History of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

We kickoff APA Heritage Month by remembering the leaders and advocates who helped bring this designation to life. APAHM began with Jeanie Jew, a staffer on Capitol Hill and board member of the Organization of Chinese Americans. Jew was frustrated that Asian Pacific Americans were not included as recognized communities in celebration of the United States bicentennial, and she started a nationwide advocacy campaign to designate one week in May as Asian Pacific American Heritage Week. In addition, she also wanted to commemorate her great grandfather, who helped build the Transcontinental Railroad.

Jew enlisted the support of Ruby Moy, an administrative assistant to U.S. Rep. Frank Horton of New York. In June 1977, a bill was introduced by Horton and co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. Norman Mineta of California, urging the president to proclaim the seven day period beginning May 4, 1979, as “Pacific/Asian American Heritage Week.” A similar bill was also introduced in the Senate by Hawaii Senators Daniel Inouye and Spark Matsunaga. Eventually, both bills were revised to conform to the Census Bureau’s designation of the community as “Asian/Pacific.”

The week of May 4 was selected for Asian/Pacific American Heritage Week as memoriam to two historical events that took place during that period: the arrival of the first Japanese immigrants to the United States, recorded as May 7, 1843; and the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad on May 10, 1869.

The persistent efforts of Jew, Moy, and a coalition of national advocacy organizations secured 231 Congressional representatives to co-sponsor the bill, which passed by an overwhelming majority in the House and the Senate.

On Oct. 5, 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed the joint resolution into law that proclaimed the week beginning May 4, 1979 as Asian/Pacific American Heritage Week. Carter issued Presidential Proclamation 4650, which spoke to the significant role of Asian/Pacific Americans in American history, with contributions to the sciences, arts, industry, government, and commerce.

As the adopted joint resolution did not contain provisions for following years, Presidents Carter, Reagan, and Bush continued to annually issue proclamations designating a week in May as Asian/Pacific American Heritage Week upon re-application by community organizations.

It took more than 10 years of advocacy before the celebration was extended to include the entire month of May. Bush issued Presidential Proclamation 6130 on May 7, 1990, designating that month as the first “Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month.” Then in 1992, Horton introduced legislation that permanently designed May as “Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month.”

*Adapted from the Asian Pacific American Heritage Month San Francisco website. Learn more at http://apasf.org/.

ASIAN PACIFIC HERITAGE MONTH EVENTS

  • APA Heritage Awards Ceremony and Reception May 1 / 5:30PM / Herbst Theater / APASF.ORG