Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month is a time to celebrate and honor the cultures, experiences, and contributions of these communities by showcasing their traditions. This month, as we celebrate the differences that make our country so beautiful, we remember that the AAPI legacy began as early as 1843 with the arrival of the first Japanese immigrants to America. Since then, the Asian stamp on American history looms large, as Chinese laborers persevered through debilitating working conditions to complete the transcontinental railroad in 1869 and Japanese Americans fought overseas during World War II while their families were interned back home. Through their sacrifices, AAPIs faced discrimination, exploitation, and exclusion. But May, as the commemorative month, serves now to honor their experiences and remind us that diversity not only enriches, but is fundamental to, the American story.
Today, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are the fastest-growing racial groups in the United States, having made their mark on this country in business, science, education, sports, and various other industries. Though the vibrant cultures, traditions, and knowledge of AAPIs have enhanced every aspect of the American experience, from cuisine to medical care, something darker has emerged in recent times to cloud their many accomplishments and contributions to this nation.
The beginning of 2020 marked the spread of a global pandemic, and with it came the rise of discrimination, racism, and acts of violence directed towards the Asian community. In a country whose foundation was built on the coming together of different races, ethnicities, and backgrounds from all over the world, it is saddening to watch any group be the target of so much negativity and blame, especially when much of the United States’ strength and power is derived from the strong work ethic and resilience of the immigrants who worked tirelessly to better not just their lives but their new home country.
"they created a life for their children in this country full of opportunities"
As the daughter of Chinese immigrants, I witnessed firsthand the sacrifices made and tribulations endured by immigrants who left their homeland to start over in a new place. Navigating their new country without speaking the language and being thousands of miles away from their family and friends was unimaginably difficult, but my parents persevered, just as the hundreds of thousands of immigrants did before them. My father worked at a restaurant in New York’s Chinatown, while my mother worked as a home attendant supporting the senior citizen community—both put in long hours through the weekends for low pay without complaining. Most importantly, they created a life for their children in this country full of opportunities—a life where we could afford a college education and live the American dream, creating our own contributions to make this country better.
But now, unfortunately, in the midst of this pandemic, the AAPI community actually faces a double threat–the obvious danger of contracting COVID-19, but also the threat against our personal physical safety as the number of cruel and violent acts against Asian Americans increases, fueled by COVID-19-related bigotry. Because of this senseless racism, many in the AAPI community are afraid to do simple activities such as taking a walk outdoors, going grocery shopping, taking public transportation, or even taking out the garbage. Moreover, despite the large number of AAPI community members who are working on the front lines or behind the scenes donating their time and efforts to raise money and fight directly against COVID-19, even these heroes are not spared the discrimination—an Asian American friend of mine was spit on during her commute home from her night shift at a hospital.
This year’s Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month is especially important, as it serves as a timely reminder of AAPIs’ positive influence on, and contributions to, America’s history and culture. Especially now, it is important to recognize Asian Americans as an important faction of the diverse cultures that are instrumental in driving this country towards success. AAPI Heritage Month also brings awareness to the hardships that the community has faced throughout history, reminding us that AAPIs have demonstrated a long history of resilience, going back to those Chinese railroad works almost two centuries ago – and we have no plan of stopping now. Now, more than ever, I am proud to be Asian American.
About the AuthorMore Content by Anna Tseng