MIAMI -- Asian-American history will be part of the state's school curriculum for the first time in Florida.
The requirement was contained in a bill that was recently signed into lawy by Gov. Ron DeSantis and applauded by local South Floridians.
"Since I'm bi-cultural, I was seen in one culture, which is the Cuban community which I love and we all enjoy, but I think the Japanese side was sometimes missing," said José Keichi Fuentes, a member of the Miami-Dade Asian Advisory Board, adding that while growing up he did not really get to learn that much about Asian American history while in school. "Even though my obachan kept pushing that on me and making sure that I understood where I came from and who I was, when you came to Miami that didn't exist, it wasn't the fabric of South Florida."
Fuentes said his mother and grandmother taught him as much as they could about his cultural origins but there were parts of his family's history they didn't speak about in detail, such as the time their relatives were interned in a concentration camp for Japanese Americans that were created by the federal government during World War II.
"Originally I didn't even know my grandmother was interned, or my grandfather was interned," Fuentes said. "It was when my grandfather passed away that I learned more about internment."
He found out later his mother's family all stayed at the Gila River concentration camp in Arizona.
"When the government of Japan bombed Pearl Harbor the immediate knee-jerk reaction was the same in the United States with Japanese Americans, who weren't first generation, who weren't second," he said. "Many were third and some of them were even fighting for the country."
Yet, Japanese Americans were treated as if they were foreigners and traitors.
"It made me realize I had to do more to educate not only myself but Americans, Miamians, Floridians," Fuentes said.
So, he began working with Make Us Visible Florida, an advocacy group to get Asian American and Pacific Islander History into the K-12 curriculum.
"My grandparents were Chinese Lebanese and I think it was so important and so relevant for us to continue the work within the education realm," said State Sen. Ileana Garcia, who is also Cuban and thinks it's also about time. As state senator she helped get support for the bill. "We definitely need to learn from our past mistakes."
The curriculum will be implemented over the next few years, and will teach students about Asian history regarding immigration, civil rights leaders, the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II as well as achievements and cultural contributions.
Fuentes' daughter is already out of school, but she hopes one day his grandchildren will be the benefactors of this effort and learn about Asian American history in a classroom.
"I think that it makes them realize that everyone is part of this community," Fuentes said. "And no matter who are or where you came from, your part of South Florida and this great country in which we live."
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