May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month (AAPIHM). AAPIHM is dedicated to celebrating, honoring, and amplifying the vibrant and diverse histories, cultures, and contributions of the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities.
What does AAPI mean?
The acronym AAPI stands for Asian American and Pacific Islander. The terms Asian American and Pacific Islander are both complex in their own right, with each identity encompassing a multitude of ethnic groups. There are approximately 50 ethics groups and well over 100 languages spoken amongst AAPI communities. AAPI communities span across the entire Asian continent, including East, Southeast, and South Asian, and the Pacific Islands of Polynesia, Micronesia, and Melanesia. Breaking it down even further, each of these regions includes much diversity among ethnic groups. According to CSU San Marcos here are the following breakdowns of the regional diaspora:
- East Asians refer to people from China (including Macau and Hong Kong), Korea, Japan, Okinawa, Taiwan, and Mongolia.
- South Asians refer to people from the following countries: Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. Ethnic groups include Sindhi, Gujarati, Punjabi, Tamil, and many others.
- Southeast Asians refer to people from the following countries and ethnic groups: Burma, Brunei, Cambodia (Khmer, Cham, KhmerLoeu), Indonesia, Laos (Hmong, Lao, Lao Loum, Iu Mien, Khmu, Tai Dam, Tai Leu, and many other ethnic groups), Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Timor-Leste, Philippines, and Vietnam (Vietnamese, Khmer Kampuchea Krom, Montagnards).
- Pacific Islandersrefer to those whose origins are the original peoples of Polynesia, Micronesia, and Melanesia.
- Polynesia includes Hawaii, Samoa, American Samoa, Tokelau, Tahiti, and Tonga.
- Micronesia includes Guam (Guamanian or Chamorro), Mariana Islands, Saipan, Palau, Yap, Chuuk, Pohnpei, Kosrae, Marshall Islands, and Kiribati.
- Melanesia includes Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu.
These breakdowns help to emphasize the complexity and diversity amongst AAPI communities. As Margaret Huang, president and CEO of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) said, “Asia is an extraordinarily enormous region of the world … so the experiences of Asian Americans are not uniform by any stretch.” Though some may share similar struggles, histories, cultural values, or traditions, they also share many differences within these same categories, whether it be language, music, food, dance, way of life, or strife.
History of AAPIHM
The term Asian-American was coined in 1968 by UC Berkeley graduate students who were creating a student organization that was meant to increase the visibility of Asian students. Inspired by other movements at the time such as the American Indian Movement and the Black Power movement, the students wanted terminology to unite those of Asian heritage. The students named their group the Asian American Political Alliance (AAPA), thus coining “Asian American.” Before this, people of Asian descent were often grouped under the racial slur “oriental.” The Times writes, ““Asian American” wasn’t just a handy umbrella term: by uniting those subgroups linguistically, it also helped unite activists in their fight for greater equality.”
The history of AAPI Heritage Month is relatively new, established only 30 years ago in 1992. However, like most heritage months APPIHM began as a commemorative week. Joint Resolution 1007 was introduced in 1978 by New York representative Frank Horton, proposing that the President declare the first 10 days of May “Asian/Pacific American Heritage Week,” beginning in May 1979. The resolution was successful, after the previous year's failure to pass it. On October 5, 1978, then-President Jimmy Carter signed it into Public Law 95-419, deeming the first 10 days of May “Asian/Pacific American Heritage Week.”
It wasn’t until over a decade later in 1990 that Congress expanded the observance to a month. In 1992, the George H. W. Bush administration passed Public Law 102-540, deeming the entire month of May Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month. In 2009, the observance was renamed Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.
The Importance of AAPIHM
Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have a long history in the United States, with these communities making significant contributions to all aspects of American society, “including science and medicine, literature and art, sports and recreation, government and politics, and activism and law.” It is important to take time this month to educate ourselves and learn about not only the struggles these communities have endured but more importantly their resiliency in the face of violence and hate.
AAPIHM is important because it is a time to celebrate a large portion of our population. According to the 2019 Census, there were about 24 million people of AAPI descent, 22.2 million Asians and 1.6 million Pacific Islanders, making up around 7.3% of the U.S. population. This is a diverse and growing population, with a 2021 Pew Research Center report finding that Asian Americans are the fastest-growing racial or ethnic group in the United States. Between 2000 and 2019, the Asian population grew an astounding 81 percent.
Finally, with the rise in AAPI hate due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month is arguably more important than ever. Education and appreciation of the great many cultures that comprise the AAPI identity is vital to overcoming false narratives that are driven by fear of the unknown. Having a commemorative month is a great way to start conversations surrounding AAPI communities, and presents an opportune time for sharing, education, and remembrance. AAPHIM allows us to create and strengthen community, raise consciousness, and build connection. So, this month, take the time to talk to friends, family, and coworkers to create dialogue, listen and learn.
How you can Celebrate:
Here are just a few ways that you can celebrate and honor Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders this month:
- Explore AAPI history;
- Be aware of issues the AAPI communities still face today;
- Learn about the beautifully diverse communities and cultures that make up the AAPI community;
- Explore AAPI cultures by listening to their music, tasting their cuisine, and admiring their art;
- Support AAPI-owned businesses;
- Consume AAPI created materials: read books, watch movies, listen to podcasts;
- Learn about Santa Rosa’s Asian ‘Sister City’ Jeju, South Korea:
Our South Korean Sister: Jeju and the Dol Hareubang Statues
What the MCRP is doing to Commemorate AAPIHM
Historically and currently, Asian American and Pacific Islander narratives are often inaccurate or entirely left out of our history books, lessons, and mainstream media. The Multicultural Roots Project hopes that by sharing the stories of members of our local AAPI community that we can uplift and celebrate the diversity of the AAPI communities and highlight their contributions in Santa Rosa, Sonoma County, and beyond.
In celebration of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, the Multicultural Roots Project will be highlighting five local AAPI community members who have and who are making noteworthy contributions to both our local community and beyond. These individuals are Rima Makaryan, Melvin Encarnacion, Wendy Curnow, Laurie Fong, and Henry Kaku. We also encourage our readers to take a look at some of the incredible stories that have been highlighted since November 2020 and learn about the many personal journeys, contributions, impacts, and pivotal roles each community member has played in Santa Rosa and Sonoma County’s history.
Linked below are some of the amazing stories highlighting some of our AAPI community members:
Grace Cheung-Schulman: Volunteering to Find and Foster Community
Dr. Frank Chong: The Man Who Has Worn Many Hats
Remembering Detective Marylou Armer
Margie Talaugon: Finding Happiness in Community
Inocencio and Felisa Asuelo: Gone but not Forgotten
Kanaye Nagasawa: The Wine King of California
World War II: Japanese Americans in Sonoma County
Mei Takaya Nakano: Esteemed Author, Publisher and Human Rights Activist
In 1968, These Activists Coined the Term 'Asian American'—And Helped Shape Decades of Advocacy
Asian American and Pacific Islander | NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness
What AAPI Means, and Why AAPIHM Falls in May
Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month - Origins, Themes & Populations - HISTORY
Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month – 8 Ways to Celebrate 31 Days
Defining Diaspora: Asian, Pacific Islander, and Desi Identities | Cross-Cultural Center | CSUSM.
Asian Americans are the fastest growing group in the U.S., report finds
This story was researched and written by Madelynn Cox, Community Engagement AmeriCorps VISTA.