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Tuesday, April 27, 2021

AAPI Heritage Month in Elementary Music

With the rise in anti-Asian hate in the United States during the pandemic, there has never been a more impactful time to recognize Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. While the month of May should certainly not be the only time we recognize and include AAPI people and music in our classrooms, it is an important opportunity to shine the spotlight on a group that has historically been largely ignored and exoticized.

First a little background: AAPI stands for Asian American and Pacific Islander. May has been officially designated as AAPI Heritage Month since 1992 (although AAPI Week has been around since 1978). The history of AAPI people is long, broad, and often completely overlooked- this video gives a good starting point if you are unfamiliar. With that said, here are some general suggestions for recognizing AAPI Heritage Month in your elementary music classroom respectfully, responsibly, and appropriately.

DO celebrate AAPI excellence

While these musicians should be included in our regular, every day lessons when the musician's race is not the focus, spending some time sharing AAPI musicians from throughout history and across genres and musical roles is a great way to recognize AAPI Heritage Month in the elementary music classroom. If you need a starting point for some musicians to feature, you'll find some in these lists of instrumental performers (but definitely do not stop at these- there are SO many more out there in so many different musical fields, from conductor Xian Zhang to film composer Sujin Nam):

DO NOT limit AAPI representation to only East Asians

The AAPI community extends beyond Japan, China, and Korea- it's important to include Filipino, Vietnamese, Samoan, and so many other Asian American and Pacific Islanders outside of East Asia, particularly people with darker skin. It's important to push back against colorism by making sure, when we share AAPI musicians, that we're including the full spectrum.

DO incorporate AAPI representation throughout the school year

Don't throw in a few featured Asian American musicians in the month of May and check AAPI representation off your list- as with all minoritized cultures and people groups, the most important work is in making sure they are incorporated in our everyday lessons and materials. What faces and skin tones are included in the posters hanging on the walls? Whose music is performed in concerts? Whose faces do students see when we use video and photo examples of any musical concept we're teaching? AAPI people and cultures needs to be normalized by including representation when race is not the focal point.

DO NOT play into stereotypes

There are so many AAPI musicians outside classical music! It's important to push back against the stereotype of Asians being most successful as classical string and piano players by including representation in other genres and roles as well. That doesn't mean we shouldn't share Yo-Yo Ma and Lang Lang with our students too, but we need to be intentional about expanding our students' understanding of what it means to be an AAPI musician. Outside of the genres and roles we portray, it's important not to exoticize or generalize AAPI cultures or portray them as the "model minority"- not all Asian Americans are good at math, career-driven, or shy. 

DO listen to, learn from, and compensate AAPI music educators

I'm not sharing specific lesson plans in this post because it's important to learn from and compensate AAPI people directly- I'm here to amplify and point as many people as I can in the right direction so we can all do our own research and center AAPI voices in these conversations. If you are going to use resources to teach about AAPI history and heritage, make sure you are getting them from (and compensating) people from the AAPI community! Here are a few AAPI music educators and musicians, besides the ones mentioned above in this post, to get you started- I encourage you to follow them if you aren't already and check out their resources:

Czarina Jimenez (LittleUpbeatClass)

Darlene Machacon (TheDarlingMusicTeacher)

Alice Tsui (MusicWithMissAlice)

Melissa Stouffer (MrsSMusicRoom)

Jane Lee (SillyOMusic)

AJ Rafael (especially this song, "Our Friend Larry Itliong")

Joe Kye

I hope this helps steer you in the right direction as you work to recognize AAPI culture and people in your elementary music class in the month of May and beyond! If you know of other AAPI people that should be amplified, please add to my list in the comments below.


  1. Music educator Tiffany Barry just published a new book of Filipino songs- Songs of the Sun, available from Beatin Path Publications.

    1. Yes! Thank you, this is a great addition to the list.