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AAPI Heritage Month: What It Is & What You Can Do Today



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San Francisco’s opening ceremony for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

Li Jianguo / Getty Images

In the US, May is the month to celebrate the history of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. While it may be easy for some people to group individuals from the East, Southeast, Indian Subcontinent, and Pacific Islands, the reality is that they have different cultures, nationalities, languages, and histories.

That’s why Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month isn’t just for ceremonies. It’s a time to learn about the history of these different cultures – encompassing everything from the major contributions Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have made to the US, to marginalization that spans generations. These experiences are especially important in light of a sharp increase in anti-Asian discrimination and violence since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.

We can suggest what to read and watch, how to take an active role, and why AAPI Heritage Month is important. Read on to find the resources and information you need to know, including what is the history of the Asian American and Pacific Islander. (And here’s how donate to organizations that address violence against the AAPI community.)

How did the AAPI month come about?

Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders were commemorated in the first week of May following a resolution passed by Congress in 1978. It was not until 1992 that the entire month of May was designated to observe the AAPI heritage with relevant activities, programs and ceremonies.

The month of May was chosen to mark two important events: the arrival of the first Japanese immigrant to the US on May 7, 1843, and the anniversary of the transcontinental railroad – completed thanks to the labor of tens of thousands of Chinese. immigrants – on May 10, 1869.

This year, AAPI Heritage Month takes place against the backdrop of an increase in anti-Asian crimes, including online harassment, during the pandemic, as some people have falsely done blamed Asian Americans for the spread of the coronavirus.

How to educate yourself or educate others

Official government websites such as those of the Library of Congress and the National Archives contain information about exhibits and educational events, as well as news articles and resources. The National Park Service also highlights places and stories related to the history of AAPI.

The United States Department of Education has released a memo with suggestions for teachers, including toolkits and lesson plans. You can also find teaching materials on the Learning for Justice website.

Where to find books during the AAPI month or anytime

If you want to delve into a novel or non-fiction literature, the following book lists can help you find the perfect match.

Where you can watch AAPI movies, documentaries and shows

If you want to stream documentaries, movies, or TV shows related to the AAPI experience, here are some ways you can do it at home.

How to participate in the AAPI month in your community

Many cities hold their own events for the AAPI month, and the easiest way to find out about a program near you is to search for “AAPI month” and enter your city. Major cities like Chicago, San Francisco and DC provide online resources for art and cultural events, concerts, discussions and more. You can also look online to find out which local businesses may be sponsoring activities.

There are also many ways to find volunteer opportunities and donate to organizations committed to tackling anti-Asian violence and discrimination.

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A protest against anti-Asian crimes in Brooklyn on April 4.

Wang Ying / Getty Images

What is the History of the Asian American and Pacific Islander?

In short, it is American history. For more than 150 years, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have played a vital role in forging American identity. From the 1850s onwards, Chinese indentured servants played an important role in building infrastructure and the economy while working in mines, railways and factories, and as farmers and fishermen. In the decades that followed, waves of immigrants, including Japanese, Korean, South Asian, and Filipino workers, replaced them as low-paid workers following legislation barring people from Asian countries from citizenship rights and more.

The pattern of Asian immigration in the US correlated with the demands of the early industrialists and agricultural traders. During times of changing labor needs, land expansion, economic recession and war, Asian immigrants faced intense discrimination and anti-immigrant violence.

For example, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 denied naturalization of Chinese immigrants and severely restricted immigration from China over the next 60 years. The 1917 Immigration Act banned all immigration from the Asia-Pacific region, and the 1924 Asian Exclusion Act banned entry to Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, and South Asian Indians, banning naturalization. During World War II, the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration interned approximately 120,000 people of Japanese descent, including American civilians.

Many Asian immigrants were brutally detained and turned away on Angel Island, also known as the Ellis Island of the West. It wasn’t until 1952 that the US government overturned the ban on naturalization for Asian immigrants. But laws remained discriminatory until 1965, when, in response to the struggles of the civil rights movement, the US government changed its policies and overturned the restrictive quotas. Today, Asian Americans are the fastest growing racial and ethnic group in the US.

For more information on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and the coronavirus, call it the ‘Chinese virus’ here led to an increase in violence and death. And here’s how anti-Asian harassment and hateful rhetoric increased online.


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