May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month due to the efforts of trailblazing Asian American public officials, Representative Norman Y. Mineta and Senators Daniel Inouye and Spark Matsunaga. In 1977, bills were introduced in both houses of Congress to commemorate the history of Asian Pacific Americans in May. Jimmy Carter designated it as an annual celebration in 1978 which was was signed into law by George H. W. Bush in 1992. As we celebrate APA Heritage Month, we should continue to remember the efforts of Asian American pubic officials to establish a yearly reminder of our impact in American history.
May was chosen due to the initial immigration of Japanese to America in May, 7 1843 and the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad on May 10, 1869. However, we must not let Asian Pacific American history month serve as a comfortable stopping point. May should serve as a reminder that the American story is still unfolding and that Asian American and Pacific Islanders need to continue to play a part in the American narrative. It was not long ago that Chinese Laborers were pushed out of the photograph that contained every other group involved in the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad, a symbol of American unity.
Asian American originated as a term of solidarity between student groups in the late 60s, and early 70s due to this history of exclusion. It was designed as an act of opposition to the racialized term “Oriental” which symbolized the othering of the Asian American community. The organizing notion of an Asian American community was a new idea as the term would eventually house the hundreds of ethnic groups, cultures and languages that understood each other as separate. What made Asian American solidarity work was the sense that without unity, the legacy and history of Asian American exclusion would continue unabated in American history.
New immigration and assimilation has made the term Asian American more or less mainstream. For the new generation of Asian Americans, it does not seem surprising that May is Asian Pacific American History month. AAPIs are the fastest growing racial minority, and are increasingly represented geographically and in popular media. However, for many who remembered that they had to fight to have Asian American voices and history heard, May serves as a reminder to all Asian American and Pacific Islanders that our experiences are valid, and that validity is something we have to keep fighting for just as Norman Y. Mineta, Daniel Inouye, and Spark Matsunaga did in 1977. As we honor and remember Asian American history, the Asian American community should take May as a reminder to volunteer, stay politically active and continue to contribute to public service and American history. While each Asian American community is unique in history and culture, we all need to strive toward a better America together.
Stand Up : An Archive Collection of the Bay Area Asian American Movement 1968-1974 by Asian Community Center Archive Group
Strangers from a Different Shore: A History of Asian Americans, Updated and Revised Edition by Ronald Takaki
Eugene Lau is a recent graduate of University of California, Berkeley’s Asian and Asian American Diaspora Studies program. He is indebted to his hometown, Oakland, California, as its diversity has shaped his approach to community building and the creative process. Formerly he was the Program Assistant at The Spot, Oakland Chinatown Youth Center where he developed and lead youth programming. He also has worn many hats in his pursuit of public service as a community partner and a story teller. He has been a photojournalist, an event coordinator, a teacher and an artist. Eugene is excited to bring his skillset to CAPAL and to gain more experience as the 2015 Public Service Fellow. You can find Eugene in D.C. doing street photography, working on art projects and practicing the harmonica.