May is Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, a time to celebrate and honor the contributions and achievements of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians (NHs), and Pacific Islanders throughout history. This month recognizes the diverse cultures, traditions, and histories of individuals from Asia and the Pacific Islands who have made significant impacts on American society.
What does it mean to be Asian American, Pacific Islander, and/or Native Hawaiian?
This is an incredibly diverse group. The Asian Pacific region contains more than 60% of the world population, and more than 25 million Americans identify as AAPI and Native Hawaiian (per the 2020 U.S. Census). Among this group are approximately 50 distinct ethnic groups and more than 100 native languages. These cultures bring with them myriad foods, art, textiles, cultural celebrations, and traditions.
How did Asian American Pacific Island Month get started?
AAPI Heritage Month has its origins in the late 1970s, when several bills were brought to Congress to recognize the contributions of Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, and Native Hawaiians through a heritage week in early May. An official resolution was signed by President Jimmy Carter in 1978. In 1990, the weeklong observance was expanded to encompass the month of May.
AAPIs and NHs have made significant contributions to every aspect of American life, from art and culture to science and technology. From the Japanese-American internment camp art of Miné Okubo to the modern-day works of Korean-American artist Do Ho Suh, AAPI artists have left an indelible mark on American culture. Other notable artists include Maya Lin, the Chinese-American architect who designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and David Henry Hwang, the Chinese-American playwright who wrote M. Butterfly.
AAPIs have also made significant contributions to science and technology. Dr. Michio Kaku, a Japanese-American physicist, is a renowned expert in the field of theoretical physics. Dr. Chien-Shiung Wu, a Chinese-American physicist, played a critical role in the Manhattan Project and was the first woman to receive an honorary doctorate from Princeton University.
Despite their many important contributions, AAPIs and NHs have faced significant challenges in America. From the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 to the Japanese-American internment camps of World War II, AAPIs and NHs have been excluded and discriminated against in many aspects of American life. The COVID-19 Pandemic ignited new prejudices and increased violence against Asian Americans, and AAPIs and NHs continue to face discrimination and prejudice in many areas of American society.