VA House, Senate OK Name Change in Textbooks - NBC29 WVIR Charlottesville, VA News, Sports and Weather

VA House, Senate OK Name Change in Textbooks

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A seemingly minor change in school textbooks is making major waves a world away.

For years, textbooks have referred to a body of water between Korea and Japan as the Sea of Japan. But it's a sensitive issue for Virginia's Korean-American population and Thursday in Richmond, lawmakers backed a bill to change it.

“This bill allows us to do exactly what the General Assembly is designed to do, which is as elected leaders to represent the issues of our constituents,” said 45th District Delegate Mark Keam (D).

Keam says referring to the sea as the Sea of Japan recalls a painful history for people like his mother, who were around when Korea was annexed by Japan in the early 20th century.

“To this day she doesn't want to think about the pain and the torture that she had to go through,” he said.

The bill’s sponsor, 40th District Delegate Tim Hugo (R), says it requires textbooks approved by the Virginia Board of Education to note the body of water can also be referred to as the East Sea. He says the bill is in line with what students are already learning.

“Our Standards of Learning require, require that students know and are taught that the Sea of Japan is also to be known as the East Sea,” Hugo said.

Some, like 25th District Delegate Steve Landes (R), say this sort of legal requirement sets a dangerous precedent.

“It will mean that we'll see more bills to direct how our textbooks should be written in the context of history,” Landes said.

But supporters say it's a symbolic effort with historical meaning.

“They are exercising their First Amendment freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom to bring their grievance to the government, some things - those freedoms that they were never able to exercise when they were living under an oppressive regime,” Keam said.

The bill has now passed both the House and Senate.

Governor Terry McAuliffe has said he will sign the bill, despite protest from Japanese diplomats, who have warned Virginia's trade relationship could be negatively impacted - all over a name in a textbook.

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