The APAHM Project: The 30th Anniversary
Updated: Apr 27
ICYMI: I am conducting The APAHM Project where I watch movies every day that are created by or starring an Asian American. Read about it here and watch along with me!
It was a hot, humid, Memphis day in May 2019. I was in a dress and heels, trying to keep the sweat off my face since I knew we were going to be taking photos later. We had walked to the FedEx Forum, right off the historical Beale Street to celebrate the unveiling of the first Memphis Historical Marker recognizing the Chinese Mid-South community. The marker was dedicated to the Lung Kong Tin Yee Association, an association that began in San Francisco during the Gold Rush as a place of social and religious gathering for Chinese immigrants. My father and uncle, whose father signed the original charter for the Memphis chapter, unveiled the shiny, green marker in front of dozens of our local Chinese community members. The president of the Chinese Historical Society of Memphis and the Mid-South acknowledged that it was only fitting that the first historical marker honoring the Mid-South Chinese would be unveiled during Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.
I never learned about APAHM in school. We never once had a history lesson about Asians outside of the World Wars and the Transcontinental Railroad. I remember finding any opportunity, whether it be book reports, art projects, or show and tells, to share my heritage with my classmates. In fact, the first time I heard of APAHM was only a couple of years ago, and as it turns out, it’s a relatively new celebration.
On March 28, 1979, President Carter signed a Public Law for “Asian/Pacific American Heritage Week” after members of Congress proposed that the United States formally recognized Asian/Pacific Americans for their contributions to “sciences, arts, industry, government, and commerce” (Source). You may be shocked that “APAHM” was once “APAHW”, but Black History Month and National Hispanic Heritage Month also started off as only a 7-day celebration (Source).
It wasn’t until President George H.W. Bush issued a Proclamation in 1990, after Congress passed a Public Law with the request, to change Asian/Pacific American Heritage Week to Asian/Pacific American Month. This law stated that Americans should celebrate APAHM with ceremonies and activities. May 7, 1990 was the first official APAHM (Source).
But why May? Asian August, a movement started by the release of “Crazy Rich Asians” in 2018, has a nice ring to it. Congress chose the month of May because the first Japanese immigrant came to America on May 7, 1843 and the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, known as Golden Spike Day, was on May 10, 1869, which was a success due to the large amount of Chinese immigrant laborers. Because of these significant, historical events, Congress unanimously passed a Public Law recognizing May 1991 and May 1992 as APAHM. This Public Law also recognized that, at this time, more than 6.9 million people in America had cultural ties to Asia or the Pacific Islands (Source). As of 2019, this number has grown to about 20 million (Source). In 1992, Congress passed a Public Law that permanently recognized every May to officially be APAHM.
However, just because APAHM happens in May does not mean we should only celebrate our heritage during this spring month, just as we should not only learn about Black History in February. The immigrant culture is pertinent to American history and therefore should be celebrated every day. For without it, America would not be what it is: a melting pot of a plethora of rich and unique cultures that identifies each individual. APAHM, just like any cultural month, is an opportunity to raise awareness and give appreciation to our culture and our ancestors. To expose our heritage to someone new and acknowledge our contribution to American history.
In May of 2020, we celebrate 30 years of APAHM, but over 150 years of Asian Pacific American history. It is now a celebration I take absolute pride in and I hope it is more widely acknowledged as the years go by. But for now, it is up to us to raise awareness of this heritage month by celebrating what makes us special and unique, which quite frankly, is just being our absolute genuine selves.