Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month: Informative Essay Sample
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Sample Essay on Asian Pacific American Heritage Month
The American nation is fascinating. Shaped by waves of immigrants from all over the world, it was first named a "melting pot" back in the 19th century and remains so to this very day. However, American history is a complicated tapestry of power imbalance, exploitation, and marginalization of people based on gender, race, ethnicity, and many other characteristics.
The Civil Rights movement made a lot to put those injustices right. Among other things, it focused on giving credit where it's due. Heritage months celebrate the too-often ignored achievements of marginalized groups: women, African Americans, LGBTQ+, Latinx, Native Americans, and many others. One of the prominent communities is Asian and Pacific Americans, whose contributions to American history are being acknowledged in May.
AAPI is the fastest-growing demographic in the country. It unites people tracing their ancestry to 40 Asian countries, 25,000 islands, and 50 ethnic groups speaking over 1000 separate languages. Multiple cultures with different backgrounds were grouped together by the Census based purely on the geography of their origin in a catch-all term "Asian American." Unfortunately, it overlooks vastly different experiences and challenges that people in this group face: descendants of early Chinese immigrants of the 1800s, Southeast Asian refugees of the 1960s, historically colonized Pacific Islanders and Native Hawaiian, etc. So the term keeps evolving, and there are several alternatives:
- APA (Asian Pacific American)
- AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander)
- APIDA (Asian Pacific Islander Desi American)
- AANHPI (Asian American, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander)
People of Asian descent contributed their talents to shape American life, culture, arts, business, politics, science, etc. However, too often, their stories are left untold.
What Is Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month?
Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month is observed in May. Its purpose is to pay tribute to rich heritage, culture, and contributions to the American history of people of Asian ancestry. Dedicating a specific time of the year to educational activities and amplifying underrepresented voices became a widespread practice in the late 60s and early 70s of the 20th century. Yet why May? Because of two specific dates.
This month commemorates the immigration of the first Japanese to the US. On May 7, 1843, a 14-y.o. boy named Manjiro, who was a part of the fishing crew, stepped on American soil. He decided to go to America after being shipwrecked on a small island and rescued by an American whaling ship. (Missouri, 2022) However, we should mention that the first documented Asians arrived in America two and a half centuries earlier, when Filipinos landed in California in 1587. (Arlington, 2022)
The second date is the Golden Spike day – the completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad on May 10, 1869. On that day, a symbolic final golden spike was driven to join the rails that came to a meeting point. What does that have to do with Asian heritage? Thirteen of the fifteen thousand laborers toiling on the construction were Chinese immigrants. They carved 1,700 miles of tunnels through the Sierra Nevada mountains, becoming a true backbone of the famed railroad. (History, 2010)
Before it was a month, it was actually only a week. In 1978 the first week of May was declared an Asian/Pacific American heritage week. Then, in 1992 the entire mouth was dedicated to celebrating Asian heritage.
The month was suggested by Jeanie Jew, a former Capitol Hill staffer, who "turned a personal tragedy in her family history into a positive force." (Horton, 1992) Her great grandfather, M.Y. Lee, arrived in the US in the 1800s from China and participated in building the transcontinental railroad. He later became a successful businessman but was killed during the unrest and anti-Chinese sentiment in Oregon. (Moon, 2019)
Asian Pacific American Heritage Month Activities
AAPI Heritage month is a time to pay tribute to diverse cultures that have enriched America and were instrumental in its success. The first step is to recognize this diversity. What can we do better?
First of all, be aware of the generalization and lumping of cultures together. Not all martial arts are karate. Not all Pacific Islander dances are Hula, and poke is a unique Hawaiian dish, not just sushi in a bowl.
Be critical of Asian representation in the mainstream media. It is often well-meaning but problematic due to a lack of research. For example, last year's premiere of Disney's Raya and the Last Dragon has opened a lively discussion. Despite being lauded and anticipated as the first animated film with a Southeast-Asian Disney princess, it also raised questions about sweeping generalizations and neglect to exhibit the vast cultural diversity between countries. (Smith, 2020)
Recognize racial biases and stereotypes we may find ourselves falling for. Even positive stereotypes like "model minority" or "crazy rich Asians" are harmful because they erase the individual journeys and differences between people.
Then, of course, be curious! There are so many things to discover and learn. For example, Asia Society Policy Institute has prepared a rich cultural program to celebrate this year's APA Heritage month:
- Films from filmmakers across Asia and the Asian diaspora
- Lessons on Asian American History with Catherine Choy
- A virtual reading room featuring authors of contemporary children's fiction about Asian and Asian American experience
- Webcast with the world's foremost scientists discussing AI evolution, its breakthroughs, and challenges
- In-person art tours, like the "Making Home: Artists and Immigration" in Texas
- Women's empowerment discussion about the impact AAPI women have made in various sectors around the world with prominent female leaders Ida Liu, Vicky Tsai, and Lulu Wang
- Interviews with trailblazing Asian American entrepreneurs, artists, activists, and administration officials
- Festival of Eid al-Fitr exploring Islamic arts and traditions
- Online family activities, like cooking uniquely Filipino dishes with Chef Ken Cacho
- and a wealth of other events and activities (Asia Society, 2022)
Fun Facts about Asian Pacific American Heritage Month
Suppose you plan Asian Pacific American heritage month for kids. In that case, it's better to focus on fascinating details about Asia and inspiring stories about people of Asian descent living in the USA. Here are some examples of fun tidbits about Asia:
- Asia is the largest of the continents covering over 17 million square miles. That's about two times the size of North America and roughly 30% of all land on Earth. Over 4 billion people live in Asia, about 60% of the world's entire population.
- Asia is separated into six areas: Northern, Central, Eastern, Western, Southern, and South-East.
- The two most populated countries in the world are situated in Asia – China and India.
- Many of the world's religions come from Asia: Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism.
- Japan is about the same size as California, but with three times as many people living there.
Don't limit your curiosity to merely one month. Ask questions, be open to learning new ideas, engage and enjoy! May will pass, but the perseverance, triumphs, influences, and contributions of generations of Asian Americans to this country will surround you every day.
- Moon, K. (2019, May 23). How One Woman's Story Led to the Creation of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. Time. Retrieved May 26, 2022, from https://time.com/5592591/asian-pacific-heritage-month-history/
- History.com editors (2010, April 20). Transcontinental Railroad. History. Retrieved May 26, 2022, from https://www.history.com/topics/inventions/transcontinental-railroad
- Office of Administration (2022). Asian American & Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Missouri.gov. Retrieved May 26, 2022, from https://oa2.mo.gov/asian-pacific-american-heritage-month-virtual-celebration
- Arlington Public Schools. (2022). The History of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. Retrieved May 26, 2022, from https://www.apsva.us/aapi-heritage-month-history/
- Horton F. (1992, October 4). Asian/Pacific-American Heritage Month (House of Representatives). Congressional Record 102nd Congress (1991-1992). Retrieved May 26, 2022, from https://webarchive.loc.gov/congressional-record/20160304132756/http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/F?r102:71:./temp/~r102kGPQ50:e0:
- Asia Society (2022). Asian Pacific American Heritage Month at Asia Society. https://asiasociety.org/asian-pacific-american-heritage-month-asia-society
- Smith, I. (2020, November 4). "Raya and the Last Dragon:" The Conflict Over Asian Representation. The Issaquah High Times. Retrieved May 26, 2022, from https://ihsjournalism.online/4257/opinion/raya-and-the-last-dragon-the-conflict-over-asian-representation/
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