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House backs 'East Sea' bill on Virginia textbooks
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House backs 'East Sea' bill on Virginia textbooks

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Virginia Legislature

Members of the Korean-American community and related media members try to enter a standing-room-only press conference after the House of Delegates approved the bill related to changing the name of the Sea of Japan back to the East Sea in Virginia textbooks at the State Capitol in Richmond, VA Wednesday, March 5, 2014.

A bill calling for new Virginia textbooks to note that the Sea of Japan also is referred to as the “East Sea” passed the House of Delegates Wednesday.

The vote was a victory for Northern Virginia's substantial Korean American community, which pushed for the change, viewing the “Sea of Japan” designation as a painful reminder of Japanese occupation of the Korean peninsula between 1910 and 1945.

A spokesman said Gov. Terry McAuliffe will sign the bill.

But the 82-16 vote on Senate Bill 2 places McAuliffe in a difficult position -- pressured to make good on a campaign promise to the Korean community, knowing that he will anger the government of Japan, which has substantial investments in the commonwealth’s economy.

A bid by Del. Jennifer L. McClellan, D-Richmond, to amend the legislation to include recommendations for “appropriate textual treatment” of African Americans and native Americans, failed when House Speaker William J. Howell, R-Stafford deemed it too broad to attach to the bill.

Acceptance of the amendment would have effectively torpedoed the East Sea measure for the year by requiring the legislation to return to the Virginia Senate. Democrats in control of the chamber had parked the companion House version of the bill there, partly in an effort to spare McAuliffe the decision on whether to sign it.

But McClellan, who supported the unamended East Sea bill, promised the legislation was a first step. She said she would submit similar legislation next year to clarify and address some of the inaccuracies in current textbooks regarding African Americans and Native Americans.

“For years our textbooks have ignored the contributions of native Virginians and African Americans,” said McClellan citing unsuccessful attempts to make changes in 2003 and 2010 that failed.

“I would hope everyone who rushed to pass this bill, whatever your motivations, I hope you give that bill and future bills that deal with other issues and other cultures the same consideration you gave this one, because we as a commonwealth cannot and should not pick and choose whose history we will accurately portray,” she added. “We do all of our citizens a disservice when we do that.”

Del. R. Steven Landes, R-Augusta, who voted against the bill, said he was concerned that the legislation would set a precedent that results in “rewriting our textbooks on the floor of the House,” rather than leaving the task to professional educators and the Board of Education to make such decisions.

Afterward, Korean American leaders said they were gratified by the vote, and that the bill was not amended in a way that would have delayed consideration until next year.

“It's great,” said Peter Kim, president of Voice of Korean Americans, one of the groups representing the estimated 150,000 Korean Americans who reside in Virginia. “Our children need to be aware, they need to have both names.” Kim said the group would view any attempt to amend the bill as a veto.

“It's been an interesting journey,” said Sen. David W. Marsden, D-Fairfax, who sponsored Senate Bill 2. Marsden said the bill reflects a changing Virginia, noting that the older definition of what a Virginian was depended on “how far back your granddaddy went.”

Now, he said, the commonwealth is experiencing an influx of many different cultures, people who are going to work, raising kids, going to worship and contributing to the state's welfare.

The East Sea bill, Marsden said, “was a great way for us to say, 'Welcome.'“

jnolan@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6061

Twitter: @RTDNolan

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