May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, a celebration of the group’s culture and contributions to American history. Official recognition began on May 7, 1990, when President George H.W. Bush signed Proclamation 6130. May is a significant time to commemorate Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders because the Transcontinental Railroad was completed on May 10, 1869. Many of the laborers were Chinese Americans, as well as others of Asian descent, who laid the tracks mostly by hand. Many workers lost their lives to injury and illness during the six years it took to complete the railroad because of the intense labor and harsh conditions. May also is significant because the first Japanese immigrant arrived in the U.S. on May 7, 1843. Known as Manjiro, the 14-year-old boy arrived on a whaling ship.
While there is much to celebrate, there are still concerns within the community.
“Nationally, reported hate crime incidents rose 11.6 [percent],” according to the FBI’s 2022 hate crimes report. Of the 9,065 crimes recorded, anti-Asian sentiment accounted for 7.1 percent. According to the Census Bureau in 2020, 20.6 million people identify as Asian, Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander (AAPI) as their primary race.
Attacks against the Asian American community still persist. In January, a lone gunman opened fire in a dance studio in Monterey Park, California, during a Lunar New Year celebration. The gunman killed 11 people and injured nine more. Many others were devastated and are working to heal.
Torrance, California, about 20 miles southwest of Monterey Park, plans several events to celebrate heritage month. When asked how the events of AAPI Heritage Month might help communities affected by violence, Christian Wolf, the executive and artistic director of the Torrance Cultural Arts Foundation, said he sees it as a chance for understanding. “The beauty of the performing arts is that it is a catalyst for healing as well as understanding. Offering a safe space to experience cultural events allows everyone to enrich their lives and gain a better understanding of cultures and people.”
In recognition, AARP will be holding its own events. Daphne Kwok, AARP’s vice president of Asian American & Pacific Islander audience strategy, a Chinese American, believes these events help to educate and foster community. “We constantly need to educate about diversity so that we can become united.”
To commemorate AAPI Heritage Month, here is a collection of events to educate, connect, and bring communities together. Whether through cultural music and dance, or food and movies, find an event near you or online.
You don’t have to miss out on the festivities if you’re homebound or unable to attend an event. There are virtual events in which to participate.
Asian Americans, a five-part documentary from PBS currently streaming on the Center for Asian American Media (CAAM) website, showcases the history and plight of Asian Americans over the past 150 years. Topics include immigration, racism and empowerment, as well as current narratives.
AARP New York will host a five-part series called “Tai Chi 2.0.” The free sessions, held each Tuesday of the month, starting May 2 at 10 a.m. ET, will focus on different areas of the body. Registration is required.
AARP California will host a discussion May 9 with the director, producer and actors of Dealing with Dad, a movie about adult children returning home to deal with their father’s depression. The discussion will focus on the story of a family reconnecting at home as well as the AAPI experience in the film industry. The event is free and open to the public. Registration is required.
On May 10, AARP California will have a conversation called “The WWII Incarceration of Japanese Americans in U.S. Concentration Camps” with archivist Julie Thomas of Sacramento State University. The conversation will examine the U.S. treatment of Japanese Americans after Pearl Harbor. Registration is required for the free event, which is open to the public.