More than 30 years ago, for the first time, Congress designated May as what’s now called Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month as a way to officially recognize and celebrate the community.
Since then, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have become the fastest-growing racial or ethnic group in the United States, with a population that’s expected to surpass 35 million by 2060, according to the Pew Research Center. This multicultural community encompasses people who speak more than 100 languages with roots in more than 20 countries, including China, India and the Pacific islands, such as Samoa.
This year, AAPI Heritage Month comes as the community continues to grapple with anti-Asian attacks, including against older people. But there is also plenty to celebrate.
“With the spike in anti-Asian hate and rhetoric, it’s an opportunity to pause and reflect on the contributions of Asian Pacific Americans to the fabric of America,” says Roland Hwang, vice president of public affairs for OCA-Asian Pacific American Advocates and cofounder of American Citizens for Justice. It’s “an opportunity for Americans to appreciate who we are, as members and contributors to society, and to celebrate that.”
Having spent much of the past two-plus years supporting COVID-19-related public health efforts, as well as combating anti-Asian hate, AAPI community members have the chance in May to celebrate being together in person.
“With everything that’s happening in our community, I’m glad we have our space and events where our communities are centered,” says Emilio Manuel Camu, whose roles include director of the Asian Link Project and director of the Pilipino American Association of Utah.
Read on for ways to observe AAPI Heritage Month.
Support Asian-owned businesses and restaurants
As pandemic restrictions ease, go out and support Asian-owned restaurants and small businesses. Many Asian neighborhoods were hard hit financially and otherwise by the COVID-19 pandemic and some saw a drop-off in business due to anti-Asian rhetoric, says Debbie Chen, executive vice president for OCA-Asian Pacific American Advocates.
“For a lot of small businesses, they’re really struggling and taking losses just to see it through,” Chen says.
To help, OCA-Asian Pacific American Advocates has created a national directory of Asian-owned restaurants and food businesses. A work in progress, it launches May 1 for AAPI Heritage Month, with some of the businesses offering special restaurant promotions through early June.
“Food is such an important part of our community,” Chen says. “My hope is that part of AAPI Heritage Month is to support small mom-and-pop businesses, going out to eat, ordering takeout and celebrating this month with your families and friends.”
If you’d rather provide support virtually, take a tour through Gold House’s Gold Rush market, featuring AAPI-owned businesses. Gold House, a nonprofit supporting AAPI entrepreneurs, creators and leaders, established the online marketplace to showcase AAPI-founded start-ups. Many of the businesses will offer special discounts during AAPI Heritage Month.
Dive into AAPI books and entertainment
Take the opportunity to learn more about the lives, experiences and rich histories of AAPI communities through books, films and shows. Throughout May, for example, the Asian Authors Alliance will post a series of YouTube videos featuring conversations with AAPI authors. The Lakshmi and Asha Show also reviews the latest books, films and television shows through a South Asian American lens. Or tune into Campu, a podcast, featuring stories about the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II, and produced by Densho, an organization that preserves Japanese American stories.
CAAMFest40, the annual film festival organized by the Center for Asian American Media, will run May 12-22 with a full lineup of virtual and in-person showings, plus food and music in the San Francisco Bay Area. Pacific Islanders in Communications also offers compelling documentaries and films, including the documentary series Pacific Heartbeat, an authentic look at Pacific Islander culture and issues. OCA-Asian Pacific American Advocates is also launching a series of videos and virtual events during May highlighting the relationship and deep history between AAPI and Black communities.
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Join online or local AAPI events
After going virtual during the pandemic, in-person events are making a comeback. After a two-year hiatus, the Locke Foundation will host its Asian Pacific Spring Festival. The May 21 celebration takes place in the historic town of Locke in Northern California, known as one of the last remaining rural Chinatowns in the United States.
In San Francisco’s Chinatown, the Chinese Historical Society of America also kicks off its new exhibit, We Are Bruce Lee: Under the Sky, One Family. Featuring memorabilia from Lee’s family, the exhibit showcases the impact the actor and martial artist made in entertainment, business, and both the Asian and Black communities.
Need a good laugh? The Asian Comedy Fest takes place in person in New York May 6 and 7.
It’s also easy to take part virtually. In New York, the Coalition of Asian Pacific Americans is presenting a hybrid, monthlong series of in-person and virtual events. Asia Society Texas is also hosting many in-person and virtual events, including origami lessons and art tours.
Take an AARP Oregon-sponsored virtual guided tour of the Lan Su Chinese Garden in Portland, Oregon, with its authentic tea house and beautiful landscaping.
And after eating in all of those Asian-owned restaurants, you may want to try out your own cooking skills. AARP is sponsoring a virtual Filipino kitchen cooking experience featuring Chef Marvy Shuman, which will look at the rich history of Filipino food.
Love baseball? JACL, also known as the Japanese American Citizens League, is hosting a free webinar May 7 on the history of baseball and its impact during World War II and the incarceration of Japanese Americans.
On a more serious note, AARP Oregon will host a virtual conversation May 17 about breaking stereotypes and fighting anti-Asian hate.
Of course, May is not the only month for recognizing and supporting the AAPI community, and people should look for opportunities to learn about the AAPI community year-round, says Tavae Samuelu, executive director of Empowering Pacific Islander Communities. “Every month is heritage month for us,” Samuelu says. “Every day is a space for us to celebrate our culture.”
Ellen Lee is a contributing writer who covers race, gender and identity. Her work has also appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic and Real Simple.