AAPI Heritage Month
May is Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month. As I prepared for Sunday night’s neighboring dinner, I realized how little I knew about the history and impact of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. When I shared this with my wife, Kristi, she said, “Of course. You’re a racist white person.” And she’s right. I know the stories of white people who have made a significant impact because those are the stories that get told. And, unless I’m being actively anti-racist and seeking these stories out, they’re the only stories I’ll know. That’s why AAPI Heritage Month is so important. Not only does representation matter for young (and not so young) Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, but learning these stories also matters for me and how I see the world. Sunday night, we focused on the contributions of Jeanie Jew.
Jeanie Jew was a leader in urging leaders to implement AAPI Heritage Month. In 1976, when the U.S. held its bicentennial celebrations, she was disappointed to see such little acknowledgment of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the festivities. She knew the stories of sacrifice and hard work Chinese Americans had put into building the Transcontinental Railroad. Her great-grandfather, M.Y. Lee, was one of the people who came to the United States from China and helped complete the railroad in the 1800s. Because of Jeanie Jew’s work and the work of others, these stories are not lost or forgotten. But, in a country where our stories often center around white voices, we must tune our ears to hear the stories from those who weren’t featured in textbooks when I was in high school.
Let’s use this month to celebrate the stories and rich history of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and allow these stories to speak to us all year long.