AAPI Heritage Month

Someone has to think of an idea in order for it to become a reality. Many special occasions and special designations have come from a simple idea which was presented to Congress.

In 1977, a former Congressional staffer, Jeanie Jew, approached Representative Frank Horton of New York with the idea to designate a period of time each year to Asian Americans. She and another Congressional staffer, Ruby Moy, discussed the matter with Representative Horton and with Representative Norman Y. Mineta of California. Representatives Horton and Mineta introduced a resolution in the United States House of Representatives to proclaim the first ten days of May as Asian Pacific Heritage Week. The Senate had a similar bill introduced a month later by Senators Daniel Inouye and Spark Matsunaga, both from Hawaii.

The resolutions proposed sought to designate the month of May as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month for two main reasons. The first Japanese immigrant arrived in the United States on May 7, 1843. On May 10, 1869, the Golden Spike was driven into the First Transcontinental Railroad at Promontory Point in Utah, which was completed using many Chinese laborers. President Jimmy Carter signed a joint resolution for the celebration on October 5, 1978.

With unanimous support from both the Senate and the House of Representatives, Public Law 103-450 was signed by President George H. W. Bush in October 1992 to permanently designate the whole month of May as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. The month of May is now called the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month.

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May is officially AAPI Heritage Month to pay homage to Asian American and Pacific Islander accomplishments and to celebrate diversity in this country. Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have a rich heritage which is thousands of years old. They have helped to shape the history of the United States. They have made significant contributions to the American society in all areas from business and politics to arts and literature. It is fitting to have a month to celebrate the rich culture and heritage of the AAPI communities.

Over the years in the history of the United States, there have been many examples of racism against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. They have had to face many difficult situations where they were discriminated against and treated unfairly. Yet they have persevered and come out ahead even though the racism has not completely subsided. There are still case of prejudice, hatred, and outright racism against many diverse groups including Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. One of the most egregious acts of injustice was the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II when 120,000 were forcibly removed from their homes on the west coast of the continental United States and imprisoned in the American concentration camps for years. It is necessary to be ever vigilant and to continue to work toward civil rights for all so that such injustices are not perpetrated against other people.

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Although the month of May 2020 saw many AAPI Heritage Month events cancelled because of the Covid-19 pandemic, there were virtual celebrations held throughout the nation. AAPI groups are looking forward to holding the annual events again next year in 2021. Plans will be made and events will be held to celebrate the diversity and the accomplishments of the AAPI community.

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by Irene Mori