By Tamera “EON” Pillay, Staff Writer

As a member of any Asian-interest organization, you may be surrounded by people who know their cultures to the core. You may be one of those knowledgeable people. You may still seek more of your culture, like I am.

Here’s a glimpse of the history behind how Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) earned the whole month of May as a celebration of us and how we can take advantage of it.

The abbreviation APA is used to reflect all of Asia and the Pacific Islands of Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia. The month originated with Congress in 1978 as part of House Joint Resolution 1007 for a “Asian/Pacific American Heritage Week.” It became Public Law 95-41. In 1990, it was expanded to a month. The reason May was chosen is because the month commemorates the migration of the first Japanese sailors to the United States on May 7, 1843 and marks the anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad on May 10, 1869. The majority of workers who laid the tracks were Chinese immigrants.

Many organizations like to celebrate AAPI Heritage Month in a big way. Organizations like the Library of Congress, National Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution and more have joined this year in paying tribute to the generations of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders who have enriched America’s history and are instrumental in its future success.

Rodney Jay C. Salinas, founder and president of the Rainmaker Political Group LLC, suggests 10 ways to celebrate AAPI Heritage month.

  1. Talk to the owners of an Asian restaurant instead of just eating there. Talk about obstacles, hardships and building their business.
  2. Attend an AAPI temple, mosque or church, even if it isn’t your own religion.
  3. Get your family members together to talk about your history.
  4. Flip through a magazine, and discuss the portrayal of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
  5. Talk to a young person for a few hours, asking tough and thought-provoking questions about AAPI topics.
  6. If you know any friends who are Asian Americans adopted by non-Asians, talk to them about their life.
  7. Look up the most recent demographics of your area on the census bureau’s website. This shows how the population is shifting.
  8. Go to the bookstore and pick up a book about or written by an Asian American or Pacific Islander because writers write from their cultural perspective.
  9. Personal reflection. Salinas suggests reflecting on questions about your identity.
    • “Do I really identify as an [Asian American or Pacific Islander]?”
    • “Do I think that members of my nationality or ethnic group are superior to others?”
  10. Share with a friend that May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

I cannot express how many important things he suggests. First are the stories. We should appreciate the stories of our people. I like to believe that every conversation that you have or even overhear is destined knowledge, but you never know when those conversations will take place. Take the plunge and talk to elders or youth, and learn from them.

In the United States, we have an immeasurable number of books within reach. However, it is important to read books written by authors of our origins. Novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie depicted this point in her “Dangers of a Single Story” TED talk.

Adichie said she wrote stories of characters who were white, blue-eyed, ate apples and played in snow, while she lived in Nigeria where none of these were common.

“What this demonstrates, I think, is how impressionable and vulnerable we are in the face of a story, particularly as children,” Adichie said. “Because all I had read were books in which characters were foreign…and had to be about things with which I could not personally identify. Now, things changed when I discovered African books.”

Watch Adichie’s full TED talk below.

Seeing how we are portrayed in media is one of the most important factors in improving and having a meaningful, non-stereotypical legacy. Outside of seeing portrayals in the media, other ideas are to research to see how a culture has inspired many others.

You’ll be surprised how many remakes we love or comic book themes/characters are based on Asian culture. In the beginning, YouTube was a medium dominated by Asian performers.

A peer of mine once stated that going on YouTube helped her embrace her culture while attending schools that were dominated by other races. This conversation inspired me to explore the web and see how AAPIs are portrayed or portray themselves on social media, through conversations and hashtag trends.

I really hope that these ideas spark actions within you, allowing you to ask serious questions of yourself and celebrate your heritage. Do not be confined to just the month of May.



Featured Image: Delta Phi Lambda at University of North Carolina at Charlotte