The Importance of AAPI Heritage Month

Updated: Jun 22

By Krista Orejudos


Image retrieved from Medium


As a member of the Asian-American community, specifically a Filipina-American, I have never had to think about my identity as much as I have this past year. The pandemic has brought to light an abundance of the closeted hate that Americans harbor towards people that may look like me. First, we faced the attacks on our elders, then the shootings of Asian women, and now the hate crimes that have surged in number not only in America but also in places like the UK and Australia.


We, the Asian community, continue to be proud of where we are from despite how foreign we may seem to others. We have slowly but surely become more socially and politically aware that we cannot be silent on matters like Stop Asian Hate because we have been silenced for far too long. People have somehow linked us not sharing our personal experiences with Asian racism and xenophobia to the false statement that we’ve never experienced such things; that belief is far from reality.


So as May winds down, let us not forget the importance of this month –– the month which officially brought forth the recognition of every AAPI member and the rich history they carried when coming to America.


The History of AAPI Heritage Month

Though it would take more than 100 years later for Congress to declare May as the official month for AAPI heritage, two particularly significant events happened during May for the AAPI community.


On May 7, 1843, the first Japanese immigrant –– a 14-year-old boy named Manjiro –– arrived in America. Then on May 10, 1869, the transcontinental railroad was built with the help of over 20,000+ Chinese immigrants.


As more Asians immigrated to the US, they lived in a prosperous era where they were able to achieve the “American Dream” and saw it as an opportunity to build their wealth. Especially in the midwestern areas of the country, Chinese men were successful in mining during the Gold Rush time period. This was the case until Americans began to see them as a threat to their economy.


The rhetoric of seeing them as a threat became known in the 1880s since Congress declared the Chinese Exclusion on May 6, 1882. The act established a 10-year ban on Chinese labor immigration and placed new requirements on Chinese individuals who were already in the country.


According to The Hill, "It wasn’t until 1979, when President Jimmy Carter signed a presidential proclamation, that AAPI Heritage week was celebrated. Then, Congress passed an amendment in 1992 which called on the people of the US to observe an entire AAPI Heritage month with 'appropriate ceremonies, programs, and activities.’”


Now, more than ever, "May is used as a time by those of Asian and Pacific Islander heritage to amplify their voices and their concerns, as well as share their cultural pride."


How Non-Asian Americans Can Recognize AAPI Heritage Month With Respect

Oftentimes, the history of how members from the AAPI community immigrated to the USA is overlooked. This month is a way to celebrate cultural differences, but without addressing the racial violence behind why we need to celebrate the voices of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, nothing productive will be produced.


Since multiculturalism tends to address racial differences, but not the root of racism itself, people will still remain ignorant and turn a blind eye to the ongoing racial justice faced by marginalized groups.


Specifically for the AAPI community, our voices aren’t centered in mainstream media whenever we are crying out for help and people will never see past our label as a "model minority."


Therefore, recognizing the contributions that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have made to America brings us one step closer to branching our racial and ethnic divides. Furthermore, learning to genuinely educate yourself on your own about important ongoing Asian issues, makes your activism less performative. In addition, you can use what you learn to educate those around you.


The Hill further explains that overall, May isn’t just a time for the AAPI community, but also "a time for all Americans to actively participate and take actions to educate themselves. Allies are important in any cause and can help to amplify the voices of the Asian American community when they need it the most."


So "before you dig into comedies like ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ or more somber films like ‘The Farewell,’ begin by taking the time to learn about the long history of injustice faced by Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the U.S. — including the Page Act of 1875, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the incarceration of Japanese American citizens during World War II, the murder of Vincent Chin, the mass shooting of Southeast Asian refugee children in 1989, and the targeting of South Asian Americans, especially those who are Muslim, Hindu or Sikh, after the national tragedy of 9/11.


Written by writer Krista Orejudos

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