May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, a yearly celebration of the historical and cultural contributions of individuals and groups of Asian and Pacific Islander descent to the United States.
Asian American and Pacific Islander - commonly shortened to “AAPI” - encompasses individuals from all of the Asian continent, the Pacific Islands of Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia.
The 2020 Census reported 20.6 million Americans identified as Asian, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, making up 6.2% of the total population and continuing to grow.
AAPI Heritage was initially celebrated during one week in May, containing the dates May 7 and May 10. Both days were significant in Asian American history: May 7, 1843 marked the immigration of the first Japanese person to the United States, and May 10, 1869 marked the anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad that many Chinese immigrant workers contributed to building.
While the entire month of May is now dedicated to AAPI Heritage, there is a complicated history of hate and discrimination against AAPI people in the United States. Japanese Americans were forced into internment camps during World War II, documented in the memoir “Farewell to Manzanar” by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and openly discussed by Star Trek actor George Takei. Asian Americans faced an increased rate of hate crimes against them during the COVID-19 pandemic often attributed to the virus’s origins in Wuhan, China. Native Hawaiians are working to raise awareness for the impact that colonization has had on their culture and how it contributes to discrimination today. Organizations like Stop AAPI Hate advocate for civil rights protections and uplift Asian communities across the United States.
While it is important to recognize the injustices and discrimination faced by AAPI individuals throughout history and today, it is also important to uplift the achievements of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in our nation. There are many important AAPI individuals:
- Kalpana Chawla - The first woman of Indian descent to go into space in 1997
- Kamala Harris - The first female, Black and Asian-American Vice President
- Yo-Yo Ma - A famous Chinese-American cellist, who appeared on an episode of the animated PBS tv show, “Arthur”
- Michelle Yeoh - The “Everything Everywhere All At Once” actress was the first Asian woman to win the academy award for Best Actress
Asian American and Pacific Islander Month is a great opportunity to learn not only about AAPI history, but to check out some great reads by AAPI authors. Be sure to visit the Yonkers Public Library and ask your librarian for some recommendations this month.
Alison Robles is a part-time page at the Crestwood Library. She is an avid reader with a passion for YA lit, historical fiction and fantasy. A Yonkers native, she graduated from Iona University in 2020 with a dual-degree in Marketing and Public Relations.