The US Celebrates Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

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by Chris Feddersen
Julie Chu, of the medal-winning US Women's Olympic ice hockey team, and Nina Davuluri, Miss America 2014, both participated in the #IAMBEYOND initiave, the theme of this year's Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. Image: Darren Shim/The White House.

Designated as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (APAHM) by an Act of the US Congress in 1992, May offers a concentration of events, programs and commemorations recognizing the contributions of the Asian American, Pacific Islander and Native Hawaiian communities to the nation.

This May, the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) and the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center are celebrating the theme, “I Am Beyond” [#IAMBEYOND] which, according to AAPI,  “captures the aspirations of the American spirit and how Americans of Asian and Pacific Islander descent have always sought to excel beyond the challenges that have limited equal opportunity in America.”

It was on May 7, 1843 that the first Japanese immigrants entered the US and on May 10, 1869, Golden Spike Day, that the American transcontinental railroad was completed. The achievement of the transcontinental railroad was made possible by the dangerous work undertaken by Chinese immigrants. This May, after 145 years, those laborers will receive recognition in the Labor Hall of Honor.  

APAHM was first begun in 1977 when Rep. Frank Horton of New York and Rep. Norman Mineta of California introduced a House Resolution to call the first ten days of May, “Asian Pacific American Heritage Week”. The continuing tradition of APAHM is notable for having expanded from college campuses and federal agencies to include local cultural groups, civic organizations and individuals throughout mainstream America.     

The Asian American Peace Officers of Georgia, for example, is holding a celebration and fundraising dinner this month benefiting local scholarships and community outreach programs. And utility company, Southern California Edison (SCE), is celebrating its ninth annual Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month celebration in Rosemead, California.

In his annual APAHM proclamation on May 1, President Obama noted that,  “with courage, grit, and an abiding belief in American ideals, Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders have challenged our Nation to be better.”