Periodically, members of the IPS Diversity Committee will write articles recognizing cultural heritage months.

By Christine Anderson, administrative specialist, IPS

Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month. is celebrated during the month of May. May was chosen to honor the first Japanese immigrants that arrived in the United States on May 7, 1843 and the Chinese immigrants who made significant contributions in completing the first transcontinental railroad in the United States on May 10, 1869.

A nationwide advocacy campaign was launched in the mid-1970s to obtain Congressional Resolution to designate one week in May as Asian Pacific American Heritage Week. The concept was originated by Jeanie F. Jew, who was a staff person on Capitol Hill at the time. She was frustrated that Asian Pacific Americans were not included as a recognized community and also wanted to commemorate her great grandfather who had worked on building the transcontinental railroad.

In 1978, Congress passed a Joint Resolution proclaiming the 7-day period beginning on May 4, 1979 as Asian/Pacific American Heritage Week. On March 28, 1979, President Jimmy Carter issued Presidential Proclamation 4650 that stated “Asian-Americans have played a significant role in the creation of a dynamic and pluralistic America, with their enormous contributions to our sciences, arts, industry, government and commerce.” Over the next ten years, Presidents Carter, Reagan and George H.W. Bush continued to issue annual proclamations designating a week in May as Asian/Pacific American Heritage Week. On May 7, 1990, President George H.W. Bush issued the Presidential Proclamation 6130 which designated May 1990 as the first Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month stating “. . . all Americans join with our neighbors of Asian and Pacific descent as they celebrate the unique customs and traditions of their ancestral homelands. These customs and traditions have deeply enriched the wonderful heritage we share as a Nation.” Congress passed Public Law 102-450 in 1992 which permanently designated May of each year as “Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month” and also requests federal and state proclamations to be issued annually. In 2009, President Barack Obama officially changed the name to “Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month” in Proclamation 8369.

There are many AAPIs who have made significant contributions to our society, and here is a short list of some of those individuals:

Dalip Singh Saund – first Asian American elected to Congress (1956)

Patsy Takemoto Mink – first female Asian American elected to Congress (1964)

Ken Kashiwahara and Connie Chung – first Asian American correspondents on network television (1974). Chung became the first Asian American to be a nightly news anchor for a major network (1993)

Jerry Yang – co-founder of Yahoo!

Marcus Mariota – NFL quarterback for the Tennessee Titans

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson – actor, producer and semi-retired wrestler

Lou Diamond Phillips – actor

Kristi Yamaguchi – Olympic figure skater

Gary Locke – first Asian American governor (1996) and first Asian American to serve as the U.S. Ambassador to China (2011)

Keanu Reeves – actor, director and producer

Ellison Onizuka – first Asian American astronaut in space; first spaceflight was in 1985; died in the Challenger explosion (1986)

The AAPI community represents more than 320 countries and ethnic groups and over 100 different languages. During AAPI Heritage Month, communities celebrate the achievements and contributions of AAPIs with festivals and activities. It is very important that we understand and acknowledge the diversity that exists within the United States.

Here are a few websites to learn more about AAPIs:;;;