was seeing at home,” Lan said.

Since moving to New Jersey 15 years ago, Lan has observed that Asian American kids are more readily accepting their identities and she wants to support this through her work.

“I'm really into the idea or ethos that you seduce the eye and then address the intelligence,” Lan said.

Tehsin Pala is the associate editor of Central Desi. Here are some free coloring pages about Asian American history courtesy of the initiative:

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