Students from the University of Michigan celebrate Asian/Pacific Islander American Heritage Month. Photo courtesy of UM Asian/Pacific Islander American Heritage Month Facebook.

Honoring Asian and Pacific American Heritage in Michigan

Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, or Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, has been celebrated across the United States each May since 1979. Originally a week-long tribute to the culture and contributions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, the commemoration was expanded to the full month in 1990.

The timing of this celebration is to honor the first Japanese immigrants, who arrived on May 7, 1843, and the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad project, of which thousands of workers were Chinese immigrants, on May 10, 1869.

Chinese American baseball team from Hawaii which came to the United States to play against university teams. This team played Columbia University's team on May 31, 1914. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Chinese American baseball team from Hawaii which came to the United States to play against university teams. May 31, 1914. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have geographic ties ranging from the entire continent of Asia to the Pacific island groups of Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia. Cultures across this broad landscape vary widely from region to region, which is why it’s important to recognize the unique contributions these groups of people bring to America.

In order to learn more about what local Asian and Pacific Americans are doing to celebrate their heritage, I reached out to Maham Shaikh, co-chair of the University of Michigan A/PIA Heritage Month group. The theme of UM’s celebration this year was “History and Hope: Honoring A/PIA Heroes, Leveraging our Legacies.”

Hawaiian fisherman, 1920. Artist: Charles William Bartlett. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Hawaiian fisherman, 1920. Artist: Charles William Bartlett. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

“We focused on A/PIA Heroes because, often, we are not educated about activists of all forms in our communities and don’t know Asian American and Pacific Islander history. This ties into one of the issues that our community faces: our narratives and experiences are rarely, if ever, taught in school,” says Shaikh. She, along with other members of the nonpartisan organization APIAVote Michigan, traveled to Lansing to talk with state legislators about implementing education initiatives that include more content about A/PIA heritage and culture.

The group also asked that Fred Korematsu Day be officially recognized in Michigan. Korematsu was an activist who fought against Japanese internment and helped to shed light on the issue.

“We are working very hard to help support our very diverse community,” Shaikh says. “Many of us no longer want to be identified with the ‘model minority myth.’ This is not really representative of our communities, and people often stereotype our communities in a negative light because of this myth.”

Members of the PAVA World Korean Traditional Marching Band from Los Angeles pass in the 124th Rose Parade in Pasadena, California. Photographer: Carol M. Highsmith. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Members of the PAVA World Korean Traditional Marching Band from Los Angeles pass in the 124th Rose Parade in Pasadena, California. Photographer: Carol M. Highsmith. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

For more information about Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, visit AsianPacificHeritage.gov. There, you’ll find audio and video, museum exhibitions, and teacher resources to broaden your understanding of how this vibrant and unique culture has contributed to American history and society.

How have Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders you know shaped your community? Let us know below!

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