Written by Diya Bahukhandi
May 7th 1843 witnessed the arrival of the first Japanese immigrant in the United States. May 10th 1869 saw the completion of the transcontinental railroad by approximately 20,000 Chinese immigrants. Such milestones brought great significance to the month of May for the Asian American and Pacific Islanders community, which resulted in its christening as the Asian American and Pacific Islanders Heritage Month.
Congressman Frank Horton, during the Congressional hearing in 1992, introduced the bill suggesting the terming of May as AAPI heritage month, During this time, Hispanic Heritage Week and Black History Month had already been designated.
Today, AAPI heritage month consists of 31 days in the month of May which identify the contributions and achievements of Asian American and Pacific Islanders to the United States of America, and also serves as an opportunity to educate oneself about their history, culture and tradition.
AAPI Heritage Month celebrations are widespread and are both entertaining and educational. They consist of brilliant and vibrant showcases of the Asian American and Pacific Islanders culture and traditions. Dance, music, food and art native to these communities receives the spotlight during this month. Activities are sponsored by the government and educational institutions, which span the whole month and give the AAPI community a platform to step forward and exhibit their culture and heritage with pride.
While celebrating AAPI Heritage Month has always held great significance, this year, it holds far greater weight than in years past.
The year 2020 saw a petrifying increase of 150% in racial crime primarily against the Asian American community. This can be attributed to two main factors- the onset of a global pandemic which originated in Asia, and the public berating of the Chinese community by a certain ill-advised former president.
These crimes ranged from murder and physical assault to racial slurs and verbal harassment. A senior citizen as old as 91 was physically assaulted while an 89 year old Chinese woman was assaulted and set on fire. The ironic phrase,
“Go back to where you came from” became miserably frequent. These crimes were widespread, frequent, and made several members of the Asian American community fearful to even step out of their homes.
After witnessing a year which gave birth to such nightmares for the Asian American community, it would be fitting to claim that AAPI Heritage Month 2021 should be honored and celebrated more by the privileged classes rather than those who are sufficiently aware of its significance.
Hate crimes occur when a certain class recognizes their privilege and uses it to terrorize another. If this concept was elaborated and explained during AAPI Heritage Month celebrations, to those who come from a position of great privilege, especially to children, it would be instrumental in spreading awareness and potentially preventing hate crimes. Moreover, incorporating such matters into school curriculum in honor of AAPI Heritage Month would also provide similar results, with children being at an impressionable and tender age.
It is necessary and wholesome to celebrate AAPI Heritage Month with activities and festivities showcasing the rich culture and traditions of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community. However, it is equally necessary to not turn a blind eye towards the horrific abuse and manslaughter which took place against this very community during the past year. The month of May should be utilized to pay tribute to these innocent souls by making each and every citizen aware of the reason behind their unfortunate fate.
Read more of Issue 7 here.