Celebrating Asian American Pacific Islander Month

By Lisa L. McGloiry

The Shepherd Church family is comprised of a diverse mix of congregants from different nationalities, ethnicities, and cultures from all over the globe. We are Christ-followers who worship, pray, serve our community, and do life together. One day heaven will reflect every nation, tribe, people, and language standing before the throne and before the Lamb of God in worship and praise. (Revelation 7:9) As God’s children, there is so much beauty in appreciating our oneness in Christ and the differences that make us all unique, right here on earth, as we anticipate our heavenly home.  

That’s why we are honored to celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. This annual national observance recognizes the rich history, cultures, traditions, resilience, contributions, experiences, and legacy of Asian American and Pacific Islander Americans in the narrative of America. According to the Pew Research Center, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) are a diverse and growing population of 22 million people in the United States.

What is the origin of AAPI?

Asian and Pacific American Heritage Week was signed into law by President Jimmy Carter on October 5, 1978. On May 7, 1990, former President George H.W. Bush signed a bill passed in Congress that extended this national observance from one week to one month. On May 24, 2010, President Barack Obama revised the name to Asian Americans and Pacific Islander Heritage Month to recognize and celebrate the many contributions of both groups.

What is the origin of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders?

Asian American ancestry can be traced to more than 48 countries in Asia. The United Nations divides Asia into five sub-regions — Eastern, Southeastern, Southern, Central, and Western Asia. Pacific Islanders are indigenous people that trace their origins to Polynesia, Melanesia, and Micronesia. The largest ethnicities of Pacific Islanders include Native Hawaiian, Samoan, Guamanian or Chamorro, Fijian, Marshallese, Tonga, and Tahitian.

Why is AAPI celebrated in May?

The month of May marks the arrival of the first Japanese immigrants in 1843. It also recognizes the first transcontinental railroad completed on May 10, 1869, that improved travel and transportation time, linked our nation, and rejuvenated the economy after the Civil War. Approximately 15,000 Chinese railroad workers built the railroad. Still, their contributions were not always told as part of the fabric of American history until fairly recently. According to various media reports, Chinese workers were compensated far less than white workers. They were subjected to hazardous work conditions in which many lost their lives.

What is the origin of the Asian American name?

In 1968, the term Asian American was coined by two University of California Berkeley graduates, Emma Gee and Yuji Ichioka. These two activists founded the Asian American Political Alliance (AAPA) to unite Japanese, Chinese, and Filipino American students on campus and to support farmworkers, civil rights, and free speech throughout America. However, there is still some debate about whether the label Asian American may be too broad to accurately recognize the more than 48 diverse groups located in regions worldwide.

What are some resources to learn more about AAPI?

Here are a few online resources that delve into more of the history and culture of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

Asian American Christian Collaborative

Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center 

LA County Library 

Center for Asian American Media