What is Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month?
It is obviously another month in the calendar, a month otherwise known as May. It is certainly a month belonging to a specific ethnic minority in the United States, much like African American history Month in February. It is, most definitely, a month where Asian American histories—both Asian American and Asian Pacific Islander alike—are recognized and celebrated by the United States.
But Asian-Pacific American Heritage month is more than all of the above, an event that began in 1977 as a bill.
In 1977, four Congressional members—United States Representatives Frank Horton and Norman Y. Mineta, and Senators Daniel Inouye and Spark Matsunaga– proposed two separate, but similar bills memorializing Asian American Heritages in May for 10 days.
Why May? May 7th 1843 was the month when the Japanese first migrated to the United States.
Why 10 days? 10 days, on May 10th 1869, honored the Chinese laborers who built the transcontinental railroad.
Both of these bills were approved by Congress and by President Carter.
President George H. W. Bush also expressed his support for a yearly recognition of Asian Americans, extending this recognition in 1989 from two weeks to one month and signing a bill in 1992 that officially crowned May as Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month.
Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month is an evolution of the recognition of Asian American history, a continuation of the legacies and histories left behind by our Asian American ancestors.
Call to Action
Now that the history of Asian-Pacific American Heritage month has been rehashed in the present, now what?
The answer is upon us — right here and right now.
Now is the month—the time–to build on the history that commemorated our Asian American ancestors, sharing our knowledge of Asian American history, our stories and our community issues to inform the broader ethnic community of our past and our present, and to advocate for events recognizing under-represented Asian Americans and their histories.
In this way, we could piece together the unrecognized parts of Asian American history, such as Filipinos being the first Asian American groups settling in Louisiana after escaping the ships of Spanish brutality during the 18th century.
But that is only the beginning. We could also share these discussions with others in other non-Asian American communities, like our fellow peers at City College — peers who may not be familiar with Asian- Pacific American Heritage Month, but are eager to learn.
In this way, these informed members in other ethnic communities could participate in the celebration of Asian American heritage and its histories.
Let us then remember Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month not as another month in the calendar, nor as a celebration of fragmented Asian American histories. Let us remember May as a celebration, as well as the continuation, of our Asian American history and the legacies of our Asian American heroes.
We could continue these past legacies with our present conversations.