Chris Kwok, Chair of AABANY’s Issues Committee, continues to empower Asian voices in America, serving as a lead scholar on Hidden Voices: Asian American and Pacific Islanders in the United States. This curriculum guide is part of the New York City Department of Education’s Hidden Voices Project, dedicated to educating NYC students about marginalized peoples’ roles in shaping our history and identity. Chris co-authored the introduction to Hidden Voices, contributing to An Overview of Asian American and Pacific Islander History.
Chris has harbored a life-long passion for education. “At heart I’ve always been an educator— I think I went to law school because I knew that I was going to teach one day,” Chris explained. “I didn’t know how or what or where, I just built my experience and waited for an opportunity.” Pursuing his dreams, Chris went on to UCLA Law School after his undergraduate education at Cornell, focusing on critical race theory during his time there. Currently, Chris serves as a mediator with JAMS, and an adjunct professor at Hunter College, simultaneously pursuing his love for education and law.
Regarding his work on the Hidden Voices project, Chris remains humble, elaborating that “it’s a huge team, and I’m just one small part of it.” As an adjunct professor, Chris had the opportunity to delve into Asian American studies, a subject close to his heart. His passion for education and his desire to bring Asian American experiences and narratives to the forefront aligned perfectly with the goals of the Hidden Voices Project. When Vivian Louie, Director of Hunter’s Asian American Studies program, introduced Chris to the project, he eagerly embraced the opportunity to make a meaningful impact on education and advocate for Asian American voices. The project is now free to access for students beyond New York state, across the country. “It’s publicly available to everyone as a free resource, which is great, because honestly we’re so large — we’re the largest school district in the country— so smaller school districts that want to do this can just come to that website and download comic books, posters; all sorts of great resources,” stated Chris enthusiastically.
This curriculum follows legislation proposed by New York State Senator John Liu, mandating the inclusion of AAPI history in schools across the state. It will be the mainstay of a new pilot program launched by the Department of Education, designed to teach students K-12 about the contributions, culture, and history of the Asian American community. “New York City houses the largest school system in the country,” said Chris. “We’ve got 1.2 million students— that’s about half of all the students in New York State. So right now, basically half the students in New York have access to this curriculum.” The launch of this program reflects the needs of the growing AAPI population in New York. According to the NYC Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, API is the fastest growing racial group in NYC, with the number of residents more than doubling from 490,000 in 1990 to 1.2 million in 2019.
Chris expounded that “this [project] is really about students studying a curriculum where they can see people like themselves, the struggles and also the successes. Before this, they could have looked at the curriculum and [would see] only stories of rich people, leaders, white people – after a while, if you don’t think about it, you’ll think those are the only people that matter.” He hopes that the Hidden Voices project will help “open the lens of history in New York schools to include people who are affecting society from every angle, including the margins.”
Education is also a central focus in AABANY’s two reports on anti-Asian hate and violence, and a major concern of the Anti-Asian Violence Task Force. Chris was co-Executive Editor of both reports, Endless Tide: The Continuing Struggle to Overcome Anti-Asian Hate in New York and A Rising Tide of Hate and Violence against Asian Americans in New York During COVID-19: Impact, Causes, Solutions. Both reports focus heavily on education as a tool against anti-asian violence, and are referenced in Hidden Voices as resources. While Rising Tide focuses on public education campaigns, Endless Tide proposes anti-bias and cultural sensitivity programs. Both reports are part of the T3 project, which aims to incorporate a three-pronged approach to address anti-Asian hate, encompassing education and communication, advocacy, and research. Furthermore, Chris has served on the Task Force from inception and currently leads it as Chair.
Stressing the primacy of education, Chris declared: “It’s foundational and it’s slow, but it’s about people understanding their role, getting engaged with their local sphere to make the framework of the society we live in more fair…. It’s about a thousand little things that separately don’t seem to work together, but in the end, we have large scale social change.” The importance of education became even more pronounced in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic: In 2021, hate crimes against Asian New Yorkers were up 361% over the previous year. By educating students about the diverse experiences and contributions of Asian Americans, these initiatives promote unity, understanding, and cohesion within our communities. The mission of Hidden Voices aligns with Chris’ past work, including the reports published by AABANY’s Anti-Asian Violence Task Force.
While this project is currently completed, Chris hopes that he will be able to work on part two, covering more key AAPI figures and historical events. However, there are no plans for that currently on the horizon. “If the public clamors for it,” Chris surmised, “then that will probably be more likely.” Chris encourages members of AABANY to actively support and promote the project, sharing its resources with those in their communities.
To access “Hidden Voices: Asian American and Pacific Islanders in the United States,” click here.