The United States government has recognized the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community every May since 1977. Though it initially began as just one week, in 1990, President George H.W. Bush expanded the celebration to the entire month. This is a month meant to raise awareness of the numerous contributions made by Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders throughout the history of the nation.
The choice of May was a deliberate one, based on a few significant historical dates. Capitol Hill staffer Jeanie Jew first proposed the idea to Rep. Frank Horton in the 1970s, wanting to recognize her Chinese grandfather. Along with countless other Chinese immigrants, he helped build the transcontinental railroad in the 1800s before being killed in an anti-Asian hate attack. May 10, 1869, is the day that the railroad was completed, also known as Golden Spike Day. May 7, 1843, is also significant as the day the first Japanese immigrants arrived in the US.
Each year the Federal Asian Pacific American Council (FAPAC) chooses a theme for the month – for 2023, the theme is “Advancing Leaders Through Opportunity.” In a press release, the agency explained the meaning behind the theme:
Opportunity is defined as “a set of circumstances that make it possible to do something.” Opportunity can be built, it can be accessed, it can be achieved, or it can be given. It has been the foundation of our great Nation and thus America is known to be the land of opportunity. Each year, thousands of immigrants from all over the world come to the United States to gain access to these opportunities. No matter who you are, you can achieve anything in this country if you put your mind to it. To keep the Nation moving forward, the capable ones must lend a hand to those in need and provide an opportunity for them to advance, as well.
If you’d like to learn more about AAPI history, the Library of Congress has created a website highlighting different AAPI communities and their contributions throughout the years. FAPAC has also put together a list of resources in honor of the month. Finally, the Portland non-profit Rise Above Hate is hosting a series of events throughout the month that anyone can join.