Asian American history could be added to Colorado's public school curriculum

DENVER, Colorado—A bill in the Colorado House of Representatives to include Asian American culture and history in the government courses taught at public schools within the state cleared its first legislative hurdle on March 5.

            House Bill 1192, if passed and signed into law, would recognize the culture, history and social contributions of Asian Americans and other minorities in civics courses. Members of the House’s Education Committee voted in favor of the bill. The vote, which was 8-5, was on party lines: the committee’s eight Democrats voted in favor and five Republicans against.

Legislators in Denver are deliberating whether to update educational standards of public schools in Colorado to include the contributions and history of Asian Americans.

Legislators in Denver are deliberating whether to update educational standards of public schools in Colorado to include the contributions and history of Asian Americans.

            A similar bill was recently proposed in the Republican-controlled State Senate, but was defeated, according to a news report.

            “Under current law, Colorado’s public schools are required to teach the history and civil government of the United States and of Colorado, including the history, culture and contributions of American Indians, Hispanic Americans, and African Americans. This bill requires that schools also teach the history, culture, and contributions of Asian Americans, and the interconnected nature of these communities,” the fiscal analysis of HB 1192 stated.

            The bill would require an appropriation of $37,495, for each of the next two years, from the State Education Fund.

            HB 1192 added public school districts are currently required by law to discuss and review content standards for history and civil government courses at least once per decade. The timeline could be fast-tracked to once every six years if HB 1192 is passed and signed into law.

            Also proposed to be created under HB 1192: a 15-member History, Culture, Social Contributions and Civil Government in Education Commission.

            “The commission must make recommendations to the State Board of Education (SBE) and the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) related to the teaching of history, culture, and civil government,” HB 1192’s fiscal analysis continued.

            The commission would meet twice each year, with the first meeting set for September; commission members would serve without compensation but be reimbursed for “actual and reasonable expenses.”

            HB 1192, which now heads to the House’s Appropriations Committee, was introduced on Feb. 20 and sponsored by three legislators: Reps. Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez and Bri Buentello, and State Sen. Julie Gonzales.

Colorado By The Numbers: U.S. Census Stats

            Colorado, according to the most recent numbers released by the U.S. Census, is home to nearly 5.7 million people. About 3.4 percent of that population is Asian (alone). Almost 10 percent of Colorado’s statewide population is foreign-born.

            The Asian (alone) population in Denver County, which is home to Colorado’s most populous metropolitan area, is at four percent, according to the U.S. Census.

            Three of the top five countries of origin of Colorado immigrants are in Asia, according to the American Immigration Council. The council, in October 2017, stated 4.4 percent of Colorado’s immigrant population came from India; Vietnam (3.2 percent) and China (3.1 percent) were the other two Asian countries on the top five list. (Mexico leads the way with 43.3 percent of Colorado’s immigrant population; Germany was tied with Vietnam at 3.2 percent.)

Hop Alley Riot

            One of the most notable events in Colorado history was a “race riot” at Denver’s Chinatown on Oct. 31, 1880. An article in The Register-Guard, published on Oct. 30, 1996, recalled the violent event at “Hop Alley.”

            Denver’s Chinatown was known as Hop Alley back then; The Register-Guard called the violent events of Oct. 31, 1880 at Hop Alley as the city’s “first recorded race riot.”

            “The Hop Alley riot [was] a violent event that foreshadowed the decline of the Chinese Population in Colorado and was part of what one historian described as the early West’s ‘ethnic cleansing,’” The Register-Guard’s 1996 story stated. “On Oct. 31, 1880, some 3,000 angry white men and boys chanting ‘The Chinese must go!’ flooded Denver’s ‘Hop Alley’ Chinatown. They beat Chinese immigrants, looted stores and burned homes.

            “Before the night was over, the body of one 28-year-old Chinese laundryman hung lifeless from a lamppost,” the article continued.

            “Hop Alley” was named for the slang term for opium.

Japanese in Colorado

            Japanese immigrants first set foot in Colorado between 1900 and 1910, according to Russell Endo’s study, ‘Persistence of Ethnicity: The Japanese of Colorado.’ They came to the state as railroad laborers, though some filled jobs as coal miners and farm workers. The Japanese population in Colorado remained small until the United States entered World War II. Hostilities in states such as California caused some Japanese to find recluse in Colorado during the war effort, according to Endo.

            “The Colorado area was the easternmost point of early Japanese internal migration, which in itself represented a departure from the usual east-to-west movement of immigrant groups,” Endo’s study stated. “Despite only a short period of local anti-Japanese agitation, the distance from major West Coast Japanese communities, and their small numbers, the Japanese of Colorado developed an important ethic community in Denver, elements of which still exist.”

            As many as 3,500 Japanese were in Colorado by 1909, according to a historical study of Asian Americans in the Great Plains published by the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Most of the Japanese were connected to the sugar beet industry, according to the study.

            Japanese in Colorado also founded businesses and churches, though, according to the University of Nebraska, Lincoln study.

            “By 1916 they owned sixty-seven stores in Denver and had founded the Japanese Methodist Church and the Denver Buddhist Church,” the university’s researchers stated.

            An intern camp was built in Southeast Colorado. Amache, also known as Granada Relocation Center, was one of 10 camps built across the United States during World War II to intern Japanese Americans and people of Japanese descent. More than 7,000 people – mostly U.S. citizens – were interned at Amache, according to the National Park Service.

 Present Era Representation

            Several more Asian countries and peoples are now represented in Colorado. The University of Nebraska, Lincoln study pointed out the state is home to thousands of Cambodians, Hmongs, Koreans, Laotians and Vietnamese.

            “In Denver, for instance, the entrepreneurial drive of Vietnamese refugees invigorated a slumping Chinatown economy,” the university's researchers stated in their ‘Encyclopedia of the Great Plains’ study. “They opened new restaurants and groceries, an immigrant entrepreneurial staple, and they own and operate beauty parlors, nightclubs, coffee shops, and jewelry stores, to name only a few enterprises.

            “Southeast Asians have also contributed significantly to the success of Denver's high-tech industry,” the study continued. “A large number, if not a majority, of assembly-line workers in this industry are Southeast Asian.”

            Denver is also home to the Colorado Cambodian Community (CCC), which was founded in 1976 by Khan Penn, a refugee from Cambodia.

            “The CCC emphasizes the preservation and observation of cultural traditions and revolves to a large extent around the Buddhist temple,” University of Nebraska, Lincoln's researchers stated.