The History Behind AAPI Heritage Month

Devon Garutti

In the 1970s, former congressional staffer Jeanie Jew and Representative Frank Horton, developed a resolution to be presented to Congress that would proclaim the first ten days of May as Asian-Pacific Heritage Week. In the fall of 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed a joint resolution, recognizing the first ten days of May as such. The first instance of this week was in May of 1979. Years later, under the administration of George H. W. Bush in 1990, a bill was passed in Congress to change Asian-American Heritage Week to the whole month of May. This legislation was put into place in 1993, and the first official AAPI Heritage Month took place that year.

The month of May was chosen to celebrate the Asian community because of its long-lasting history. There are two events that mark historical landmarks, the first being on May 7th of 1843, when the first Japanese Immigrant, a 14-year-old named Manjiro, stepped foot in the United States. The second was May 10th of 1869, marked by the completion of the transcontinental railroad, which was worked on by roughly 20,000 Chinese immigrants. These events are incredibly historic and are cited as being the main reasons for May being chosen as the month for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

To celebrate this month, Sen. Bill Nelson, a NASA administrator, released a quote saying “Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders make valuable contributions to every aspect of our society, including NASA’s missions and successes. This year’s AAPI Heritage Month brings heightened awareness and significance, given the recent violence directed against Asian Americans.” This year, in celebration of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage month, NASA also released a video highlighting some of their employees who themselves are Asian/ Pacific Islanders or who are of Asian/ Pacific Islander descent. Along with the release of this video, they are taking the month of May to highlight the stories of many of these and other employees who are a part of the AAPI community.  

Many other major corporations and organizations have made efforts to show support for the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. On May 3rd, the Madison Square Park Shake Shack location sold an exclusive burger that was a partnership with the chef Junghyun “JP” Park. Chef JP was born and raised in South Korea and is the executive chef and owner of his own restaurant, Atoboy, which is located in New York City. All of the proceeds from the sales of the exclusive burger were donated to Heart of Dinner, which is “a non-profit that supports Asian restaurants and combats food insecurity and isolation within New York City’s elderly Asian-American community.” Lots of other large companies, organizations, and corporations are making strives to support the AAPI community this month as well.

This year’s Asian American and Pacific Islander Month is very important due to the increase in hate crimes targeting the community since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.  According to the organization “Stop AAPI Hate,” there have been 6,603 reports of hate crimes targeted towards members of the AAPI community between March 19th, 2020, and March 31st, 2021. The main types of discrimination that make up this report are verbal assault, shunning, physical assaults, civil rights violations, and online harassment.  

Since the start of the pandemic, many community members have been faced with acts of discrimination or violence, making this year’s AAPI history month especially important. The month of May can be used as a time for many Americans to educate themselves on the history and culture of the AAPI community as well as the hardships that they face, both throughout the coronavirus pandemic and beyond.