Every May, the United States observes Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. This celebration honors people of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) descent from East, Southeast, and South Asia and the Pacific islands.
This celebration recognizes the richness of Asian and Pacific Islander cultures, languages, history, and their unfailing contributions to American society. It serves as both a platform for these diverse communities and a testament to America's multicultural identity.
So, as May swings in, let's step out of our culture, learn something new, and, most importantly, celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.
Featured in: May - Awareness Months, Days, and Observances
Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month History and Background
The initiatives for the AAPI community started in the late 1970s by New York Representative Frank Horton and Hawaii Senator Daniel Inouye. After their resolutions passed, President Jimmy Carter signed Public Law 95-419 on October 1978. The country celebrated it as a weeklong event for a decade, from May 4 to May 10.
This week of May was chosen for it covers two critical dates. On May 7, 1843, the first Japanese immigrant set foot on US soil. The second one is May 10, 1869, the transcontinental railroad's completion date. Moreover, Chinese immigrants comprised most of the labor force that laid the tracks for this crucial economic driver.
In 1990, the weeklong celebration became a month-long cultural event, thanks to President George H.W. Bush's passing of Public Law 102-450. Back then, it was called the Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. By 1992, the occasion had become an official federal event, instituting the contemporary Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.
The Cause and Its Challenges
During AAPI Heritage Month, we cast light not only on their contributions but also on their struggles. For instance, Asian communities have suffered an unsettling rise in hate crimes of nearly 339% in 2021, a stark reminder of the entrenched xenophobia and racism that exists.
Historically, Asian Americans have suffered extreme xenophobia. For instance, the US government put 10,000 Japanese Americans in internment camps during World War II for fear of their sympathy toward the enemy.
In the 1930s, Chinese women were lured to the US with promises of well-paying jobs but were sold into prostitution in San Francisco instead. Poor refugees from Southeast Asia also fled war only to face discrimination in the US.
Now let’s have a glimpse of some of the significant impacts of AAPI individuals throughout the century. The contributions of AAPI individuals to the United States are immense and varied. Among them, Chien-Shiung Wu stands out as a Chinese immigrant who left an indelible mark on physics, including significant work for the Manhattan Project.
In the technological landscape, Ajay V. Bhatt, an Indian-born computer architect, has been instrumental in developing widely used innovations such as the USB. Further, in the medical field, Filipino American physician Katherine Luzuriaga has spearheaded the development of early diagnostic tests for HIV in children and conducted essential research into antiretroviral therapies.
5 Facts About The Asian American and Pacific Islanders
- The AAPI community comprises over 50 distinct ethnic groups, making it an incredibly diverse demographic.
- Based on UCLA’s Holywood Diversity Report 2023, Asian American artists only account for 6.5% of film roles despite their significant population.
- In a 2023 AAPI Data Diversity in American Life Survey, Asian American workers often feel underrepresented in leadership roles. Only 26% strongly believe they see individuals like themselves in leadership positions or feel encouraged to seek such opportunities. This differs significantly from the overall worker population, where 41% and 43% feel well-represented and supported, respectively.
- US Census Bureau reports In 2020, the estimated number of businesses in the US showed that Asian-owned businesses represented about 1 out of 10, while Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (NHPI) owned businesses accounted for about 1 out of 1000.
- In terms of education in 2021, the US Census Bureau says that over half (55.1%) of the Asian population and more than 2 out of 10 (25.0%) of the Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islanders aged 25 and older in the US held a bachelor's degree or higher
Efforts and Initiatives
Let's take a moment to appreciate the Smithsonian Institution Asian Pacific American Center and its digital campaign, #APAHM. This movement brings heritage into the digital age through virtual exhibitions, online activities, and online resources.
Besides the Smithsonian Institution, the National Endowment for the Humanities has created an AAPI Virtual Bookshelf that shares AAPI experiences. There’s also the National Museum of Asian Art that celebrates Asian American women and men through exhibits and collections. The National Archives holds relevant materials and documents.
On a national level, the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (WHIAAPI) has helped address health, education, and economic disparities. Beyond identifying these issues, WHIAAPI formed strategic partnerships to push for change. They continue to formulate policies that ensure the well-being of these communities.
Moreover, the Asian Pacific Fund champion the cause throughout the year. They have started scholarships, community programs, awareness and appreciation of AAPI history, and continuing culture thriving in the modern age.
Focusing on another minority, the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance is a coalition of LGBTQ Asian and Pacific Islander organizations. They start events and educational initiatives that echo the voices of the AAPI rainbow community.
How to Get Involved and Support Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month
Moving forward with our understanding and recognition of AAPI Heritage Month, here are seven engaging ways to actively celebrate and honor this diverse community:
- Educate Yourself: Read books by AAPI authors, and learn about Asian American and Pacific Islander history, contributions, and cultural heritage.
- Support Local: Buy from local shops, restaurants, and businesses that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders own.
- Attend Virtual Events: Join online workshops, lectures, or talks about AAPI cultures.
- Visit Historical Sites and Exhibits: Explore museums, landmarks, or AAPI exhibits to understand their historical significance.
- Share AAPI Stories: Use traditional and social media to promote powerful narratives and intimate personal stories.
- Donate to AAPI Causes: Support organizations that work to uplift and empower Asian American and Pacific Islander communities.
- Consume AAPI Media: Play all kinds of media from the community, from documentaries to podcasts, to have a glimpse of the Asian American and Pacific Islander experience.
Celebrating AAPI Heritage Month honors past contributions and the vibrant cultures, languages, and traditions that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders contribute to the grand tapestry of America. As we celebrate this occasion, we also contribute in our unique ways. As simple as immersing yourself in AAPI history, you deepen your understanding of the world.
Together let’s stand up against racial discrimination to honor the spirit of this month. Remember, even a minuscule action can create a monumental impact!
AAPI Heritage Month FAQs
It's a month-long celebration every May honoring the contributions and recognizing the issues of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the US.
It raises awareness about the cultural diversity, history, and challenges of AAPI communities.
You can get involved by educating yourself and spreading awareness. There are many ways to celebrate this annual observance, from attending local events to watching documentaries.