There is Black History Month. There is Cinco de Mayo Day. There is St. Patrick’s Day.

But, did you know that Asian-Pacific heritage is celebrated in the month of May?

From May 1ST to May 31st is Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month.

This time of year honors the sacrifices, accomplishments, and achievements and contributions that Asian and Pacific Islanders have made to America and the world.

Why the month of May?

It has played a major role in Asian-American history:

-The first Asians to immigrate to the Western hemisphere were Chinese Filipinos, who settled in Mexico. In 1750, Filipino sailors were the first to settle in what is now known as Louisiana;

-October, 1831: the first Japanese to arrive on the North American continent, landed here via a ship wreck of the Hojun Maru, which set sail from Nagoya and was bound for Edo (present-day Tokyo) but instead landed on the coast of Cape Flattery at the northwest tip of what is now known as the state of Washington. The survivors were Iwakichi, Otokichi, and Kyukichi;

-May 7, 1843, the first Americans of Japanese heritage migrated to America;

-May 10, 1869, Chinese laborers finished what would become known as the transcontinental railroad in the United States.

“Later around 1840, to make up for the shortage of slaves from Africa, the British and Spanish brought over slaves or “coolies” from China, India, and the Philippines to islands in the Caribbean, Peru, Ecuador, and other countries in South America.

Manila village © PBS

However, the first large-scale immigration of Asians into the U.S. didn’t happen until 1848. Around that time and as you may remember from your history classes, gold was discovered in America. Lured by tales and dreams of making it rich on “Gold Mountain” (which became the Chinese nickname for California), The Gold Rush was one of the pull factors that led many Chinese to come to the U.S. to find their fortune and return home rich and wealthy.

Most of these early Chinese workers were from the Guangdong (also called Canton) province in China. However, there were also push factors that drove many to want to leave China. The most important factor was economic hardship due to the growing British dominance over China, after Britain defeated China in the Opium War of 1839-1842.


Asian-Americans have had a significant impact on the American Civil Rights movement, most notably the famous Grace Lee Boggs, a noted civil rights activist and Richard Aoki, who was one of the founders of the original Black Panther Party, and was promoted to the position of “Field Marshall”.

 A military veteran who spent his early years in an internment camp, Mr. Aoki, a Japanese-American, donated weapons to the Black Panthers and trained them in their use.

Mrs. Lee-Boggs was a champion of Dr. Martin L. King’s civil rights fight, and to this day, she still stands up for the rights of all Americans.




In the beginning in 1977, there were just 10 days set aside in May to celebrate Asian’s impact on America, but, legislation to pass APAHM  occurred with the involvement of  two congressmen, two senators, and two presidents:

Today, the entire month of May is reserved to celebrate Asian-Pacific American heritage. Back in 1977, though, just 10 days were reserved in observation of the month. In June of that year, New York Congressman Frank Horton and California Congressman Norman Mineta introduced a bill calling for the president to declare the first third of May “Asian-Pacific Heritage Week.” In July 1977, senators Daniel Inouye and Spark Matsunaga launched similar legislation in the Senate. After both bills passed, President Jimmy Carter designated early May as “Asian-Pacific Heritage Week.” It would take a dozen years before President George H.W. Bush expanded the week-long celebration into a month-long celebration of Asian-Pacific heritage. In 1992, all 31 days of May were officially designated Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month.


Some facts about America’s Asian-Pacific American populations:


14.9 million
The estimated number of U.S. residents in July 2006 who said they were Asian or Asian in combination with one or more other races. This group comprised 5 percent of the total population.

Asian girl in traditional dress © Peter Adams/Getty Images

The percentage of the foreign-born from Asia who are naturalized U.S. citizens.

2.5 million
The number of people age 5 and older who speak Chinese at home. After Spanish, Chinese is the most widely spoken non-English language in the country. Tagalog and Vietnamese also have more than 1 million speakers.

The projected percentage increase between 2000 and 2050 in the population of people who identify themselves as Asian. This compares with a 49 percent increase in the population as a whole over the same period of time.

33.4 million
The projected number of U.S. residents in 2050 who will identify themselves as Asians. They would comprise 8 percent of the total population by that year.


The percentage of Asians, age 25 and older, who have a bachelor’s degree or higher level of education. Asians have the highest proportion of college graduates of any race or ethnic group in the country and this compares with 27 percent for all Americans 25 and older.

The percentage of Asians, age 25 and older, who are high school graduates.

The percentage of Asians, age 25 and older, who have an advanced degree (e.g., Master’s, Ph.D., M.D. or J.D.). This compares with 10 percent for all Americans 25 and older. However, different Asian ethnic groups have different educational attainment levels — 68 percent of Asian Indians, age 25 and older, had a bachelor’s degree or more education and 37 percent had a graduate or professional degree; the corresponding numbers for Vietnamese-Americans were 24 percent and 7 percent, respectively.


Miniature zen garden © Jim Boorman/Getty Images

Median household income for Asians in 2005, the highest among all race groups. However, median household income differed greatly by Asian group. For Asian Indians, for example, the median income in 2006 was $78,315; for Vietnamese-Americans, it was $52,299.

Poverty rate for Asians in 2006, down from 11.1 percent in 2005.


1.1 million
Number of businesses owned by Asian-Americans in 2002, up 24 percent from 1997.

$343.3 billion
Receipts of Asian-American-owned businesses in 2002, up 13 percent from 1997. Asian American-owned businesses employed a total of 2.2 million people, and their receipts totaled $307.6 billion, or about $961,379 per company. Also, only 28% of all Asian-American owned businesses were home-based, the lowest proportion for any racial/ethnic minority group.

The number of Asian-American military veterans.

The proportion of employed Asians 16 and older who work in management, professional and related occupations, such as financial managers, engineers, teachers and registered nurses. 




AUTHOR CITATION: Copyright © 2001-2011 by C.N. Le.


Asian-Pacific American’s ancestry hails from Vietnam, Laos, China, Japan, India, Pakistan, Burma, Thailand, Tonga, Figi,and so many other nations, each with their own contribution and history. Anytime of year is a good time to learn of the many contributions of Asian-American and Pacific Islander heritage, and a good time to start is during the month of May.

One way that is both fun and educational, is to attend an Asian-American/Pacific Islander festival, like this one, or this one.

So, this month, celebrate APAHM.











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