May is Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, which is a celebration of Asians and Pacific Islanders in the United States. Asian-Pacific is a rather broad term, but according to AsianPacificHeritage.gov it encompasses all of the Asian continent and the Pacific islands of Melanesia (New Guinea, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Fiji and the Solomon Islands), Micronesia (Marianas, Guam, Wake Island, Palau, Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Nauru and the Federated States of Micronesia) and Polynesia (New Zealand, Hawaiian Islands, Rotuma, Midway Islands, Samoa, American Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, Cook Islands, French Polynesia and Easter Island).
It started in June 1977 when Reps. Frank Horton of New York and Norman Y. Mineta of California introduced a House resolution calling for the first 10 days of May to be Asian-Pacific Heritage Week. Soon after, senators Daniel Inouye and Spark Matsunaga introduced a similar bill in the Senate. Both were passed. President Jimmy Carter designated the annual celebration on October 5, 1978. It turned into a month-long celebration 12 years later when President George H.W. Bush signed an extension.
May was chosen to commemorate the immigration of the first Japanese to the U.S. on May 7, 1843 and to mark the anniversary of the transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869. Many of the workers who laid those tracks were Chinese immigrants.
How can you celebrate? Watch State of Aloha, a 2009 documentary that details the complicated history of once-sovereign Hawaii and its people today. It’s being screened at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. throughout the month. View the calendar for the next showing here.
Learning about any of the islands and its people above would be a good way to celebrate Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month. To help do that, the National Archives, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, Library of Congress, Smithsonian Institution and World Digital Library all have a list of links available for perusal through AsianPacificHeritage.gov.