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Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month: Celebrating Diversity

"Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month" text on a red rectangle with a gradient rainbow pattern as the background

May is Asian Heritage Month, a time to celebrate and recognize the diverse cultures, traditions, and contributions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) in the United States. In this article, we acknowledge the Pacific Islander and Desi communities as part of the broader Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. It is essential to recognize and celebrate the diversity of the AAPI community, which includes individuals from diverse backgrounds and experiences. This month is an opportunity to raise awareness about the rich history and experiences of the Asian community and to promote greater understanding and appreciation of their contributions to American society.

The AAPI community is one of the fastest-growing populations in the United States, with more than 23 million people representing more than 50 different ethnicities and languages. Individuals with Asian Heritage have faced a long history of discrimination and marginalization in the United States, including the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, mass lynchings of Asian Americans in the 19th century, and the murder of Vincent Chin in 1982.

But discrimination against individuals of Asian Heritage isn't just in the past; hate crimes and hate incidents against Asian Americans skyrocketed during the COVID-19 Pandemic and the Pew Research Center reports that, as of 2022, "about a third of Asian Americans say they have changed their daily routine due to concerns over threats, attacks." Additionally, and the ongoing stereotype of the "model minority", which perpetuates a narrative in which Asian Americans are over-achievers, whiz kids, geniuses, and forever-foreigners, and effectively erases the differences among individuals, continues to harm Asian Americans today.

Some terms to know include:

  • Asian American - this term was first developed by student organizers in the 1960s looking to unify immigrant communities around a shared identity, this term was leveraged into the first Pan-Asian civil rights movement in the US, and was later added as a US Census category.

  • Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) - in the 1980s, the US Census created this grouping using the logic that Pacific Islander groups were small enough to benefit from the shared categorization.

  • Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (NHPI) - in 2000, the US Census category of AAPI was separated back into "Asian American" and "NHPI."

  • Asian Pacific Islander Desi American (APIDA) - a term building on "API" by explicitly naming Desi Americans and South Asians.

For a quick resource on "umbrella terms" check out Lily Zheng's LinkedIn.

Although we seek to celebrate and honor all individuals with Asian Heritage during the month of May, the experience of people from different groups is vastly different. For example, for every dollar a white man makes in the United States, an Asian Indian woman makes $1.21, a Taiwanese woman makes $1.16, a Samoan woman makes $0.62, and a Burmese woman makes 50 cents. The differences in pay disparities alone shows us that the broader group of "Asian Americans" do not all have the same experiences.

Asian Heritage Month is a chance to challenge these stereotypes and to celebrate the many contributions of AAPIs to American culture and society. From the arts and entertainment to science and technology, AAPIs have made significant contributions in a wide range of fields.

The cover of the book "Journey for Justice: The Life of Larry Itilong"
  • Yo-Yo Ma, one of the world's most famous cellists, is a Chinese American who has won numerous awards for his contributions to music.

  • Dr. David Ho, a Taiwanese American, is a renowned AIDS researcher who was named Time Magazine's Man of the Year in 1996 for his work on developing treatments for the disease.

  • Mindy Kaling, an Indian American actress and comedian, has written and produced several hit TV shows, including "The Office" and "The Mindy Project."

  • Larry Itliong was a Filipino immigrant, farm labor organizer, and civil rights activist who led the 1965 Delano Grape Strike and co-founded the United Farm Workers with Cesar Chavez. His leadership helped spark the farmworkers movement, one of the most important social justice movements of the 20th century.

  • Yuri Kochiyama was a prominent Japanese American human rights activist who worked with Malcolm X and Black Power organizations.

These are just a few examples of the many ways in which AAPIs have contributed to American culture and society. Asian Heritage Month is an opportunity to celebrate these achievements and to promote greater understanding and appreciation of the AAPI community.

So how can you celebrate Asian Heritage Month in your business? Here are a few ideas:

Green and floral background with the text "Shop Local"


Movie poster cover for Everything Everywhere All At Once


  • "Crazy Rich Asians" directed by Jon M. Chu

  • "Minari" directed by Lee Isaac Chung

  • "The Farewell" directed by Lulu Wang

  • "Better Luck Tomorrow" directed by Justin Lin

  • "Joy Luck Club" directed by Wayne Wang

  • The multi-award winning "Everything Everywhere All At Once" directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert


Additional resources for the AAPI community & their allies:

Ultimately, the best way to celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month is to promote greater understanding and appreciation of the AAPI community, celebrate diversity, and actively work towards a more inclusive and equitable society.

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