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How It’s History: Asian-American and Pacific Islander Month

With finals approaching, and the year coming to a close, now is a suitable time to freshen up on some history. Many know about May being Asian-American and Pacific Islander Month. But few know of its origins and how it came about.

A photo of Asian American and Pacific Islanders US Representatives as of 2019.

The month of May was chosen due to the dates May 7th, 1843, and May 10th, 1869. May 7th is the day that the first Japanese people immigrated to the United States, with the latter date recognizing the completion of the transcontinental railroad, which had many contributions from Chinese workers.

This effort to be recognized took ten years for it to happen. On the legal side, New York Rep. Frank Horton proposed House Joint Resolution 540, which stated, “the first ten days (about one and a half weeks) of May as Asian/Pacific American Heritage Week.” (2009), which Hawaii Sen. Daniel Inouye introduced a similar joint resolution. The resolution passed the Senate, and President Jimmy Carter signed it into law on Oct 5th, 1978. Until 1990, presidents signed annual proclamations for Asian/Pacific American Heritage Week. In 1990, Congress expanded the observance from a week to a month, which was annually designated in 1992 and was renamed AAPI Heritage Month.

Many contributions have been made by Asian-American/Pacific Islanders who have a lengthy history in the US; sadly, many were considered – and still are considered by some – “perpetual foreigners” or “not true Americans.” Still, we have mostly moved past these harmful stereotypes as a society.

Happy Asian-American and Pacific Islander Month!


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