Why is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in May?
Let’s get the timeline down first. In 1978, President Jimmy Carter initiated the first week-long celebration of the country’s Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. Fast-forward to 1990, and Congress legally expanded the observance to one month. Finally, in 1992 Congress declared the whole month to be Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.
But why May? The celebration commemorates two historic May-based events. First, May 1843 marked the immigration of the first Japanese to the US. Next, in May 1869 the transcontinental railroad was completed. Chinese immigrants were the main source of labor on this project. The Japanese and Chinese are not the whole story though…
How much diversity is there in the AAPI community?
There are over 22 million Asian-Americans living in the US! The AAPI community has incredible diversity and traces their heritage back to many parts of the world. The six biggest origin groups are Chinese, Indian, Filipino, Vietnamese, Korean, and Japanese. Other AAPI populations include Pakistani, Thai, Cambodian, Hmong, Laotian, Taiwanese, Bangladeshi, and Nepalese, among others.
Who does the phrase Asian American and Pacific Islander refer to?
Asian American Pacific Islander includes “all people of Asian, Asian American or Pacific Islander ancestry, who trace their origins to the countries, states, jurisdictions and/or the diasporic communities of these geographic regions,” according to the Asian Pacific Institute. But let’s dig even further into the terms “Asian” and “Pacific Islander.” According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Asians are those who have origins in any of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent. For example, this includes China, Japan, Thailand, Malaysia, India, and Vietnam.
Pacific Islanders are people with origins from Polynesia, Micronesia, and Melanesia including Native Hawaiian, Samoan, Tahitian, Fijian and Papua New Guinean people. It is also important to recognize that there are many Asian diasporas across the world and that not all people fall into the aforementioned categories. For example, there are people from Central Asia (think: Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan) and West Asia (countries ranging from Azerbaijan to Iraq to Yemen) who may or may not identify with being “Asian.”
Who are some notable Asian-American and Pacific Islanders?
Stella Abrera: In 2014, she became a principal dancer with American Ballet Theater, making her the first Filipina-American to reach the company’s highest rank.
Sunisa “Suni” Lee: An Hmong-American woman and Olympic gymnast, she was the first Asian-American woman to win an Olympic all-around gold medal.
Sal Khan: The founder of the immensely successful education company Khan Academy, he was born to an Indian mother and Bangladeshi father.
Lana Condor: A Vietnamese-American actress best known for her role as Lara Jean Covey in the romantic-comedy To All the Boys film series.
Roy Choi: A Korean-American chef celebrated for combining Mexican and Korean flavors and known as a founder of the gourmet food truck movement.
I.M. Pei: Born and raised in Shanghai, he became a notable architect in the New York real estate industry and designed masterpieces including the East Building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and the glass pyramid outside the Louvre in Paris.