Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month


An illustration of an elderly Asian woman with the caption This Is Our Home Too
Artwork by Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya

The month of May is Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month and it is a time to celebrate, uplift, and remember the history of the AAPI community; this year feels different though. In the past, light-hearted celebrations have taken place across the nation, but in the rise of hate crimes against Asian Americans, the tribute that is paid to the community must be met with action, advocacy, and education.

The Central Valley is home to thousands of AAPI people made up of dozens of ethnic groups; Fresno has the largest population of Hmong-Americans in the country, we have a deep Armenian-American history, even Reedley and Dinuba used to have a large Korean presence in the early 1900s (Jimenez), and this is only the surface of the rich cultural hub that is the Central Valley. More than ever, it is vital to support local AAPI-owned businesses to show solidarity.

It is also the time to uplift the voices of AAPI members. Eric Nam, a Korean-American singer-songwriter, writes for Time,

"Whether you live in Atlanta or in any city of this country, empower yourself by understanding our experience, buying from our local communities, and reinforcing our commitment to restorative justice that is not just a correction of inequality but an opportunity to grow opportunities for more."

Everyone has a story to tell that includes their experiences, perspectives, and passions; and it's important to listen to and share these stories.

Regarding AAPI stories in literature, here is a list of recommended texts to experience (in alphabetical order by author). These stories written by AAPI authors discuss a multitude of unique experiences and would be excellent to enter the English canon in classrooms (and some already have). More books can be found at BookRiot. To order from an AAPI-owned bookstore, please check out this list.

  • Go Home! - Rowan Hisayo Buchanan, Chang-Rae Lee, Marilyn Chin, Gaiutra Bahadur, Alexander Chee, T Kira Madden, Viet Thanh Nguyen, and Mia Alvar

  • American is in the Heart: A Personal History - Carlos Bulosan

  • I Was Their American Dream: A Graphic Memoir - Malaka Gharib

  • The Kite Runner - Khald Hosseini

  • M. Butterfly - David Henry Hwang

  • The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts - Maxine Hong Kingston

  • The Namesake - Jhumpa Lahiri

  • Native Speaker - Chang-Rae Lee

  • No-No Boy - John Okada

  • The Sympathizer - Viet Thanh Nguyen

  • How to Pronounce Knife - Souvankham Thammavongsa

  • The Joy Luck Club - Amy Tan

  • The Lemon Tree - Sandy Tolan

  • Afterland - Mai Der Vang



a black and white image of actors Sessue Hayakawa and Anna May Wong
Sessue Hayakawa and Anna May Wong (PBS)

Aside from literature, the AAPI and Asian communities has a long history in Hollywood with roots that began in the silent-era with performers like Anna May Wong and Sessue Hayakawa who were some of Hollywood's very first stars. However, these actors existed during a time where interracial relationships were banned on screen and even restricted off-screen which resulted in Asian actors commonly playing villains. Hollywood also has a dark past in appropriating, exoticizing, and stereotyping AAPI characters; white actors have even played AAPI characters and wore makeup that created racist caricatures; why mention this? It's important to understand and study the past to prevent the same mistakes from reoccurring. Move forward, not back; and don't be silent.

Bong Joon Ho and the cast of Parasite at the 92nd Academy Awards (Reuters)
Chloe Zhao (Source: Guardian)

Regarding accomplishments in Hollywood, last year at the Academy Awards, Parasite became the first non-English film to win Best Picture and its director, Bong Joon Ho won Best Director as well. At this year's ceremony, Chloé Zhao became the first Woman of Color to win an Oscar for Best Director for Nomadland, and 73-year-old South Korean actress, Youn Yuh-Jung, won for Best Supporting Actress, the first for a South Korean actress and the second for an Asian woman, for Minari, an American film about a South Korean family migrating to the rural USA in the 1980s.



Within music, artists like Bruno Mars, Olivia Rodrigo, Mitski, Kayley Kiyoko, Norah Jones, Dumbfoundead, Steve Aoki, Jhene Aiko, among others have found worldwide success.



Not to mention the dozens of American artists in Korean Pop music like Johnny Suh of NCT, soloist Jay Park, Taiwanese-American Mark Tuan of GOT7, soloist John Park, soloist Ailee, Thai-Chinese-American Nickhun Horvejkul of 2PM, and Korean-Mexican KPOP artist Samuel Kim, among many others. There are also artists who were Korean-born but grew up in the States like Bobby Kim of iKON, Eric Mun and Andy Lee of SHINHWA, and Ok Taecyeon of 2PM to name a few.

The AAPI community has also been present in politics for decades but in recent years, there is more representation in elected offices. Some firsts include:

  • Vice President Kamala Harris became the first woman to achieve the office of VP as well as the first Asian-American and African-American to do so.

  • George Ariyoshi was the first Asian-American to be elected governor of a state (Hawaii) in the United States in 1974.

  • Dalip Singh Saund, who served from 1957-1963 "became the first Asian-American voting member in Congress, as well as the first South-Asian American, first Indian-American, first Sikh-American, and the first member of non-Abrahamic faith to be elected to Congress" ("Asian Americans in politics.")

  • Pramila Jayapalwass the first Indian-American woman elected to Congress in 2017.

This is only the surface of the contributions, accomplishments, and impact of the AAPI community. Everyone has their story to tell, so it's important to boost each other's voices. Please view the additional resources below for more information regarding supporting the AAPI community.

Additional Resources

Articles

For Parents and Kids

Websites

Music on Spotify


Works Cited

"Asian Americans in politics." Wikipedia,

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asian_Americans_in_politics

Banks, Tyrone. "AAPI Key Facts 2018." National Institutes of Health, 22 May. 2018.

https://www.edi.nih.gov/blog/communities/aapi-key-facts-2018

Jimenez, Eddie. "Reedley, Dinuba Honor Korean Legacy." The Seoul Times,

originally published in the Fresno Bee, n.d, https://theseoultimes.com/ST/?

url=/ST/db/read.php%3Fidx=6501.

Nam, Eric. "If You're Surprised by the Anti-Asian Violence in Atlanta, You Haven't

Been Listening. It's Time to Hear Our Voices." Time, 22 Mar. 2021.

https://time.com/5948226/eric-nam-anti-asian-racism-atlanta/

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