This May marks the annual recognition of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month – a celebration of the innumerable contributions, vibrant cultures, and rich heritage of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States. The term Asian Pacific American is a broad term encompassing the Asian continent and a multitude of Pacific islands. According to U.S census data, the largest populations of Asian and Pacific Islanders in the United States consist of Chinese, Asian Indian, Filipino, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese and Pakistani.
The celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month originated in Congress. In 1977, Representative Frank Horton of New York introduced a resolution dedicating the first 10 days in May as Pacific Asian American Heritage Week. That same year, Senator Inouye introduced a similar resolution but neither of these resolutions passed. In June 1978, Representative Horton introduced House Joint Resolution 1007 proposing that the President should "proclaim a week, which is to include the seventh and tenth of the month, during the first ten days in May of 1979 as 'Asian Pacific American Heritage Week.” This joint resolution was ultimately passed by the House and the Senate and was signed by President Jimmy Carter on October 5, 1978. The bill proclaimed the first 7-day period beginning May 4, 1979 as Asian Pacific American Heritage Week.
During the next decade, subsequent Presidents passed annual declarations until 1990 when Congress passed a law which expanded the observance to a full month. Since 1992, May has been formally designated by Federal law as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.
Considering the vast geographical and cultural landscape, the contributions of Asians and Pacific Islanders are too numerous to list here. The month of May was chosen because it marked the immigration of the first Japanese to the United States on May 7, 1843, as well as the anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869 where Chinese immigrants made up the majority of the labor force.
A resource for a small sample of other Asian/Pacific-American contributions to American culture can be found at https://asianpacificheritage.gov.
Stephen R. Harris is a partner in the firm’s Harrisburg office and a member of the firm’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee.