IDEA Public Schools is proud to join our nation in honoring Asian American & Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month (Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month) throughout the month of May! This community has played a significant role in shaping the history, diversity and progress of our nation, with a rich heritage that is thousands of years old. This annual celebration commemorates the contributions and achievements by Asian and Pacific Americans and serves as a time for recognizing the pivotal role of these communities in the story of the United States of America.
A rather broad term, Asian-Pacific encompasses all of the Asian continent 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).
Like most commemorative months, Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month originated with Congress. The month of May was chosen for two reasons: to commemorate the immigration of the first Japanese people to the U.S. in May 1843 and to mark the anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869 — the building of which nearly 20,000 Chinese immigrant workers participated in.
After two unpassed resolutions in 1977, Congress and the Senate passed House Joint Resolution 1007, which proposed that the president should “proclaim a week, which is to include the seventh and tenth of the month, during the first ten days in May of 1979 as ‘Asian/Pacific American Heritage Week.’” This was signed by President Jimmy Carter on October 5, 1978 to become Public Law 95-419. In 1992, Congress passed Public Law 102-450, which annually designated May as Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month.
Our mission is to support all children, regardless of race, skin color, economic status, and gender, to succeed to and through college. We champion this month as an additional opportunity to educate our students about the triumphs and struggles of Asian American & Pacific Islander history and the work ahead of us as a nation to achieve educational and racial equality.
We also recognize that even today, racism and biases against the Asian American & Pacific Islander communities still prominently exist. During the onset of the coronavirus in 2019 and 2020, AAPI communities saw increases in violence and became targets of unwarranted discrimination and hate crimes. The BBC recently reported that hate crimes against those of Asian descent were at their highest level in over a decade in 2019. Even still, we remain hopeful – rooted in the belief that our students can change the world through treating everyone with respect and dignity regardless of how they identify racially/ethnically.
As we reflect on and celebrate the unique contributions of the AAPI community in American history, we should also engage students in lessons and meaningful discussions about diversity and inclusion, Asian American & Pacific Islander history and culture and the issues affecting these communities today. By educating, empowering and encouraging our young people, we are all working together toward progress and the hope of a better tomorrow.
Despite recent hardships, in November, our nation inaugurated its first woman, first woman of color – who identifies as Black and South Asian American – and daughter of immigrants as Vice President. Also, during the 93rd Academy Awards on April 25, Asian Americans made history. Chloé Zhao received the best director award for “Nomadland,” making her the first woman of color and only the second woman to ever win the award. She received the award from “Parasite” director Bong Joon-ho, who presented the nominees entirely in Korean! We share these examples as evidence of positive change as we work together toward becoming a more equal society where diversity is celebrated.
Read more about the history and celebration of Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month or find resources for teachers or for celebrating at home at asianpacificheritage.gov. You can also check out this robust K-12 resource to help educators and students better understand AAPI communities, anti-Asian racism, bullying and COVID-19.