May is an especially important month. Not only will we celebrate our moms on Mother’s Day this coming Sunday, May 8, but for the entire month, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders will also be celebrating their heritage. May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. Currently across the country, Asian and Pacific American organizations are planning events to celebrate their heritage.
APA month began through a congressional bill, introduced in 1977 by Rep. Frank Horton and Rep. Norman Mineta. Around the same time, Sen. Daniel Inouye and Sen. Spark Matsunaga had the same idea and introduced a bill in the Senate. Both were passed, and on Oct. 5, 1978, President Jimmy Carter designated the first 10 days of May as Asian Pacific Heritage Week. President George H.W. Bush later extended the recognition to a month-long celebration. In 1992, May was officially designated as APA Heritage Month.
Why May? There are two significant dates in May. On May 7, 1843, the first Japanese immigrated to the United States. On May 10, 1869, the transcontinental railroad was completed. The majority of the workers were Chinese immigrants.
As many know, this was only the beginning of many struggles — segregation, anti-miscegenation laws, racism, and discrimination — that Asian and Pacific Islander immigrants would endure.
Often, APA month is referred to as Asian American heritage month. Many times, Pacific Islanders, perhaps because the population here in the United States is relatively small, are overlooked in these celebrations.
For this week’s issue, we were particularly pleased to be able to talk to a woman from Fiji for one of our Mother’s Day stories. We imagine that some of our readers will wonder whether she falls under the scope of Northwest Asian Weekly’s mission, which is to empower Asian and Pacific Americans.
Even one of our writers asked, “Does Fiji count?”
Of course it counts.
Asian Pacific American (APA) is a very broad term that encompasses many different kinds of people. Most of us readily think of Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Filipino, and Indian Americans — mostly people whose ancestries stem from the Asian continent. However, the term also applies to the people from Melanesia (for example, New Guinea or Vanuatu), Micronesia (for example, Guam or Kiribati), and Polynesia (for example, Samoa or Tonga) — and these people are often not thought of when we refer to APAs.
According to 2010 Census data, Seattle has the fourth largest Pacific Islander population in the country, behind Honolulu, Los Angeles, and San Jose/San Francisco. There are more than 32,000 Pacific Islanders here. They are a visible presence in our city.
So this month, let’s all try especially hard to be inclusive. If you are planning a celebration at your school or workplace, consider including friends outside of the “Asian” circle. ♦