Robin Ye is UC Dems’ President Emeritus and a graduating fourth-year. Robin is from Portland, Oregon, and he was a 2015 intern for APAICS.
The month of May is national Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Asian Americans are among the many designated groups that enjoy commemorative months authorized by Congress, joining African Americans (February), Hispanic Americans (Sep 15-Oct 15) American Indians (November), Jewish Americans (May also!), LGBT Americans (June), and Women (March).
A rather broad category, the category of “Asian American and Pacific Islander” (AAPI) encompasses a wide swath of different cultures, ethnicities, languages, and religions compiled into one census category. The AAPI community consists of most of the Asian continent (excluding North Asian Russians and Siberians, Central Asian Kazahks, Uzbeks, Turkmens, etc. and Middle East peoples) and the Pacific islands of Melanesia (New Guinea, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Fiji and the Solomon Islands), Micronesia (Marianas, Guam, Wake Island, Palau, Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Nauru and the Federated States of Micronesia) and Polynesia (New Zealand, Hawaiian Islands, Rotuma, Midway Islands, Samoa, American Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, Cook Islands, French Polynesia and Easter Island).
In 1978, a Joint Resolution was signed by President Jimmy Carter declaring the first week of May to be Asian/Pacific American Heritage Week. In 1990, Congress expanded the heritage celebration to a month. Presidents Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama have since annually issued proclamations designating May as “Asian/Pacific American Heritage Heritage Month.”
The month of May was chosen to commemorate the first Japanese to immigrate to the United States on May 7, 1843 and to honor “Golden Spike Day” celebrated in May to commemorate the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad. Chinese immigrant and Chinese-American workers together comprised at least 80% of the workforce, earning a monthly salary of $28 compared to their white counterparts, who were given a salary of $35, food, and shelter. Thousands of Chinese died completing the Transcontinental Railroad, which could not have been completed with the sacrifice and hard labor of the first wave of Chinese immigrant workers. May is also fitting because May 6 is also the day President Chester A. Garfield signed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, formally and legally barring Chinese immigrants (and soon thereafter all immigrants of Asian descent) from immigrating to the United States based solely on account of racial and ethnic prejudice.
Chinese and Asian exclusion would continue until the Exclusion Act was repealed in 1943. However, the quota for the entire country of China would remain at 105 people until 1965.
Today, In the United States, based on 2013 population estimates, there are an estimated 19.4 million U.S. residents who were Asian, either one race in combination with other races, representing almost 5.7% of the more than 318 million total population. Asian Americans are the fastest-growing minority in the U.S. and have surpassed Hispanics as the largest incoming immigrant group in the U.S.
Politicians are taking notice. As recently as May 4, 2016, both President Barack Obama and Democratic Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton both made remarks at the annual Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies (APAICS) Gala Awards Dinner. Full video and transcripts of his remarks President Obama’s remarks are linked.
In March, APAICS also released two resources “showcasing the growing participation of Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) in the political process.” The two resources included were the 2016 Asian American and Pacific Islander Candidates infographic noting the breakdown of the 2016 cycle AAPI candidates and the APAICS Political Database, the first and only database of currently elected AAPI officials.
Lastly, on May 3, NBCNews released a great expose series on “50 Asian American and Pacific Islanders of the Obama Administration”, with interviews showcasing AAPI officials at the deputy and management level.
Here’s to hoping there’s more great coverage and recognition this month for the achievements, contributions, and sacrifices of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community!