May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, a time to recognize how Asian and Pacific Americans have impacted and contributed to the rich history and culture of the United States. Although the acknowledgment of this month may be widely known and accepted now, it wasn’t officially declared a time of recognition until 1979 when President Jimmy Carter issued Presidential Proclamation 4650, declaring the first week of May, Asian Pacific American Heritage Week. Eleven years later, President George H.W. Bush issued Presidential Proclamation 6130, declaring the entire month of May, Asia Pacific American Heritage Month, and since then every president has made the same declaration.
In light of recent rising anti-Asian hate crimes, it is perhaps even more important to learn about the history of the United States and how different people made America into the powerful nation it is today. Did you know that Asians immigrated to what is now called Hawaii in the 1830s to work as laborers at sugar plantations? Or that in the mid-1800s, thousands of Chinese immigrated to America with the hopes of making it rich during the Gold Rush? Few made it rich, but many faced anti-Chinese hatred. In the 1860s, approximately 15,000 Chinese laborers helped to build the Transcontinental Railroad—one of the greatest engineering feats in US history. This railroad connected the west and east coasts, changing the way people and goods traveled and how far. In 1900, the first Asian Pacific American was elected into Congress. Ever since then, Asian and Pacific Americans have and continue to serve their constituents in public office. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Asian and Pacific Americans have helped make the United States into one of the most competitive and powerful countries in the world with innovative ideas in science, business, technology, and much more.
On April 22nd, the US Senate overwhelmingly passed an anti-Asian hate crime bill that was sponsored by New York Democratic Representative Grace Meng and Hawaii Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono. The passing of the bill sent a strong message: Asian Americans are Americans and hate will not be tolerated.