In the United States, the month of May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, or AAPI Heritage Month, a time to celebrate the contributions and reflect on the history of Asian Americans from all backgrounds.
The term AAPI includes the nearly 23 million Asian-Americans living in the U.S. from over 20 countries spanning the entire Asian continent, including East, South, and Southeast Asia, as well as the Pacific Islands of Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia. The Pew Research Center reports that the U.S. Asian population has doubled in the last 20 years, and is projected to reach 46 million by 2060.
AAPI Heritage Month first began in the 1970’s to recognize the contributions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, but it took another 10 years for the full month celebration to become official. On October 5, 1978 then President Jimmy Carter signed the week-long holiday of recognition into law, and in 1990, congress extended it to a month.
The month of May was chosen because the first Japanese immigrants arrived to the United States on May 7, 1843, as well as in commemoration of the completing the transcontinental railroad by 20,0000 Asian immigrants on May 10, 1869. It is important to note that the first Asian immigrants to ever arrive in the U.S. were from the Philippines in 1587.
The history of Asian-Americans in the United States has not always been easy, with many experiencing xenophobia, racism, and violence on both a personal level and from the U.S. government. Chinese workers in the 1800s were subjected to violence and abuse, and in 1854 the Supreme Court ruled that a white person could not testify against a person of Asian descent, allowing them to get away with anti-Asian hate crimes. During World War II, Japanese-Americans were detained in internment camps, and even today following the Covid-19 pandemic, Asian-Americans have been subjected to hate crimes and racism.
In January 2021, the White House acknowledged its role in perpetuating harmful rhetoric towards the Asian community during the pandemic, and released the “Memorandum Condemning and Combating Racism, Xenophobia, and Intolerance Against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States.” So while AAPI Heritage Month is a time to celebrate the many great achievements of Asian-Americans, it is also a time to commemorate and pay respects to the many victims of hate and cruelty throughout American history.
The theme for 2022’s AAPI Heritage Month, as set by the Federal Asian Pacific American Council (FAPAC), is “Advancing Leaders Through Collaboration,” to promote collaboration, inclusion, diversity, and transparency through leadership training for AAPI people. According to FAPAC, “Collaboration involves two or more individuals, groups or organizations actively working together to accomplish a task or achieve a goal. Collaboration at its core, requires leadership. Collaboration improves team dynamics, enhances problem solving leading to increased innovation, process efficiency, improved communication, and ultimately overall success.”
During the month of May it is common to find many institutions, including universities, cultural centers, and even businesses host special events, from discussion panels, concerts, workshops, and events centered around various Asian cuisines.
Aside from attending local events, how can you celebrate and learn more about the history of Asian-American culture and history during this month? One great way is through educating yourself through research, such as watching documentaries, films, or reading books! One great documentary to watch is the Asian Americans: PBS Documentary Series, a five-part video series showing the diversity and challenges that Asian-Americans have faced throughout history and continue to face today.
There are also many books that you can read from Asian authors that tell their stories, such as Activities of Daily Living, by Lisa Hsiao Chen, Minor Feelings by Cathy Park Hong, Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner, Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, and Hawaii's Story by Queen Lili'uokalani.
Throughout the rest of May, you can follow content and recommendations from AAPI activists, educators, and leaders on social media influencers, and take action by donating to organizations working to support the Asian-American community, or shop at AAPI-owned businesses to celebrate and appreciate the incredible work that Asian’s have brought to the United States!