The original resolution to designate the seven-day period beginning on May 4, 1979, as Asian Pacific American Heritage Week was passed by the US Congress and signed into law by President Jimmy Carter on October 5, 1978. Those days were chosen to coincide with two important dates in Asian American history. On May 7, 1843, the first Japanese immigrants arrived in the United States. On May 10, 1869, the first transcontinental railroad in the United States was completed with significant contributions from Chinese pioneers. On May 7th, 1990, President George H.W. Bush extended the celebration for the full month of May and designated it as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month in the Proclamation 6130. On October 23, Congress permanently designated each May as an annual observance with Public Law 102-450. On May 1st, 2009, President Barack Obama signed Proclamation 8369 renaming the observance as Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.
Asians have been in the United States since Chinese immigrants came to the country in the 1800s to help build the transcontinental railroad. Over the past 200 years, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have contributed to society in all aspects of life such as sports, entertainment, government, medicine, engineering and science. However, that rich history also comes with experiences of discrimination and distrust of Asian Americans. Some citizens looked at immigrants as a threat to their jobs and their way of life. During World War II, Japanese Americans were displaced from their home and moved to internment camps. According to the 2018 estimates from the United States Census Bureau, there are over 22 Million Asian Americans and 1.4 Million Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islanders living in the United States. Though society has grown to accept cultural diversity, the recent pandemic has shown that we still need to continue holding conversations about diversity and inclusion.
Communities often observe Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month by holding festivals and education-based activities that highlight the vastly diverse cultures associated with people of Asian and Pacific Islander descent and celebrate notable Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders who have made an impact in history. These notable contributions have influenced Arts and Entertainment, Business, Government and Politics, Journalism, Military, Science and Technology, and Sports and paved the way for others to follow.
The SWE Asian Connections Affinity Group would like to take this time to celebrate and reflect on this rich history by highlighting notable women in STEM as well as the members of our own community. Thank you to all the members who volunteered to be featured either in a podcast or an article. We look forward to sharing these wonderful stories with all of you throughout the month of May.
About the Author:
Lead Member Engineering Staff at Lockheed Martin Corporation
Empowerment Co-Chair, SWE Asian Connections Affinity Group
SWE South Jersey Section