As inclusive educators, we want to 1) provide opportunities to explore the cultural heritage of different groups and 2) celebrate diversity and the many ways it improves our world. Recognizing the different heritage months throughout the year is a great way to spur learning, appreciation, and recognition of the various identities that make up our school communities. So this May, celebrate Asian American/Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month with your students!
AAPI Heritage Month History
The origin of AAPI Heritage Month can be traced to a fourth-generation Chinese American woman, Jeanie Jew. As she participated in the U.S. Bicentennial celebrations, she noted that there was little recognition of Asian American and Pacific Islander contributions to our country’s development. Jew was a staffer on Capitol Hill, so she approached a member of Congress to put forward legislation that would recognize the “history, concerns, contributions, and achievements of Asian and Pacific Americans.” From 1977 to 1979, there were a few bills introduced to Congress to recognize time in May as Pacific/Asian American Heritage Week. In 1990, it was expanded to a month and officially recognized by the federal government in 1992.
May was chosen as the month for AAPI recognition because of two notable dates: On May 7, 1843, the first known Japanese immigrant (a 14-year-old boy named Manjiro) entered the U.S. On May 10, 1869, the transcontinental railroad was completed, with the majority of the laborers being Chinese immigrants. (Learn more about the individuals who transformed transportation in the U.S.)
First, it’s important to remember that who we are is not limited to one identity. We all have a variety of labels that intersect to create our identity at any moment and they each come with varying levels of power and privilege. Our students are experiencing complex social dynamics everyday based on how they self-identify, how they are perceived, and how others identify them.
So which communities identify as Asian American and Pacific Islander? In the U.S., we often refer to individuals with ancestry from India as Indian Americans, but that is not an appropriate identifier, as many Americans with Indian ancestry refer to themselves as Asian American. As we are thinking about representation and how we are celebrating AAPI month, students who are Indian American–and our Nepali and Bhutanese students–also identify as Asian Americans.
Below is a more detailed explanation of the various Asian American and Pacific Islander identities (this information comes from a few sources, but mostly here):
- Central Asians include those with ancestry from Afghan, Armenian, Azerbaijani, Georgians, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Mongolian, Tajik, Turkmen, Uzbek.
- East Asians refers to individuals with ancestry from China (including Macau and Hong Kong), Japan, Korea, Okinawa, Mongolia, Taiwan, and Tibet.
- Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders refers to those with ancestry from Chuuk, Fiji, Guam, Hawaii, Kiribati, Kosrae, Mariana Islands, Marshall Islands, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Pohnpei, Saipan, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tahiti, Tokelau, Tonga, Vanuatu, and Yap.
- South Asians are individuals with ancestry from Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.
- Southeast Asians individuals with ancestry from Burma, Brunei, Cambodia, Hmong, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Timor-Leste, and Vietnam.
It is also important for us to be mindful that Asian Americans, of all categories, have endured a pattern of hate crimes and hate speech in our country–often fueled by racist laws or policies. (If you’re interested, here are a few of the major ones: the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the Asiatic Barred Zone of 1917, and the Japanese Internment Camps during WWII.) In recent years, Asian Americans have encountered higher rates of hate crimes and violence. In 2021, there was a mass shooting in Indianapolis that killed eight people, four of whom were Sikhs, and another mass shooting in Atlanta that killed eight people, six of whom were East Asian women. In 2022, one in six Asian American adults reported being the victim of a hate crime or hate incident.
As educators who care about creating a more inclusive society, we are in a position to rectify these patterns by dispelling stereotypes and celebrating the contributions of AAPI communities. When we teach our students about the history, achievements, and contributions of AAPI individuals, we are honoring our students who are part of AAPI communities and we are preparing all students to be successful adults in a diverse world, where they will have an understanding of a plethora of experiences–not just their own. And maybe, just maybe, they will be able to stand up against prejudice when they see it, making our world a more equitable and safe place for the next generation.
If you are looking to expand representation in your classroom and your content for AAPI Heritage Month, these resource are a great place to start:
- Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center – Relevant and timely resources for students and educators to engage with as we celebrate AAPI Heritage Month.
- The Kitchen Table Project – This website features several curricular resources, from integrating Asian American experiences into K-5 reading and social studies to an outline for an 9-12 Asian American history course.
- Science Buddies: AAPI Scientists & Engineers
- Information about 16 different AAPI scientists and engineers who have impacted our world–from space exploration to medical breakthroughs.
- This resource can also be used for career exploration in the science, engineering, and healthcare fields; there is a worksheet to guide student-led inquiry with reflective questions.
- The Wing Luke Museum – Variety of resources and lessons for all ages on the history of Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, and Pacific Islander American history. For example, this particular resource is a graphic novel of Japanese internment for elementary school students.
- AAPI Books
- This list of books by AAPI authors is a great resource to find a book to read yourself, a new book for your class, or one to recommend to a student.
- If you teach ELA or any of the English electives, perhaps you could post a list of some of these books in your room? (The books listed would be most appropriate for grades 5 and up.)
- The Conscious Kid – This is a great reading list for elementary students!
- California Museum: Tommy Kono – Explore the life of legendary weightlifter Tommy Kono, who began lifting at a young age at the Tule Lake Japanese internment camp. This website has other online exhibits which are easily accessible and engaging.
- AAPI Artists – Learn about AAPI artists who have shaped the art of today in a variety of forms.
- AAPI Musical Artists – This list of musical artists is a great place to start learning about and exposing students to a variety of contemporary music by AAPI artists.