In 1992, the United States Congress passed Public Law 102-450, which formally designated May as Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month. May was considered historically significant since it marked the arrival of the first Japanese immigrants (May 7, 1843) and the completion of the transcontinental railroad (May 10, 1869), also known as Golden Spike Day (1)--an astounding feat made possible by the efforts of 20,000 Chinese laborers (2).
Asian/Pacific Americans (APA) or Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) are a diverse group of people, and these terms "encompass [people with near or distant origins from] all of the Asian continent [such as China, Japan, Korea, Cambodia, Malaysia, India, Pakistan, Thailand, Vietnam, and the Philippines] and the Pacific islands of Melanesia (New Guinea, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Fiji and the Solomon Islands), Micronesia (Marianas, Guam, Wake Island, Palau, Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Nauru and the Federated States of Micronesia) and Polynesia (New Zealand, Hawaiian Islands, Rotuma, Midway Islands, Samoa, American Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, Cook Islands, French Polynesia and Easter Island)" (3).
Asian American and Pacific Islanders have rich and complicated stories--both because the cultures, mores, traditions, languages, and histories are so varied and complex, and because of the continuing legacy of white supremacy and systemic racism that has dehumanized, disempowered, and mischaracterized Asian/Pacific peoples, often constructing them as dangerous "others" or "model minorities" (4). These distorted and biased categories are not, as they might first appear, on opposite sides of the spectrum but are imbricated and mutable (5).
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Asians and Asian Americans have been subjected to innuendo, slurs, and violence. The Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, has reported that Asian-American hate crimes rose 145% in 2020, "with the first spike occurring in March and April amidst a rise in COVID cases and negative stereotyping of Asians relating to the pandemic" (6). Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and their allies have organized rallies and campaigns designed to educate the public and to "Stop AAPI Hate" that has grown from misinformation and racial scapegoating.
Simply stopping hate or embracing tolerance are not enough--cherishing and celebrating our diversity is what is needed. Commemorate Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month this year by learning about AAPI culture and history, and by valuing the stories of Asian/Pacific Americans and their tellers.
Left: Juniors in Hawaii. September 23, 1919. Photographed by the American Red Cross. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division; Center left: Nyssa. Oregon. Japanese-Americans have baseball game. July 1942. Photographed by Russell Lee. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division; Center right: Portrait of the Artist [Dramatist, Ayad Akhtar]. Etching by Shahzia Sikander. Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery; Right: [Korean American dancers performing in] Civic Center Plaza Ethnic Dance Festival, Chicago, Illinois. Image 22. July 1, 1977. Library of Congress American Folklife Center.
(1)."About Asian/Pacific Heritage Month." https://asianpacificheritage.gov/. (2). Chinese Railroad Workers in North America Project at Stanford University. 2019. (3). "About Asian/Pacific Heritage Month." https://asianpacificheritage.gov/. (4). Nguyen, V. T. (June 26, 2020). "Asian Americans Are Still Caught in the Trap of the ‘Model Minority’ Stereotype. And It Creates Inequality for All." Time. Time.com. (5). Li, Y. and Nicholson, H.L., Jr. (2021). "When “Model Minorities” become “Yellow Peril”—Othering and the Racialization of Asian Americans in the COVID‐19 Pandemic." Sociology Compass, 15: e12849. https://doi.org/10.1111/soc4.12849. (6). Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino. FACT SHEET: Anti-Asian Prejudice. March 2021. https://www.csusb.edu/sites/default/files/FACT%20SHEET-%20Anti-Asian%20Hate%202020%20rev%203.21.21.pdf.
Left: Poster from SALGA NYC (South Asian Lesbian and Gay Association of New York City) event. Asian/Pacific/American Archives; right: Shown [in photo] with their trays at the salad counter in one of New York City's famous Automat restaurants just off Fifth Avenue are Barbara Yamamoto, Gila; Akira Kashiki, Colorado River; May Tomio, Granada; and Sam Kai, Tule Lake and Jerome. Photographer: Iwasaki, Hikaru. New York, New York, 1944. The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.