Happy AAPI Heritage Month! Let’s Learn About It.

May 1, 20234 Minutes

Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month is celebrated in May across the U.S. During this month, we celebrate the rich heritage and diversity of AAPI cultures. “AAPI” is a broad term that aims to encapsulate those whose ancestry and cultures come from the Asian continent and Pacific Island regions.  

About AAPI Heritage Month 

May was chosen to celebrate the AAPI community because it is the same month the first Japanese immigrants arrived in the U.S. in 1843. The month also marks the anniversary of the Transcontinental Railroad completion.  

The Transcontinental Railroad construction brought more than 15,000 Asian travelers, most of whom were Chinese. Chinese immigrants made up about 90% of the railroad workers. They were largely employed by the Central Pacific Railroad based out of Sacramento, California, and suffered many forms of oppression such as wrongful imprisonment, unfair wages, and dangerous working conditions. The railroad was completed in 1859. 

In 1992, President George H.W. Bush designated May as AAPI Heritage Month to celebrate the accomplishments of people of API descent. However, there are important reminders to consider during this month.  

Dr. Sunaina Maira, an Asian American Studies professor at UC Davis, described the purpose of AAPI Heritage month as a month to celebrate diversity, but not just for the sake of diversity. 

“Heritage months can become sort of superficial and tokenistic celebrations of difference,” Maira said. “We’re not necessarily thinking about the struggles.” 

While AAPI Heritage Month is a chance to celebrate, it’s also an opportunity to learn more about AAPI cultures and the complex history of AAPI groups in the U.S.  

How it’s celebrated 

California’s history is intertwined with amazing stories of AAPI immigrants and their resilience in the face of oppression. Currently in California, there are more than 6 million Asians or people of Asian descent and around 221,000 people of Pacific Island descent. That is about 18% of the total population of California. When we celebrate this month, we are paying tribute to those who paved the way for AAPIs and those who are continuing to build it. Some common celebrations include festivals, sharing AAPI foods, and cultural music and performances.  

The AAPI community includes so many diverse and beautiful cultures from the Asian diaspora, all of which should be celebrated and highlighted.  

How you can get involved 

Although we have made great progress toward inclusivity and equality, many social injustices continue to affect AAPI groups and thus our wider community as a whole.  

Due to the rise in hate crimes during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the Stop AAPI Hate campaign was organized to stand up against the vicious verbal and physical attacks many in the AAPI community faced. AAPI hate crimes in the U.S. have existed since the first Asian immigrants arrived. From attacks after 9-11 on West, Southwest, and South Asian groups to red-lined communities that experience decreased funding or gerrymandering, the discrimination and violence is visible throughout U.S. history. There are many resources we can currently use to combat the systemic oppression of people of API descent. You can get involved with some below.  

Written by: Sia Patel

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