Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month (as of 2009, officially changed from Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month) is observed in the United States during the month of May and recognizes the contributions and influence of Asian Americans and Pacific Islander Americans to the history, culture, and achievements of the United States. An Asian or Pacific Islander is a person with origins in any of the peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, Indian subcontinent, Pacific Islands (e.g., China, India, Japan, Korea, the Philippine Islands and Samoa).
The first Asians documented in the Americas arrived in 1587, when Filipinos landed in California; from 1898 to 1946, the Philippines was an American possession. The next group of Asians documented in what would be the United States were Indians in Jamestown, documented as early as 1635. In 1778, the first Chinese to reach what would be the United States, arrived in Hawaii. In 1788, the first Native Hawaiian arrived on the continental United States, in Oregon; in 1900, Hawaii was annexed by the United States. The next group of Asians documented in what would be the United States were Japanese, who arrived in Hawaii in 1806. In 1884, the first Koreans arrived in the United States. In 1898, Guam was ceded to the United States; beginning in the 1900s, Chamorros (indigenous people of the Mariana Islands) began to migrate to California and Hawaii. In 1904, what is now American Samoa was ceded to the United States; beginning in the 1920s, Samoans began to migrate to Hawaii and the continental United States, with the first Samoans documented in Hawaii in 1920. In 1912, the first Vietnamese was documented in the United States.
A former congressional staffer in the 1970s, Jeanie Jew, first approached representative Frank Horton with the idea of designating a month to recognize Asian Pacific Americans, following the bicentennial celebrations. In June 1977 Representatives Horton, and Norman Y. Mineta, introduced a United States House of Representatives resolution to proclaim the first ten days of May as Asian-Pacific Heritage Week. A similar bill was introduced in the Senate a month later by Daniel Inouye and Spark Matsunaga.
The proposed resolutions sought that May be designated for two reasons. For on May 7, 1843, the first Japanese immigrant arrived in the United States. More than two decades later, on May 10, 1869, the golden spike was driven into the First Transcontinental railroad, which was completed using Chinese labor.
President Jimmy Carter signed a joint resolution for the celebration on October 5, 1978.
On May 1, 2009, President Barack Obama signed proclamation 8369, recognizing the month of May as Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.
—Joyce Butts, Contributor
Additional Resource to Explore
The Library of Congress, National Archives and Records Administration, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum join in paying tribute to the generations of Asian and Pacific Islanders who have enriched America's history and are instrumental in its future success. This group of institutions joined together to establish this site: https://asianpacificheritage.gov and they have put together a "Care Package of poems, meditations, films, and other cultural nutrients for times like this."