Every year in May, we celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month to recognize the significant contributions and honor the rich culture of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) in the United States. Asian Americans alone are the fastest growing racial or ethnic group in the United States, with over 20 million people identifying as AAPI overall.
Not only during this month, but year-round, it’s important to learn about the Asian American and Pacific Islander experience, amplify the stories of the AAPI community and advocate for AAPI equality and anti-bias after a long history of discrimination and hardships in our country. As we step intoAAPI Heritage Month this year, we’d be remiss to ignore the rise of tragic anti-Asian hate crimes that increased by a staggering 339% last year on the heels of the pandemic.
First, let’s take a look at the origins of AAPI Heritage Month and explore ways to pay tribute and honor this observance in our everyday lives.
Origins of AAPI Heritage Month
- In 1977, Rep. Frank Horton (R-NY) introduced House Joint Resolution 540 to proclaim the first 10 days in May as Pacific/Asian American Heritage Week. In 1979, President Jimmy Carter signed a joint resolution making the celebratory week official.
- It wasn’t until 1990 that the observance was permanently expanded to a month-long celebration, presenting the Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month that we know and commemorate today.
- AAPI Heritage Month purposefully takes place in May to recognize the arrival of the first Japanese immigrants to the United States on May 7, 1843. It also coincides with the completion of the transcontinental railroad, on May 10, 1869, that was built by Chinese workers.
Observing AAPI Heritage Month
- Educate yourself. Learn more about the AAPI community by reading up about some of the most groundbreaking contributions from the AAPI community, or consider watching this documentary series from PBS that highlights the personal stories and experiences of Asian Americans in the U.S.
- Get involved. During the COVID-19 pandemic, an increase in incidents of violence and discrimination against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have been reported across the country. If you’re able, consider donating or joining forces with top non-profit organizations in support of AAPI communities in the wake of this surge in anti-Asian hate crimes.
- Experience the culture. Ancient and contemporary art has been greatly influenced by the AAPI community. Consider learning more about the history of Asian art by exploring the Smithsonian’s Museum of Asian Art online collections or creating art of your own inspired by some of the AAPI community’s most well-known artists.
Although the month of May is recognized as Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, our honor and appreciation of the AAPI community lives throughout the year. Generations of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have made trailblazing contributions as an integral part of our collective story, and we celebrate and support the AAPI community today and every day.