Recognizing the history, culture, and contributions of underrepresented ethnic groups and their roles in enriching American history is the primary goal of heritage and history month celebrations. May’s celebration focuses on Asian American and Pacific Islander heritage—one of the fastest growing, diverse, and underrepresented groups in America.
Asian and Pacific Islander people encompass all the Asian continent and the Pacific island groups of Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia—including the Hawaiian Islands. In all walks of life, people from Asia and the Pacific islands have played profoundly important roles in American history, contributing to, and shaping the rich heritage of the U.S. in countless ways.
TDS employee Lindsey recognizes the importance of celebrating and preserving culture. Her daughter, named Moelaponoho’okalani (right), is of Native Hawaiian and Japanese descent. She is called “Hapa” by her family and also goes by “Moela,” which means “Queen of Heaven.” She was named by her great grandmother as a tribute to her great aunt and namesake.
Moela’s Hawaiian and Japanese heritage has played a great role throughout her young life. Since she was a young child, Moela has trained in Tahitian dance and traditional hula. Along with her Tutu (grandmother) and aunties, she has performed at many luaus. Her Tutu also passed along many traditions, including traditional food knowledge and recipes—which have been especially useful throughout the social isolation period.
“As a mother of a different ethnicity, it is incredibly important for me to be involved and understand the culture and history of my daughter’s ancestors,” said Lindsey. “I believe that understanding your own family’s story builds strong identity and confidence in children, and we’ve done this by immersing Moela in native Hawaiian culture and language. This month provides many opportunities for both Asian American and Pacific Islander people, as well as others, to learn more and embrace the culture.”
May was selected as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month for two primary reasons. May 7, 1843, was the day of the first Japanese immigration to America. The month was also chosen to mark the anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869.
The 2,000-mile continuous railroad, which linked the United States from the East to the West, was built primarily from the labor of local emigrant Chinese. Cross-country travel emerged following the construction of this railroad. The first transcontinental telephone line also followed the transcontinental railroad.
Today, Asian Americans are the fastest growing population in the nation—growing by more than 25% from 2010 to 2017. To learn more about the history of Asian Americans, check out a new five-part PBS documentary called “Asian Americans.” The show premiered Monday and Tuesday of this week and is produced entirely by an Asian American team of filmmakers. It represents the first comprehensive look at Asian American history, including the impact on the country’s collective identity.
According to Executive Director Stephen Gong of the Center for Asian American Media, “These are American stories. Stories of resilience in the face of racism, of overcoming challenges as refugees from war and strife, of making contributions in all sectors of society: business, technology, military service, and the arts.”
Be sure to check your local PBS schedule and tune in to the series!
Like most commemorative months, Asian Pacific American Heritage Month originated in a Congressional Bill. In 1977, U.S. Representatives Frank Horton (New York) and Norman Y. Mineta (California) introduced a House resolution to proclaim the first 10 days of May Asian Pacific American Heritage Week. The following month, the two U.S. Senators from Hawaii introduced a similar bill in the Senate. The next year, President Jimmy Carter signed the Joint Resolution designating the annual 10-day celebration. Twelve years later, President George H.W. Bush signed an extension, making it a month-long celebration. In 1992, the official designation of May as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month was officially signed into law.
By Garrett Seymour, Communications Intern