A Rich Tapestry: Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

by Celia Cooksey

The month of May is dedicated to celebrating and embracing the varied and rich cultures of AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islander) Americans and their long history in our country. The term “AAPI” encompasses different peoples and languages who have joined our melting pot over the centuries, Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month celebrates their accomplishments, commitments, and milestones in their American experience. Here are a few of the events that are highlighted and some that are celebrated this month:

257 years ago — The first known people of Asian descent to immigrate to the United States was a group of Filipinos commonly known at the time as “Manilamen.” In 1765, crew members aboard Spanish galleons jumped ship, in the Gulf of Mexico. They settled in Louisiana, establishing communities in the bayous.

192 years ago — The first known people of Asian Indian descent immigrated to the United States.

179 years ago — The first Japanese immigrants arrived in the United States on May 7, 1843. They were followed in the 1850’s by the Chinese who fled their homeland to escape economic hardships and immigrated to the United States to try their luck with the California Gold Rush.

153 years ago — May 10, 1869, marked the completion of the transcontinental railroad, which was largely constructed by Chinese immigrants.

140 and 80 years ago — The rise of anti-Asian sentiment became increasingly high during two periods of time: in 1882 when the Chinese Exclusion Act was signed, barring immigration into the country, and of course World War II, as the United States fought in Asia. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Japanese-Americans were forced into containment camps from 1942–1945, cut off from the outside world and any news or information and released without compensation.

137 years ago — The first group of Korean immigrants arrived in the United States.

45 years ago — A Capitol Hill staffer, whose great-grandfather, M.Y. Lee, had immigrated from China to help build the Transcontinental Railroad, came up with the idea to celebrate and honor AAPI communities. Her great-grandfather had became a prominent businessman in California, sadly passing away during the period of anti-Asian settlement during World War II. In 1977, Rep. Frank Horton (NY) and Rep. Norman Mineta (CA) cosponsored the resolution for a week-long celebration, and later in 1990, Congress passed legislation to extend the commemoration to include the whole month of May, with former president George H.W. Bush signing it into law.

2 years ago — The COVID-19 pandemic has caused distrust and violence against the AAPI community. With some believing that Asian-Americans were somehow responsible for the virus, an increase of hate crimes has emerged, against AAPI people and property.

Growing up, often faced with negative experiences, many had felt a need to cover and hide their cultural background. However, the productive lives and contribution made by the members of these communities is a reason to show pride and embrace and celebrate their cultural heritage.

Asian heritage is filled with amazing artwork, delicious food, and incredibly intricate languages, each of which has a deep and rich history. It is also filled with generational stories of triumphs and sacrifices many which have been passed from one generation to the next within AAPI families and communities. Now more than ever in the United States, people of all cultures celebrate the history and culture of the AAPI community when they attend festivals, concerts, and support the artists within the AAPI communities; helping them to embrace their own culture and their place within America’s melting pot.

By Kevin Pham

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