What is AAPI Month? 

Shandra Martinez

| 3 min read

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Did you know that one out of every 10 businesses in the United States is owned by someone who identifies as Asian American? Or that there are 24 million people of Asian descent living across the U.S., with several different nationalities falling under this umbrella term? These impressive facts and more are being touted during the month of May when we celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.
All month long in May, special events will take place nationally as well as locally in many places to mark this occasion. It’s a time to honor the history, contributions and many accomplishments of people who identify as Asian Americans and as Pacific Islanders. The recognition honors a broad group across a wide geographic area. It includes the Asian continent and many Pacific islands. It highlights those of Chinese, New Zealand and Hawaiian Islands heritage as well as those from Fiji, Guam, American Samoa and many other places.
This diverse group makes up about 6% of the U.S. population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Some of the different nationalities represented include, according to federal estimates:
  • Chinese (not including Taiwanese): 5.2 million
  • Indian: 4.8 million
  • Filipino: 4.4 million
  • Vietnamese: 2.3 million
  • Korean: 2 million
  • Japanese: 1.6 million
  • Thai: 329,000
  • Cambodian: 300,000
  • Taiwanese: 213,000
  • Indonesian: 116,000
  • Sri Lankan: 61,000

Why we celebrate

The purpose of this special Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month is similar to the reasons we as a country honor other cultures, from Mexican and the larger Hispanic population to events honoring Polish, German and Dutch descendents. It’s a way to recognize the special contributions people from a certain part of the world made when they brought their talents and skills to the U.S. to help our country become a more culturally-rich and diverse place to live. Celebrations typically revolve around art, history, music, social gatherings and lots of delicious foods.
Early origins of AAPI Heritage Month. It turns out, this celebration of all things AAPI started out small, as just a week-long event initiated by members of Congress and signed into law by President Jimmy Carter in 1978. By 1992, it had expanded under law to a month-long recognition. The month of May was chosen to honor AAPI heritage for a couple specific reasons, according to the federal government:
It commemorates the immigration of the first Japanese into the U.S. on May 7, 1843.
It marks the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad on May 10, 1869, connecting areas in the eastern and western U.S. Chinese immigrants made up the majority of the workers who laid the tracks for this amazing accomplishment. 

Ways to celebrate

There are national events planned that celebrate AAPI Heritage month. But most people can find it easy to learn and take part in cultural activities close to home. AAPI groups in larger cities typically host celebrations and invite the public. Libraries, too, are good spots to find books, music and heritage activities. Look around your community or regional area for your own way to get involved.
Photo credit: Getty Images

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