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Celebrating Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month

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May 1, 2022

Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month

This May we are recognizing Asian Pacific American Heritage Month and Mental Awareness Month. According to the Federal Asian Pacific American Council (FAPAC) has themed this year “Advancing Leaders through Collaboration.” The FAPAC encourages local and national governments to prioritize collaboration, development, diversity, transparency, and inclusion through leadership training of AAPI people.

We plan to commemorate and celebrate how Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities have continued to enrich the United States with their deep histories, resilience, and cultures as well as call attention to the struggles and barriers the Asian community has faced in our history as well as today.

Is your organization participating in American Pacific American Heritage Month? Let us know! Share with us your messages/resources/campaign strategy. Share your social channel content so we can follow you and re share content.

Upcoming dates:

  • May 1st to May 8th: Celebrating Asian Pacific American Heritage Month
  • May 9th to May 15th: Intersectionality of AAPI and Disability
  • May 16th to May 22nd: Asian American Pacific Islander Culture
  • May 23rd to May 31st: Mental Health in the Asian Pacific American Community

The rich history and heritage of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders is thousands of years old and is integral to the shaping of the history of the United States. Formerly known as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, the celebration was officially renamed Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in 2009. The month-long observance recognizes the influence and contributions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islander Americans to the achievements and culture of the United States.

The first documented arrival of Asians in America was in 1587 when Filipinos arrived in California. Additionally, evidence suggests that the first Japanese individual to arrive in North America was a young boy in October 1587. It’s believed he accompanied a Franciscan friar.

The first Chinese arrived in Hawaii in 1778. The first Koreans landed in the States in 1884. The first Samoans in the United States were documented in 1920 in Hawaii and the first Vietnamese in 1912.

In the 1970s, a former congressional staffer, Jeanie Jew, proposed the idea of celebrating Asian Pacific Americans to Representative Frank Horton. In June 1977, a United States House of Representatives resolution was introduced by Horton and Norman Y. Mineta, proclaiming the first 10 days of May as Asian-Pacific Heritage Week. A month later, a similar bill was introduced in the Senate.

President Jimmy Carter made the then-week-long celebration official when he signed a joint resolution on October 5, 1978. In 1990, Asian-Pacific Heritage Week was extended to a month when George H.W. Bush signed a bill passed by Congress, designating May as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

Anti-Asian Racism

Since their immigration to the United States, Asians have been met with xenophobia, racism, bias and violence. Chinese workers were abused, robbed and murdered in San Francisco in the 1850s. In 1854, the California Supreme Court ruled in People v. Hall that people of Asian descent could not testify against a white person in court, meaning that white people could avoid punishment for anti-Asian crimes.

During World War II, from 1942 to 1945, people of Japanese descent were incarcerated in internment camps across the nation. In 1982, Chinese American Vincent Chin was murdered by two white men in Detroit because they believed Asians were taking auto industry jobs from whites. In March 2021, a man shot and murdered six women of Asian descent at three spas in the Atlanta area.

At the beginning of the Covid 19 pandemic, racist and xenophobic rhetoric about the origins of the virus led to a spike in anti-Asian racism and violence, with AAPI people of all ages and cultures being verbally and physically harassed and murdered in cities across the United States. As a response to the rise in anti-Asian violence, the AAPI Equity Alliance, Chinese for Affirmative Action, and the Asian American Studies Department of San Francisco State University launched the Stop AAPI Hate coalition on March 19, 2020. The coalition tracks and responds to violence, hate, harassment, discrimination, shunning and bullying of AAPI people.

In January 2021, the White House released a “Memorandum Condemning and Combating Racism, Xenophobia, and Intolerance Against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States,” acknowledging their role in furthering xenophobic sentiments and proposing ways to prevent discrimination, harassment, bullying, and hate crimes against AAPI individuals.

“I Am Not Your Asian Stereotype” By Canwen Xu

Since many AAPI individuals have been taught to assimilate, it can be difficult for some to take pride in their cultures and truly embrace their identities. But when they know that allies are willing to uplift AAPI stories, that makes it easier for everyone to understand that our differences are what makes us all beautiful and unique.

Bad driver. Math wizard. Model minority. In this hilarious and insightful talk, eighteen-year-old Canwen Xu shares her Asian-American story of breaking stereotypes, reaffirming stereotypes, and driving competently on her way to buy rice.

“Asian Stereotypes—Rethinking Perceptions” By Laura Lim

Asians are stereotyped everywhere, from media to school. This talk explores the overall problems that are faced from this experience, as well as helpful solutions to stop these perceptions. Laura Lim attends Hillsdale Middle School in the Cajon Valley Union School District. She breaks the traditional Asian stereotypes with this courageous talk and challenges the audience to reimagine perception.

Moments From Asian American History That You Should Know

1854: People v. Hall determines that Chinese people cannot testify against white defendants:

With hate crimes against Asian Americans skyrocketing during the pandemic, many choose the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act as a historic marker for how they are treated in the U.S. Rather, it is the notorious 1854 California Supreme Court case of People v Hall. George Hall had been convicted of murder through the testimony of three Chinese eyewitnesses. On appeal, the court disqualified the testimony. California banned specific groups (“Negros, blacks, Indians, and mulattos”) from testifying against whites, but “Chinese” was not included. This judge became legislator by interpreting, through his convoluted logic, that the Chinese were “Indian” and/or “Black.” The opinion spewed vile racism citing the eminent threat that if Chinese people can testify against whites, they would become full equal citizens. This marks the beginning of how discrimination against Asians became the norm.

Feb. 19, 1862: President Lincoln makes California’s ‘coolie trade’ ban national:

The federal “Act to prohibit the ‘Coolie Trade’ by American Citizens in American Vessels” put the exclusion of Chinese immigrants at the center of debates about race, slavery, immigration and freedom at the close of the Civil War. The so called “coolie trade” began in the 19th century and became a global system by the 1830s to circulate indentured Asian workers to plantations that enslaved Black Africans had previously labored upon. Coolies were thought of as suitable replacements to enslaved labor as the Atlantic slave trade was being dismantled. While the indenture system claimed the legitimacy of consent through a labor contract, these formalities concealed the brutal and deadly nature of trafficking workers to dangerous sites like the guano islands of Peru or exploitation in Cuba’s sugar cane plantations. The same reckless and cruel disregard for human life that characterized the Atlantic slave trade was also common in the Pacific coolie trade.

Because of this practice, racist perceptions of Asian immigration were fused with the notion of cheap, foreign, disposable labor. President Lincoln’s passage of the anti coolie legislation codified this racist idea about Asians, even as it condemned any form of unfree labor, as would be declared in the Emancipation Proclamation in the following year.

March 28, 1898: The Supreme Court upholds birthright citizenship in United States vs. Wong Kim Ark:

Wong Kim Ark is a Chinese American born in San Francisco to Chinese parents in 1873. When he returns from a visit to China in 1895, immigration authorities deny his re entry, citing Chinese exclusion laws that barred Asians from both immigration and U.S. citizenship. country.

Birthright citizenship is a product of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution that’s passed right after the Civil War. In a landmark decision in 1898, the court rules that Wong acquired citizenship at birth and therefore should be allowed entry into the U.S., since the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act doesn’t apply to him.

With the Wong Kim Ark decision, the Supreme Court upholds the principle of birthright citizenship and affirms the universality of American national identity, the idea that anyone born on U.S. soil can be American regardless of race. For Asian Americans this is particularly important because it allowed for US-born Asian Americans, the children and grandchildren of immigrants, to have U.S. citizenship during a time when foreign born Asians were barred from naturalization on racial grounds. This would not change until the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 abolished racial restrictions on U.S. citizenship once and for all.

Sept. 4, 1907: The Bellingham Riots:

Spurred on by the inflammatory rhetoric of the nativist Asiatic Exclusion League, hundreds of white workers swept through the coastal town of Bellingham, Wash., at night, looking for Indian immigrants. The Indians, who were laborers in Bellingham’s lumber mills, were predominantly Sikh men from Punjab. The rioters pulled Indian workers out of their bunks, set their bunkhouses on fire, stole their possessions and beat them. Some Sikh men were beaten so badly they had to be hospitalized. Local police rounded up groups of Indians as they escaped the violence, placing them in Bellingham’s City Hall and jail. The next day, the entire population of Indian immigrant lumber workers left for their own safety, walking northward across the border into Canada. This is the first known incidence of large scale, organized anti South Asian violence in the United States, and was part of a wave of attacks against Asian immigrants that occurred up and down the U.S. and Canadian West Coast in the early part of the 20th century. The Asiatic Exclusion League and other allied organizations, politicians and labor leaders ultimately succeeded in convincing Congress to pass the 1917 Immigration Act, banning the entry of labor migrants from Asia.

More info can be found here:

WASILC’s Weekly American Pacific American Heritage Month Campaign will be available on our website and on Facebook.

Link to the WASILC Facebook:

Children’s Books to Celebrate Asian Pacific Islander Heritage

Suki’s Kimono (Ages 4-8) Written by Chieri Uegaki and Illustrated by Stephane Jorisch

Suki's Kimono

It's the first day of school, and Suki wants to wear the kimono her grandmother gave her over the summer. Her older sisters warn her that people will laugh, but Suki doesn't care. At school, her friend Penny asks why she's dressed funny, but Suki simply tells Penny she's not dressed funny. Other children are more mean than curious, but Suki sits tall in her seat, with the same dignity her obachan (grandma) has. When she has the chance to introduce herself to the class, Suki is so excited to talk about her kimono that she even imitates the dancing she saw at the festival she attended with obachan. What will her teacher and classmates do after that introduction?

Drawn Together written by Minh Le and Illustrated by Dan Santat

Drawn Together

When a young Vietnamese American boy arrives at his grandfather's house, the two struggle to make a connection. The boy doesn't speak Vietnamese, and his grandfather doesn't speak English, so how can they communicate? Elaborate illustrations show the pair experiencing both boredom and frustration as the morning goes on. Can they find a way to tell each other stories that go beyond words?

Mama’s Saris (Ages 4-9) Written by Pooja Makhijani and Illustrated by Elena Gomez

Mama's Saris

It's the first day of school, and Suki wants to wear the kimono her grandmother gave her over the summer. Her older sisters warn her that people will laugh, but Suki doesn't care. When she has the chance to introduce herself to the class, Suki is so excited to talk about her kimono that she even imitates the dancing she saw at the festival she attended with obachan. What will her teacher and classmates do after that introduction?