Celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

May 03, 2021

Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month. Bernadette Bacero, Instructional Designer in Distance Learning and a first-generation Filipino-American, and Sharon Christian, Director of Learning Support Services, graciously shared some personal reflections in the following essay to help us learn more about this celebration and their cultures.

During the month of May, we join in celebration for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. AAPI Heritage month was first signed into law on October 5, 1978, which then was expanded into a monthlong celebration in May of 1990. Celebrating the multitude of diversity represented in the Asian American and Pacific Islander population, this month brings awareness and unity surrounding the heritage, culture and uniqueness of our AAPI colleagues, friends and neighbors across the country, and the world.

Often the terms Asian, Asian American, and Pacific Islander are used interchangeably to describe a variety of different cultures, races and ethnicities. This is commonly shown on surveys and data instruments that collect demographic information.

When Bernadette was 8 years old, she was stumped on her first standardized test. “Which of the following describes your race?’ “I was trapped between two choices: Asian or Pacific Islander,” Bernadette said. “I was Filipino, and I knew that my parents had always described us as Asian. But wasn’t the Philippines made up of islands in the Pacific? Was I Asian? Or was I a Pacific Islander?”

Bernadette added: “I eventually learned that Filipinos identify as Asian but share a remarkable amount of language and culture with Pacific-Islanders. On the other hand, Asians and Pacific-Islanders each represent an inspiring wealth of diversity within their own distinctive groups. You could easily justify giving each their own separate heritage month.”

As an Asian-Indian American, Sharon faced a similar scenario. While identifying as Asian, this blanket term is often used to describe a vast variety of individuals from different countries, cultures and languages. India in particular is one of the most populated countries in the world and contains hundreds of dialects and a variety of different traditions. Between Bernadette and Sharon, encapsulating our Filipino and Indian heritages seems like a daunting task, but representing all of Asian Americans’ contributions and culture in an accurate and concise written medium is impossible.

AAPI Heritage Month also brings much needed awareness to inequities still faced by AAPIs today. Like many immigrant groups, the AAPI community has faced racial injustice in the forms of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 to the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. Today, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a tragic increase in anti-AAPI rhetoric and crimes. Thus, the month of May also brings an opportunity to learn about the social issues facing our Asian and Pacific Islander colleagues and friends and unite together to take an active stand against acts of hate and racial inequities.

This important month represents the acknowledgement and celebration of the rich culture, diversity, and history of all Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. There are approximately 24.2 million Asian and Pacific Islander Americans in the United States. Each member of the AAPI community offers something rich and uniquely their own to the greater American experience. So this month, we encourage everyone to reach out to members of the AAPI community and to listen to their stories. By allowing the individuals of the AAPI community to be their authentic selves, we each take a step towards bringing our greater community together.

Happy Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month!