Making History In Wisconsin: Including Asian American History in Schools | Haiyun Lu | 4 Min Read

June 6, 2023

On May 25, 2023, Wisconsin made history by holding the first public hearing for a bill that aims to teach Hmong American and Asian American history in schools.  People from different races and backgrounds gathered in State House Room 417N for a public hearing, traveling from Eau Claire to Milwaukee, Green Bay to La Crosse. It was a significant moment as individuals of all ages, from young children to elders, made their debut in a public hearing. For Asian Americans, it required immense courage and personal growth to overcome cultural barriers and advocate for their beliefs.

In 1988, Wisconsin passed ACT 31, which mandated schools to teach about human relations, including American Indians, Black Americans, and Hispanics. However, Asian American history was initially excluded due to tensions over hunting rights between White Americans and Hmong Americans. Lawmakers promised to amend ACT 31 and include Asian American history within two or three years.

In 2021, a milestone was finally reached: The bill gained bipartisan support for the first time even though the effort to turn the tide was meager.  On May 25, 2023, Assembly Bill 232 finally got its first public hearing more than three decades later.

The lead coauthor of the bill, Rep. Patrick Snyder (R-Schofield) was the first to testify.  He shared a brief Hmong American history.  During the Vietnam War era, the Hmong played a significant role in assisting the American military as part of the CIA-led Secret War, conducting guerrilla warfare, and aiding in intelligence gathering. As a result, Hmong communities suffered heavy losses and faced targeted persecution after the war due to their alliance with the United States.  Therefore, a significant number of Hmong people were forced to flee Laos as refugees. Beginning in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s, Hmong refugees resettled in various countries, including the United States.  Today, the third largest Hmong population resides in Wisconsin.  

The first Asian American lawmaker in Wisconsin, Rep. Francesca Hong, testified that Asian American history is American history.  It is a disservice to teach our children an incomplete history.  

Emilio De Torre, the Executive Director of the Milwaukee Turners at Turner Hall, used a metaphor to explain it further, “Teaching an incomplete history is like missing notes in a song.  It sounds wrong, everyone winces.  We have a chance to do better.  There are nearly 200,000 Asian Americans in Wisconsin.  That’s a…

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Haiyun Lu

Haiyun Lu, a Chinese language teacher at the University School of Milwaukee (WI), is also a writer, blogger, trainer, curriculum designer, meditator, and Co-Founder at Ignite Chinese.