It’s Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (APAHM), a full month of celebrating our community’s culture, history, and traditions, while looking towards the future.
APAHM came about when Congress passed a resolution in 1978 to designate a week to celebrate Asians and Pacific Islanders in the United States. May was chosen because it’s when the first Japanese immigrants arrived in America in 1843, and when Chinese laborers finished the transcontinental railroad in 1869. But the celebration soon outgrew the constraints of a week, so President George H.W. Bush extended it to a month in 1990.
According to Pew Research, over 20 million Asian Americans trace their roots to more than 20 countries, in East and Southeast Asia, as well as the Indian subcontinent.
Choosing to celebrate all the richness and diversity of AAPIs is to affirm the beauty and inherent goodness of our cultures, to say that traditions are not merely foreign — that our foods are not exotic, and that our traditions are not perilous or immoral.
We celebrate eating durian or biryani, and it is as normal as eating meatloaf and casseroles.
For families that were forced to resettle in the United States due to crisis, war, and trauma often means losing precious history. Due to generational gaps, language barriers, and repressed memories, many in the AAPI community have to do more work to preserve and proclaim our stories. Many of us can’t communicate with those two or three generations back. There are often no official family trees, heirlooms, photo albums, or written stories.
The schools in the United States rarely teach AAPI history. And while it is improving, the AAPI experience is still underrepresented in the arts and media.
So to celebrate APAHM is the opportunity to celebrate our histories, to make our voices heard and our history known.
Today, there is a growing group of AAPI leaders and mentors who are visible and taking a stand on social justice issues. It is important for us to be visible, to serve as role models, and to know that we are a community that is thriving and learning from one another.
We may not be white, but we are here, we matter, and we are enough.