By Anna Schneider
Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month is celebrated in May, but most people haven’t heard of it. It’s not as widely celebrated as Women’s History Month and LGBTQ+ Pride Month, both of which also celebrate the historic and important contributions of minorities.
AAPI is an acronym for Asian American and Pacific Islander. The term includes all people of Asian, Asian American, or Pacific Islander ancestry. This includes over 50 ethnic groups speaking over 100 languages. The term “Asian American” was first used in 1968 by student activists to refer to Asian groups instead of using the derogatory term “oriental”. In 1997, the White House Office of Management and Budget made the terms “Asian” and “Pacific Islander” two separate race categories. Currently, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders make up around 7% of the U.S. population.
The idea for an Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month was suggested by former congressional staffer Jeanie Jew shortly after the U.S.’s bicentennial celebration in 1976. In June 1977, Rep. Frank Horton and Rep. Norman Y. Mineta introduced the idea for the first ten days of May to be Asian Pacific Heritage Week. May was chosen to commemorate the completion of the transcontinental railroad, mainly worked on by over 20,000 Asian immigrants, on May 10, 1869. It was also chosen because the first Japanese immigrants migrating to the U.S. landed on May 7, 1843. However, the first immigrants actually came to the U.S. starting in 1587. A month later, former U.S. Senators Daniel Inouye and Spark Matsunaga introduced a similar bill to the Senate. On May 14, 1991, President G.W. Bush signed a public law that made May Asian American Pacific Islander Month.
In the U.S, AAPI Month is celebrated with community festivals and educational activities. It’s widely celebrated in areas with big Asian and Pacific Islander populations. And with the increase in anti-Asian hate crimes, learning more about AAPI people is more important than ever. Unfortunately, many schools haven’t been including AAPI Month lessons during May. Asian Americans also aren’t taught about in classrooms. Out of 50 states, only Illinois mandates an Asian American unit in schools.
Asian Americans play an important role in the history of the U.S, but the history that is being taught in schools is one-sided, and doesn’t include the voices of many minorities. In history classes, Asian Americans are only mentioned during events like the WWII Japanese internment. From 1942-1945, discrimination against Japanese Americans was at an all-time high. Japanese Americans and people of Japanese descent were forced into internment camps in the U.S.
This one-sided approach is also seen in the media and news when people blamed the Chinese for COVID-19. In the first year of the pandemic, Chinese businesses were boycotted because people believed that they were to blame for the global pandemic. Even prominent political figures openly blamed China and the Chinese people for COVID-19, spreading more racism towards the Chinese and Chinese Americans in the U.S.
These “scapegoat views” spread implicit racial bias towards Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. During the pandemic and even now, anti-Asian verbal and physical hate crimes have significantly increased. Some attacks have been deadly or traumatic towards many people in the AAPI community. The Stop AAPI Hate Campaign works to increase awareness of the hate crimes and attacks towards Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
We could try to replace these negative views in our generation with positive views by teaching more about Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders during history and other classes and by celebrating Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders during AAPI month. We can change the one-sided conversation by adding another voice.
Influential Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders:
Steven Chen (co-founder of YouTube)
Eric S. Yuan (founder of Zoom)
Hiram Fong (first Asian-American U.S. Senator)
Kamala Harris (the U.S. Vice President)
Kaohly Her (Minnesota House of Representatives)
Mazie Hirono (U.S. Senator)
Mike Honda (U.S. Congressman)
Kurt Chew-Een Lee (first Asian-American Marine Officer in the U.S. military)
Dalip Singh Saund (first Asian American to be elected to the U.S. Congress)
Velma Veloria (first Asian American woman elected to Washington state legislature)
Hubert Vo (first and only Vietnamese American elected to the Texas legislature)
Vicki Draves (first Asian American to win an Olympic medal)
Roman Gabriel (first NFL quarterback of Filipino-American descent)
Nancy Kwan (one of the 1st actresses of Asian ancestry in Hollywood)
Anna May Wong (first Chinese American actress to gain international recognition)