Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

Updated April 29, 2022 | Infoplease Staff

Asian Americans account for nearly 5% of the American population and are the fastest-growing racial or ethnic group in the U.S. But this is a group not as widely acknowledged as other ethnic Americans. In fact, a recent poll found that 42% could not name a famous Asian American. However, their contribution to American culture remains significant.

Here we look at the history of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month and how it celebrates the unique achievements of this important group of American society.

What is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month?

AAPI Heritage Month takes place in May each year and acknowledges the contributions of people of AAPI heritage. Asian Pacific encompasses all of the Asian continent and the Pacific islands of Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia.

The 31 days of AAPI Heritage Month involve encouraging all parts of society to celebrate the cultures, traditions, and histories of the community. A quick search on events shows there to be numerous events involving such areas as art appreciation, cuisine, education, and literature.

When was Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month Created?

Asian American Pacific Islander Month dates back to 1978 when Rep. Frank Horton of New York introduced House Joint Resolution 1007 in Congress. Horton had been approached by a Capitol Hill staffer named Jeanie Jew who felt that not enough was being done to commemorate Asian Pacific Americans.

The resolution proposed that President Jimmy Carter proclaim a week in May 1979 (including the 7th and 10th of the month) as Asian/Pacific American Heritage Week. This became Public Law 95-419 in October 1978.

For the following decade, the celebration lasted for just a week. However, in 1990, a bill expanding the celebration to a month was signed and in 1992, the George H.W. Bush White House administration passed Public Law 102-540, designating May as "Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month".

Why is It Held in May?

The month of May is significant as it marks the anniversary of the first Japanese immigrants in May 1843, the initial Japanese American residents of San Francisco in the 1860s, and the completion of the transcontinental railroad in May 1869– the majority of which was laid by Chinese immigrant workers. 

Why Is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month Important?

There are many notable people from the AAPI community that have made significant contributions to US history. These range from civil rights to atomic science to psychology. However, AAPI covers such a diverse geographical and ethnic base and there can be issues with such a description. 

Ethnic Identification

Ethnic identification is based upon a number of factors including age, where the individual grew up, how their family self-identifies, and where their descendants grew up. As a result, the diversity of ethnic groups within AAPI means that some groups can feel marginalized. 

For example, some Pacific Islanders take issue with the term AAPI as they feel Pacific Islanders are distinct from Asian Americans and should not be ‘lumped in’ as one ethnic group. 

AAPI Hate Crimes

The recent pandemic (and its roots in Asia) has also sadly led to an increase in hate crimes and anti-Asian feelings against people of AAPI heritage. In addition, certain stereotypes related to the AAPI community still persist such as the "Tiger Mom" and "Model Minority" myths.

Stop Asian Hate Movement

More positively, the rise in hate crimes has led to the Stop Asian Hate Movement and has mobilized different parts of the community. Many prominent Asian Americans have shown their support for the movement and have helped spread awareness outside of the AAPI community.

AAPI Heritage Month highlights how important it is for the country to come together and acknowledge the role the AAPI community plays in American life and to celebrate all groups within the community.

How to Celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

Instead of simply knowing about Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, it’s equally as important to get involved during the days of May and help spread the word. Additionally, we should remember that this multicultural region encompassed so many distinct peoples– including Vietnamese, Samoan, Korean, Filipino, Native Hawaiian peoples, and many other descendants from Central and Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands. 

So, it is a great time to dig into some educational resources, spread awareness on social media, and participate in other ways, including the following ideas.

Who Celebrates Asian Pacific American Heritage Month?

Although Heritage Month is celebrated most by the AAPI community, anyone and everyone is encouraged to participate. The aim is not just to celebrate but also to inform and educate and many institutions offer cultural and educational events to this end.

Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month Activities

There are a huge number of cultural events, educational activities, and government-sponsored initiatives to celebrate AAPI Heritage Month:

  • The Federal Asian Pacific American Council (FAPAC), which represents AAPI employees in the Federal and District of Columbia governments, has announced that the theme for Heritage Month in 2022 is “Advancing Leaders Through Collaboration.” The aim is to further advance AAPI leadership in the Federal and DC Governments.
  • The University of Indiana Bloomington’s Asian Culture Center has adopted the theme of “Renew and Rebuild: Our Communities and Beyond” for 2022. This includes film screenings, discussions, and lectures throughout the month  
  • The Asia Society of Texas is presenting “31 Ways to Celebrate” for Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month during May. The variety of events includes a celebration of the end of Ramadan with the Festival of Eid, and a talk and book signing with Huma Abedin, a former top aide to Hillary Clinton.
  • The Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, based in Washington DC, is a migratory museum that uses innovative experiences to provide numerous resources on AAPI history.

In Summary

The aim of events such as AAPI Heritage Month is to recognize how the Asian American and Pacific Islander community has made a positive impact on America, to learn about diversity, and to emphasize racial equality. A useful starting point on AAPI history can be found right on Infoplease and a search for resources and events for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month will bring up a wealth of results.

Whatever your background, we encourage you to inform and educate yourself about a community that has helped build and shape modern America and will continue to play a critical role in its future.

Sources +

About the author

Infoplease Staff

Infoplease staff work hard to create, curate, and edit a variety of content for all audiences.

Infoplease: your gateway to knowledge and enriching minds, one fact at a time.

View More About Our Editors, Experts, Authors, & Advisors