What is AAPI and why do we celebrate it during the month of May?

Karina Garcia, Riptide Anchor

Asian American and Pacific Islander heritage, or AAPI, is a culture that is commemorated during the month of May. According to the Library of Congress, it is during this month that the United States recognizes “the achievements and contributions” brought forth by people of Asian and Pacific Islander descent. Here is a brief history of how that came to be.

Professor Dr. Scott Kurashige, Chair of the Department of Comparative Race and Ethnic Studies at Texas Christian University spoke at a Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi AAPI virtual event. He explained that the term “oriental” was first used to describe Asian Americans but was later removed for its offensive and outdated usage.

Professor Kurashige said the term “Asian American” did not surface until the 1960s because of the Civil Rights movement and Political atmosphere at the time. “This is the context in which Chinese, Japanese, Philippino, Korean Americans, the main groups at this time are coming together and coining the term Asian American. It was particularly a group at UC Berkeley called the Asian American Political Scientists, the first known usage of it (Asian American) as an organization name.”

Once Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders began to unite under the umbrella of AAPI, the demand to be recognized caught the attention of a few politicians. According to records from the Library of Congress in 1977, three representatives, Frank Horton of New York, Charles Whalen of Ohio and David Satterfield of Virginia presented three joint resolutions. These resolutions originally called for President Jimmy Carter to officially mark the first 10 days, or first week, of May as “Pacific and Asian American Heritage Week.” Simultaneously on the senate floor, Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii introduced the same joint resolution.

Representative Horton, Whalen and Satterfield alongside Senator Inouye specifically intended to recognize Asian and Pacific Islander communities in the first week of May because, according to the Library of Congress, “May 7, 1843 is the date on which the first Japanese immigrants arrived in the United States while on May 10, 1869 the first transcontinental railroad in the United States was completed with significant contributions from Chinese pioneers.”

It was not until a fourth resolution was introduced to the House Floor by Representative Horton that the joint resolution was officially passed and published by Congress. However, this joint resolution called for only 7 days “in May beginning on May 4th as Asian and Pacific American Week.”

Fortunately, this prompted President Carter to publicly issue a proclamation on Mar 28, 1979 where he recognized the significant impact that Asian and Pacific Americans had marked in U.S history. “Asian-Americans have played a significant role in the creation of a dynamic and pluralistic America, with their enormous contributions to our science, arts, industry, government and commerce,” as stated in the proclamation.

President Carter also acknowledged the disheartening fact that Asian and Pacific Americans were once subject to the discriminatory laws and practices of the U.S government. “Unfortunately, we have not always fully appreciated the talents and the contributions which Asian-Americans have brought to the United States. They were also subjected to discrimination in education, housing, and employment. And during World War II our Japanese-American citizens were treated with suspicion and fear.”

Now while President Carter did dedicate a week of May to the Asian and Pacific community, it wasn’t until 1990 when Congress passed a public law that amended and expanded those previous joint resolutions. This allowed George H.W. Bush to issue his proclamation which officially marked the entire month of May as Asian and Pacific American Heritage Month, later to be known as Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Moreover, the public law encouraged people to celebrate AAPI by holding, “appropriate ceremonies, programs and activities.”

Since then, institutions of higher education, military branches and other formal entities have taken on the responsibility of educating themselves and their communities on the accomplishments and sacrifices of the AAPI community as seen through military, science, education and culture. “I think it’s cool that our university (TAMU-CC) takes the time to celebrate and do events for the Asian community,” said Asian American and first-year nursing student Patrick Boland.

“I went to school in the Philippines and I remember switching to a school in Houston, and it was like a huge difference to me. I did not know if I could be accepted or if anyone even cared if I was Asian,” said Boland, “I was pretty fortunate that my transition here (U.S) went over smoothly, but at my school we always did events and stuff for things like this (Heritage Months) and I remember feeling good when we celebrated my Chinese side.”

As for now, TAMU-CC will be holding AAPI related events and activities to commemorate the AAPI communities on campus and in the surrounding Corpus Christi community. For a list of these events and dates click here.