April 23, 2015

What does AAPI Heritage Month mean to our communities?

by Jillian Toda
APANO Strong Families member, 2013-2014 Graduate of the Asian Pacific Islander Community Leadership Institute


noun her·i·tage \ˈher-ə-tij, ˈhe-rə-\
the traditions, achievements, beliefs, etc., that are part of the history of a group or nation

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month (AAPIHM). During this month, society recognizes our communities for the achievements we’ve made in this nation, which simultaneously recognizes that API’s have played an integral role to the development of the United States. When we live in a society that often refuses to portray API’s as anything but perpetual foreigners, AAPIHM is essential. Its evolution is also important in understanding how we celebrate this month within our communities.

When did AAPIHM begin?

In 1978, Congress passed a Joint Resolution to designate the week beginning on May 4, 1979 as “Asian/Pacific American Heritage Week.” President Jimmy Carter approved this joint resolution on October 5, 1978. Then, on March 28, 1879, President Carter issued a Proclamation about APA Heritage Week, which declared that “Asian Americans have played a significant role in the creation of a dynamic and pluralistic America, with their enormous contributions to our science, arts, industry, government and commerce.” This week was designated to recognize and celebrate Asian and Pacific American contributions to society.

This single week was later expanded to a month in 1990, when Congress passed an act to amend the original joint resolution. The entire month of May was declared “Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month” by President George H.W. Bush, who issued a proclamation on May 7, 1990. In his statement, President Bush emphasized the high quality of achievements made by API’s:

“Today, men and women of Asian and Pacific ancestry continue to make important contributions to our Nation. In science, commerce, education, and the arts, Asian and Pacific Americans are not only sharing with us their unique talents and ideas, but also setting high standards of achievement.”

So, why the month of May for AAPIHM? This month is actually used because of key historical events that the 1990 proclamation points to. May 7, 1843 marked the first Japanese immigrants arriving to the US. President Bush also cited “Golden Spoke” day on May 10, 1869 - when the first transcontinental railroad in the US was completed - as a reason to celebrate Asian and Pacific Islanders in May since Chinese and Japanese laborers were instrumental to building the railroad.

Recognition for all API’s

As I read through the texts by past presidents that gave reasoning for AAPIHM, I could see a tension that is ever-present in our community. While recognition for API’s is something we strive for, the high standards of achievement that our predecessors set has placed us all in a trap of being seen as the “Model Minority” - the belief that all API’s are high-achieving and don’t face societal obstacles. This, of course, is not true. Our communities are so diverse. What message does society send when a heritage month that is supposed to honor all API’s was arbitrarily chosen because of a few coincidental events in May? There is so much complexity among API’s. Our greatest contributions to this nation are not only what our ethnic communities do, but what we achieve together as a larger community.

Join us on Thursday, May 7th, 2015 for our annual Voices of Change Celebration to celebrate AAPI Heritage Month! Event runs from 6:30-9:00pm for an evening of cultural performances, delectable food and the fellowship of 200+ supporters and friends. We are thrilled to host the event this year in the Jade District, Portland’s International District. We will be at the home of the 2015 International Night Market, which attracted over 20,000 visitors last year. For sponsorship and volunteer opportunities, please contact Office & Events Manager, Melissa Magana at melissa@apano.org or call 971-340-4861. We look forward to celebrating with you!

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