Educators Are Creating “Who is American?” Chinese Exclusion Act Curriculum

The Lim Family, American born and educated. The Chinese Exclusion Law made it difficult for the young generation to find employment, forcing many families to seek opportunities back in China. Lim Tong Family Archives.
"Curriculum development for the project is underway with educational leaders from the Bay Area."

As we gear up for the West Coast premiere of The Chinese Exclusion Act PBS documentary, co-produced by CAAM and Steeplechase Films, and directed by Ric Burns and Li-Shin Yu, we are happy to announce that curriculum development for the project is underway.

Who is American? Immigration, Exclusion & the American Dream is the community and educational outreach program for The Chinese Exclusion Act documentary. CAAM is working with a group of educators in the Bay Area who are developing curriculum around the Chinese Exclusion Act and will use scenes from the documentary as part of the lesson sets. Their curriculum is tentatively titled “Teaching Against Exclusion.”

Young Whan Choi, Manager of Performance Assessments for the Oakland Unified School District, Elizabeth Humphries, High School History Specialist for the Oakland Unified School District, and Rachel B. Reinhard, Director of UC Berkeley History-Social Science Project are bringing together a group of high school history and humanities teachers in the Oakland Unified School District to learn about the historical context of the Chinese Exclusion Act.

“This project is deeply personal,” Choi said. “As a high school student, I never learned about Asian American history, and therefore, I did not know what to do with the racism that I experienced as a young person. Whether it was someone unwittingly questioning my American-ness through their surprise that I spoke English well or more maliciously mocking my facial features, I experienced marginalization as a personal shortcoming.”

The educators will develop lesson sets that allow students to explore connections between historical and contemporary conditions, from exclusionary immigration policies, disproportionate incarceration rates among people of color, and police violence, to areas in Oakland that are quickly gentrifying, they said. The teachers plan to attend The Chinese Exclusion Act film screening at #CAAMFest35, will continue to delve into the issue by visiting the “Chinese Exclusion/Inclusion” exhibit at the Chinese Historical Society of America, and learn more from historians and academics.

This summer, a group of selected Oakland teachers will spend 5 days developing the curriculum materials with support from the leadership team, William Gow, a graduate student in Ethnic Studies at UC Berkeley whose research centers on Chinatowns in the 1930s and 40s, and other scholars in Chinese American history. The curriculum will be aimed at 11th graders, and a version will be adapted for 4th grade.

“Learning about the racism against Chinese immigrants in college was a critical moment in my awakening,” Choi said. “I am honored to have the chance to support this project that will hopefully help students ask critical questions about the ways race, immigration policy, and cultural hegemony function to support an oppressive political and economic system.”

Meet the Educator Leaders Behind “The Chinese Exclusion Act” Curriculum

  • Young Whan Choi, Manager of Performance Assessments, Oakland Unified School District (OUSD), has been a public school teacher in New York City, Providence, RI, and Oakland, CA, during which time, he has developed expertise in culturally relevant classroom instruction, curriculum design, and work-based learning.  He has a Master’s in instructional leadership, developed a national online Ethnic Studies curriculum, co-led OUSD’s Ethnic Studies Leadership Team, and directed the Educating for Democracy in the Digital Age initiative. Follow Young Whan at @itsywc.
  • Elizabeth Humphries, High School History Specialist, Oakland Unified School District, has taught history at the middle and high school level and currently supports curriculum and professional development for secondary history teachers in Oakland Unified.  She is a co-lead on OUSD’s Ethnic Studies Leadership Team.
  • Rachel B. Reinhard, Ph.D., Director, UC Berkeley History-Social Science Project, has taught elementary school, prepared elementary and secondary school pre-service teachers, and now, leads professional development for in-service educators throughout the Bay Area in addition to teaching EDUC160, Introduction to Social Studies in K-8 Classrooms, in the Graduate School of Education at Berkeley. Follow the UC Berkeley History-Social Science Project at @ucbhssp.

For more information, please visit The Chinese Exclusion Act PBS Documentary page. Sign up at the bottom of the page if you are interested in receiving a copy of the free educational curriculum resources. for if you’re interested in hosting a community screening of of the documentary at your school, organization, company or privately. 

Follow “Who is American? Immigration, Exclusion & the American Dream” on Facebook for updates and events.