May marks the official celebration of the heritage of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI). Expanded from Asian/Pacific American Heritage Week observed since 1980, May was federally designated in 1990 for the annual month-long celebration of the historical and cultural contributions of individuals of Asian and Pacific Islander descent to the United States. The month of May marks two significant events in Asian American history -- the arrival of the first Japanese immigrant to the US on May 7, 1843, and the anniversary of the May 10, 1869 completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad to the construction of which Chinese immigrants made significant contributions.
AAPI is an umbrella term used to represent individuals of a rich and diverse heritage that includes cultures from the entire Asian continent (including East, Southeast, and South Asian) and the Pacific Islands of Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia. In fact, AAPIs represent over 30 countries and ethnic groups, and speak over 100 languages. Per the 2020 US Census data, there are an estimated 24 million people in the US that identified as having Asian descent and an estimated 1.6 million people that identified as Native Hawaiian and Other-Pacific Islander, which reflects 6.6 percent and 3.5 percent of the US population, respectively. Asian Americans are the fastest growing ethnic group in the US and are projected to be the nation’s largest immigrant group by the middle of the century, according to the Pew Research Group (2021).
AAPI representation in the US has a long history. For over 170 years, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have contributed an instrumental role in American history by building infrastructure and the economy leading to the prosperity shared by all. From the first Chinese immigrants arriving in the US in the 1850s following the California Gold Rush (Office of the Historian, nd) to the many physicians, nurses, scientists, entrepreneurs, workers, etc. who continue to contribute to US economy and innovation today, individuals of AAPI descent are crucial to the fabric of the American culture and society.
To learn more about the AAPI experiences, history and culture, consider the following resources:
- Asian Pacific American Heritage Month website
- Article on Building the Transcontinental Railroad: How 20,000 Chinese Immigrants Made It Happen
- PBS offers a large collection of AAPI stories and educational resources, including Asian Americans, a five-hour film-documentary series
- HBO Max subscribers have access to its Asian American and Pacific Islander Voices collection
- Hulu subscribers have access to its collection of shows, documentaries and movies on Asian American heritage
- Netflix subscribers have access to its Celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Stories collection
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