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Celebrate APA Heritage Month

May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. Just as we celebrate the rich history and contributions of our Black, Latino, and American Indian brothers and sisters, so too should we recognize, appreciate, and celebrate the vibrant and diverse culture of Asian Americans. To accompany this article, you can also read about 14 Important Statistics About the Asian American Population.

Asian Pride in Tha' House

APA Heritage Month was first established in 1977 when Representatives Frank Horton and Norman Mineta and Senators Daniel Inouye and Spark Matsunaga introduced resolutions asking the President to declare the first ten days of May (the month when the first Japanese immigrants arrived in the U.S. in 1843) as Asian/Pacific Heritage Week. In 1978 President Carter made it an annual event and in 1990, President George H.W. Bush proclaimed the entire month of May to be Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

Asian Americans and non-Asians usually celebrate by eating at Asian restaurants or attending one of the numerous APA Heritage festivals or parades organized each May by Asian American community organizations, where they can taste the different foods from various Asian countries, watch cultural performances, and learn more about Asian American history and culture.

Let there be no doubt that these kinds of celebrations are wonderful, fun, and highly recommended. At the same time, we should also keep in mind what it is we're really celebrating. In other words, what does it mean to be proud of one's Asian American heritage?

Chinese Festival Lanterns © Keren Su/Corbis

For me, celebrating my APA heritage means lots of things. First, I am proud that the history of my ancestors goes back 20 generations -- twice as long as the U.S. has even existed. The point is that I feel very fortunate to have two sets of cultures to enjoy -- American and Vietnamese. Rather than divide my identity in half, these two sets of experiences double my understanding, appreciation, and enjoyment of the world around me.

Second, I'm proud to share in the accomplishments of all Asian Americans before me. That includes those who are well-known and famous who worked to shatter the old myths and stereotypes against us, like Bruce Lee, members of the 442nd Regimental Unit in World War II, and Maxine Hong Kingston -- and those who remain relatively obscure in the realms of history but whose accomplishments are no less impressive and inspiring. These include the Chinese miners who died building the Transcontinental Railroad, the Japanese Americans who endured their illegal imprisonment during World War II, and everyday Asian immigrant families who work tirelessly to improve their lives and build a future for their children.

Finally, I memorialize the sacrifices and suffering that many Asian Americans went through so that our community could unite and fight for their justice -- heroes such as Fred Korematsu and Vincent Chin. May their legacy serve to inspire us for generations to come and may the lives of all those before me serve to illustrate the diversity and beauty of what it means to be Asian American.

The Asia Society recently produced the following YouTube video that illustrates the different ways that various notable Asian Americans around the country identify as Asian American and what it means to them to claim that identity (they also have extended clips at their YouTube channel).

How You Can Celebrate

The following is written by Rodney Jay C. Salinas, formerly of the Rainmaker Political Group LLC, and he suggests different ways of celebrating APA Heritage Month.

As a federal law, APA Heritage Month is observed throughout the country. Many federal departments and agencies host official observances during the month of May. Such events host important speakers, cultural performances, traditional foods, etc. Across the nation, local Asian Pacific American organizations host their own events to celebrate the month. But the true celebration begins with the individual. Below are ten good things that all of us can do to learn more about ourselves and raise broad awareness of this special occasion.

10. Instead of just eating at an Asian restaurant, talk to the owners. Learn more about their stories, how they went about establishing their business, the obstacles they've faced, local issues that they care about as business-owners. It will give you a better sense of just how difficult it is to establish a business, especially if the owners are first-generation immigrants.

9. Attend an Asian Pacific American temple, mosque, or church, even if it's not your own religion. There are thousands of religious establishments that were created by and for Asian Pacific Americans. By learning about a person's religion or spiritual beliefs, you can get a better sense of his or her value system and motivation.

8. Get as many members of your family together in one place and just enjoy each other's company. Put the mah jong tables away for one weekend. Talk about your family's history. How did your family come to the United States? Where did they first settle? What kinds of hardships did they face?

APA Heritage Month poster © HMS Co.

7. Flip through any popular magazine and carefully look at how they portray Asian Pacific Americans. Are the portrayals negative? Positive? Are the women portrayed as "exotic, sex symbols?" What other kinds of stereotypes are depicted? What kind of message do you think this sends to other readers?

6. Spend a few hours and talk to a young person. Don't talk about superficial garbage. Ask them tough, thought-provoking questions. Have you been asked to try drugs? Have you been pressured by your friends to have sex? Have you ever thought about suicide? Are you afraid of violence in your own school? Do you get picked on because you're Asian Pacific American? Hopefully, they'll give you honest, direct answers, and you'll know just the kinds of pressures facing the youth of today.

5. Chances are, you might have a friend or know of someone who was adopted. Every year, more and more children from Asia are being adopted by non-Asian families in the United States. Ask your friend about his or her experiences growing up: was it difficult growing up as an Asian Pacific American with Caucasian or African American parents? Were you exposed to your Asian culture?

4. Visit the Census Bureau's Web site, type in your city and state, and look up the most recent demographics of your area. This is an excellent way to survey your surroundings and understand how the population is shifting. In many cases, you'll see a significant increase in the Asian Pacific American population.

3. Go to your local bookstore and pick up a book. The book doesn't even need to be specifically about Asian Pacific Americans, as long as it's written by one. Because each author writes through their unique "lens" and their perspective is reflected in their writing, the book could be about anything under the sun (i.e., popular culture, fiction, biography, etc.).

2. Do a little bit of personal reflection. Ask yourself some basic questions: Do I really identify as an Asian Pacific American? How much does my nationality or ethnic heritage affect my daily life? Do I think that members of my nationality or ethnic group are superior to others? The answers might enlighten (or scare) you.

1. Tell a non-Asian Pacific American that May is recognized as Asian Pacific American month! This is perhaps the simplest, yet most effective way to raise awareness. Tell him or her what it means to you, invite them to a local event, or share an historical fact with them.

Author Citation

Copyright © 2001- by C.N. Le. Some rights reserved. Creative Commons License

Suggested reference: Le, C.N. . "Celebrate APA History Month" Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. <> ().

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