May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month! This month serves as a time to celebrate the culture, history, and achievements of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) in New York City and across the country.
The recognition of AAPI Heritage on a federal level began in 1978, when President Jimmy Carter signed a resolution into law that had been introduced by Representative Frank Horton of Rochester, New York which established Asian/Pacific American Heritage Week to take place in early May. The dates were chosen to commemorate the arrival of the first Japanese immigrant to the United States on May 7, 1843, and to mark the anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869, in recognition of the Chinese immigrants who made up a majority of laborers completing the work on the project. From then on, it was celebrated for one week in May every year until 1990, when a new law was passed to expand the observance to a month. In 1992, Representative Horton made the push to make this month-long celebration permanent. At that time, Horton credited Jeanie Jew with the original idea for such a recognition, back in the mid-1970s. Jew first approached Horton about celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander heritage because she was disappointed that these communities had been largely ignored during the nation’s bicentennial celebrations in 1976, and she was also inspired by the memory of her grandfather, who was one of the laborers working on the railroad before he was tragically killed in an act of anti-Chinese violence. Congress officially passed the law designating May as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, and it has been celebrated in the United States ever since.
The communities celebrated during AAPI Heritage Month have origins in the many countries that the Asia-Pacific region encompasses, which includes the entirety of the Asian continent, as well as the Pacific Islands of Melanesia (New Guinea, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Fiji, and the Solomon Islands), Micronesia (Marianas, Guam, Wake Island, Palau, Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Nauru, and the Federated States of Micronesia), and Polynesia (New Zealand, Hawaiian Islands, Rotuma, Midway Islands, Samoa, American Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, Cook Islands, French Polynesia, and Easter Island). Coming from such a wide geographical area, the Asian American and Pacific Islander community has a rich and varied history and culture to learn more about all month long.
Especially with the recent increase in harassment and violence against Asian Americans in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is also important that to take time throughout the month to acknowledge the discrimination that AAPI individuals and communities have faced throughout U.S. history — from harsh quotas that prohibited Asian immigrants from entering the country that lasted until the 20th century, to the detention of Japanese Americans living in New York and across the country during World War II. Learning this history is an important part of stopping racial discrimination and creating a more accepting future.
Throughout May, and all year long, we hope you will join us in appreciating Asian American and Pacific Islanders rich and diverse history. This month is an excellent time to learn and teach more about AAPI cultures and individuals, and we encourage you to do so by checking out the resources below, which include exhibitions, lesson plans, recommended reading, and more, for use both in and out of the classroom.
Throughout the month, and all year long, we encourage families, educators, and students to dive into a book about Asian American history, culture, and experiences. The suggestions below are just a few of our favorite titles, with works of fiction and non-fiction for every grade level that feature characters and perspectives that are often not reflected in other popular works. We hope you will enjoy reading and learning from these outstanding stories.
Many of these books are readily available through the citywide Digital Library on Sora, which provides free access to hundreds of digital e-books and audiobooks for our students, including the Asian American/Pacific Islanders Collection which features over 400 titles. Fore even more recommendations, check out the New York Public Library’s Asian American and Pacific Islander Reading List for Kids and for Teens, as well as the National Education Association’s list of Recommended Titles for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage.