Celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month
It feels like we blinked and it was May and now we’re in a month in which there always seems to be so much to celebrate. Mother’s Day might be the obvious holiday that stands out or maybe you have someone in your life graduating from college or even high school. Of course, there is Memorial Day weekend which whether you observe the actual holiday or just make plans for a fun 3-day weekend, that always tends to mark the unofficial start of summer. So while these are all holidays/events you should happily celebrate, we’d like to encourage all our partners, clients and supporters to celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month first and foremost. And we want set the reminder that just like Black History Month and Women’s History Month, the work you do this month should carry on throughout the year, every year. Like always, we’ll give you some places to start.
May was specifically chosen to commemorate the first wave of Japanese Immigrants to the US on May 7, 1843. It also celebrates the anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869, which was primarily built by Chinese immigrants who worked for little pay in extremely harsh conditions. It took until 1979 for a president to actually sign a proclamation to celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander communities, and when President Jimmy Carter signed this proclamation, he designated only a week. And it wasn’t until 1992, that Congress made an amendment to celebrate for an entire month. What is more egregious and worth noting is that it wasn't until 1943 that the US lifted the federal policy banning immigrants of Asian descent to naturalize and become citizens.
Who are we talking about when we say AAPI?
Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders may seem like a broad term and that’s because it is. The Asian Pacific Institute defines the term to include “all people of Asian, Asian American or Pacific Islander ancestry who trace their origins to the countries, states, jurisdictions and/or the diasporic communities of these geographic regions.” This covers a whole lot of ground given that there are 50 countries that make up Asia and the World Bank's Pacific Island member countries total 11. That’s a lot of different cultures to celebrate in just 31 days... that’s why we really like the idea of continuing education throughout your lifetime. But the biggest takeaway here is that the AAPI community is NOT a monolith. There are many different communities under this extremely broad term and the struggles and the privileges are not the same. It’s on us to do the research while also ensuring we’re listening to AAPI leaders, scholars, activists as well as team members and friends who decide to share their expertise and lived experiences.
Take Action: Learn and Support
One leader we’d like to highlight is Miriam Warren who is the Chief Diversity Officer at Yelp and also happens to be Filipino American. She led her team to create a great resource, “API Allyship Guide” filled with some beginning tools and resources to become a better ally for the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities including how to learn about the real histories of different APPI communities and how you can support the AAPI today.
Back in March, we wrote about the violence that is happening to the AAPI community that has increased during the pandemic due to fear mongering rhetoric spoken by leaders on national platforms. We have to talk about the violence that is happening today and the violence that has been happening since the 1800s.
As important as these conversations are, however, we cannot limit ourselves to only talking about BIPOC trauma. We must celebrate the cultures, accomplishments and contributions of the AAPI community. Just this year we inaugurated our first Indian-American (and Black and woman!) Vice President, Kamala Harris, into office. And how would we have even functioned during this entire pandemic without Eric Yuan (Chinese American), founder and CEO of Zoom? Or the co-founders of Doordash, Andy Fang, Stanley Tang and Tony Xu (also all Chinese American)? And let’s not leave out Netflix and the Head of Global TV, Bela Bajaria (Indian-American). And there are so many other incredible AAPI leaders who deserve to be recognized. Gold House, a nonprofit collective of Asian and Pacific Islander cultural leaders, announced this year's A100 honorees -- we encourage you to look at this list and learn more about these influential people.
Lastly, don’t forget to support and amplify your local AAPI small businesses and leaders as well. And we’ll say it one more time, just for good measure, do this work beyond the month of May!
Written by Katie Avila Loughmiller