• Jackie Vanegas

Celebrating Asian Pacific American Heritage Month: Honoring & Acknowledging the Community

Updated: May 19, 2020

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All throughout the month of May, Asian/Pacific Heritage Month will be celebrated.

Passed by George H.W Bush, Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month was signed into law in 1992.

The month of May was chosen to celebrate Asian-Pacific Islander heritage as a way to commemorate the first Japanese immigrants to arrive to the United States in May 1943 alongside with the completion of the transcontinental railroad in May 1869 - the majority of those workers being Chinese immigrants.

While Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month is currently being celebrated, it is also important to identify that Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders have been through and currently go through blatant acts of exclusion and discrimination.

The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was one of the most explicit forms of Xenophobia and Racism in which disallowed Chinese American laborers from entering the country and refused Chinese immigrants from naturalization. The act was intended to last for 10 years but was renewed and made permanent in 1902. It was not until 1943 that the Chinese Exclusion Act ended. - less than 80 years ago.

The implementation of U.S internment camps in which targeted Japanese Americans throughout World War II and beyond is another example of the inhumane treatments of Asian Americans within the United States.

Native Pacific Islanders have also experienced systematic neglect within this country and have been impacted greatly in a socio-economic perspective.

According to a White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders generally experience poorer health than the American population as a whole. In fact, they are more at risk from being diagnosed and dying from diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. Furthermore, Poverty rates are higher among Pacific Islanders who have a per capita income 27% below the national average and over 16% lack health coverage.

In addition, COVID-19 continues to affect many people throughout the world, it also greatly affects the discrimination in which Asian Americans receive. According to the group STOP AAPI HATE center, an institution backed by Chinese for Affirmative Action and SFSU’s Asian American Studies department, Asian American-Pacific Islanders have been the victim of more than 1500 acts of violence across the nation in just less than one month.

As significant it is to acknowledge the continuing challenges towards this community, it is just as important to recognize Asian-Pacific Islander contributions. The community has been able to contribute greatly towards medicine, science, government, and more. Asian Americans such as Hiram Fong, the first Asian Pacific American elected to the senate, and Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize winning scientist that has contributed immensely towards Physics, are just a few of the many Asian American-Pacific Islanders who have made a difference in our society.

On a more local standpoint, while Asian-American-Pacific Islander population makes up less than 3% in Florida Congressional District 3 it is still vital that we not only acknowledge AAPI’s contributions in society, but also defend and continue to advocate for Asian-American-Pacific Islander rights at a local, state, and national level.

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