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Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

Updated: May 20, 2021

Mel Lim, a Malaysian Born Chinese American.
Mel Lim, a Malaysian Born Chinese American.

May is a beautiful month in which to honor the contribution and rich heritage of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. The month was selected for a couple of reasons: to commemorate the arrival of the first Japanese immigrant to the U.S. on May 7, 1843, and to celebrate the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad on May 10, 1869. This annual, month-long celebration of AAPI became law in 1992. Now more than ever, it is important to recognize all the many ways AAPI peoples have helped to build, protect and shape our nation, enriched our history, advanced our understanding, discoveries, and leadership in the arts, science, medicine, engineering, and technology, and propelled us toward an amazing future.

Currently, there are more than 22.2 million Asians and 1.6 million Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islanders living in the United States. Some are recent immigrants. Many are second, third, and fourth+ generations who have long struggled to work hard and make a better life, provide for their families, practice and keep alive their cultural traditions while being a part of the fabric of American life, build their own legacies and give back to their communities and their country. The going was often difficult and dangerous. In the 1800s, some 20,000 Chinese laborers helped build the transcontinental railroad while enduring dehumanization, violence, and indignities foisted upon them by railway personnel and other workers, and western settlers. After the railroad was completed, Chinese laborers, who were historically poorly paid, were left to fend for themselves in the Nevada desert. Some settled in the region, and others had no choice but to walk back to California and San Francisco to rejoin their families. U.S. federal law targeted Chinese immigrants in the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which prohibited Chinese laborers from immigrating to the U.S. and required they carry permits at all times or be deported. During World War II, 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry were forcibly removed from their homes and businesses and sent to live in Internment Camps/Concentration Camps located in the western interior of the country. Anti-Chinese and Anti-Asian settlement sentiments have long stained the soul of our nation. The time to close that ugly chapter of racism is now.

AAPI households typically stand out as a segment of the population that is indispensable to the US economy. They generally have high levels of income, achieve success as business entrepreneurs, are most likely to hold college degrees and to fill critical gaps (like doctors and surgeons) in the labor market, and have considerable voting power in some states. Considering that the Asian American population will increase 143% by 2060, and Pacific Islanders will double their population, it is essential that America as a whole awakens to a richer appreciation of and compassionate generosity toward their AAPI neighbors, coworkers, employers, teachers, service providers, and leaders.

As the AAPI population with its various cultures and rich history has continued to grow, integrate, and become more visible across the American landscape, its right to peacefully coexist as part of the American milieu is currently threatened by voluminous high-profile violence and hate crimes that have put AAPI communities on guard. Frustration and fear prompted some Americans to target a group to blame for the pandemic currently sweeping the nation and the world. A recent Administration’s constant reference to COVID-19 as the China Virus or the Kung Flu only fanned the flames of racial hatred and discrimination. From March to May 2020, more than 800 COVID-related hate incidents were reported from 34 counties across the state in California. In Orange County alone, anti-Asian hate incidents rose 1200%. AAPI communities must step forward and be a voice united in their right to pursue life, liberty, and happiness as Americans while at the same time maintaining their cultural identity and traditions. Perpetrators of violence must not only be held accountable but should also be assigned cultural sensitivity training and re-educated. The United States as a whole must undergo a cultural shift. Judging someone by how they look completely ignores who they truly are or the richness of their real cultural identity. Stereotyping/Generalizing is the reactive aggression of the lazy, reptilian brain. As Americans, we are so much better than this. Educating ourselves about the people who comprise the multi-cultural fabric of our nation is more than essential. It is our sacred duty as citizens of this grand experiment of a nation.

Throughout this month, we will examine ways to help stop Asian Hate, including debunking the negative and sexualized myth of the “submissive, ornamental, oriental” Asian woman. Our “antidote” will be to call out some amazing Asian Women who are artists, designers, entrepreneurs, scientists, and whip-smart wonder women.

The month of May has other celebrations going on as well. May 1 is May Day, also known as International Worker’s Day. It recognizes the hard work and sacrifice of laborers who struggled to organize and gain enough collective strength to demand an eight-hour workday. On May 1, 1886, what would become the American Federation of Labor proclaimed that eight hours was a legal day’s labor. More than 300,000 workers at 13,000 businesses across the nation walked off the job to demonstrate unity and strength. The movement would continue to gain momentum and garner protections for workers as many men, women, and children died on the job, and usually destitute, every year from overwork and unsafe conditions.

May is also National Nurses Month, and on May 9, we celebrate World Fair Trade Day. There’s so much ahead. And we have a lot to say about it all. Welcome to May 2021, everyone.


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