Celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

AAPI History Month

May marks Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month. Like other months that ask us to take time to reflect on the history, cultures, and contributions of racial and ethnic minorities in the United States, AAPI Heritage Month has a lot to teach us. Every year, The White House Initiative on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders, in conjunction with the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, develop a theme for AAPI Heritage Month. This year’s theme is “Bridging Histories, Shaping Our Future.” At Catalina Associates, we think this theme offers good guidance to recognize and honor the historical challenges faced by these communities, and also look to the future with optimism about the growing recognition and representation of AAPIs in all spheres of American life.

The history of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the U.S. is not a monolith. Each group that falls under this title has its own legacy in the U.S. From early Chinese immigrants who arrived during the Gold Rush era to build the Transcontinental Railroad, to Japanese Americans who endured internment during World War II, to the history of U.S. colonialism in the Pacific Islands, the AAPI communities have faced significant challenges.

  • The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882: This was the first major law implemented to prevent a specific ethnic group from immigrating to the United States. It reflected the widespread anti-Chinese sentiment and set a precedent for further exclusionary policies.
  • Overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1893: The illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom by American Businessmen, with the support of the U.S. government, led to the annexation of Hawaii in 1898. This marked the beginning of significant cultural and political disruption for Native Hawaiians, including loss of sovereignty and land.
  • Immigration and Legal Status for Pacific Islanders: Citizens of the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, and Palau are granted access to the U.S. for residency and employment without a visa through Compacts of Free Association, but due to their ambiguous status they are not eligible for many federal benefits, despite paying taxes.
  • Japanese Internment during World War II: Following the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, over 120,000 Japanese Americans were forcibly relocated and incarcerated in internment camps. This incredibly dark and recent chapter in history is a reminder that the impact of these racial prejudices are not far behind us.

Today, the AAPI population is one of the fastest growing demographic groups in the U.S., contributing immensely to the cultural, economic, and social fabric of the country. Despite the progress, the journey is far from over. The COVID-19 pandemic saw a surge in anti-Asian hate crimes, highlighting the need for continued vigilance. However, there is much to be hopeful about:

  • Increased Representation: From politics to entertainment, AAPIs are increasingly visible in mainstream media. The election of Vice President Kamala Harris, of Indian and Jamaican descent, is a landmark moment, signaling greater acceptance and representation.
  • Political Participation: Voter turnout among AAPIs has been increasing, with significant growth in recent elections. In the 2020 presidential election, AAPI voter turnout was at an all time high.
  • Cultural Celebrations: There is a growing appreciation for AAPI cultures, traditions, and contributions, which are increasingly celebrated and recognized nationwide. Events, festivals, and educational initiatives during AAPI Heritage Month help bridge cultural gaps and foster respect.
  • Economic Impact: Asian Americas contribute significantly to the U.S. economy, with a collective purchasing power exceeding $1 trillion. They also own nearly 2 million businesses, generating over $700 billion in annual revenue, and employing millions of Americans.

The history of AAPIs in the U.S. is only getting started. And while we’ve made progress since 1941, it’s important to keep this history in mind, and continue to support this community. Catalina would like to encourage you to think about ways you can support Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders communities in the U.S. year-round:

  • Promote Cultural Awareness: Participate in and support AAPI cultural events, festivals, and heritage months to celebrate and learn about the diverse cultures within the AAPI community.
  • Support AAPI Artists and Authors: Purchase and promote works by AAPI authors, artists, filmmakers, and musicians to help amplify AAPI voices and stories.
  • Donate to AAPI Organizations: Contribute to organizations that provide support, advocacy, and resources for the AAPI community, such as Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC), Stop AAPI Hate, and the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF).
  • Support AAPI-Owned Businesses: Shop at AAPI-owned businesses and restaurants. This not only helps the local economy, but also shows solidarity and appreciation for AAPI entrepreneurship.

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