May is Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, an opportunity to honor the past and current achievements of Asian and Pacific Islander people who have influenced American history. The AAPI community is not a monolith—they’re a diverse and fast-growing population of 23 million Americans encompassing 50 ethnic groups from more than 40 countries. During the month of May especially, it’s important to honor and recognize the unique diversity of the AAPI community and pay tribute to their extraordinary impact on our lives. Before diving into how you can celebrate and honor AAPI Heritage Month, let’s learn a little bit about the history of the commemoration.
The history of AAPI Heritage Month
In 1977, the US Congress chose the first 10 days of May to commemorate the history and contributions of AAPI communities. The month is significant as this is when the first Japanese immigrants came to the US in 1843, and it also marks the completion of the transcontinental railroad by Chinese immigrants on May 10, 1869. But it wasn’t until 1990 that official legislation designated the week-long commemoration to expand to the entire month.
In spite of the richness and cultural diversity, the Asian and Pacific Islander community has and continues to experience systemic discrimination—from the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and Japanese internment camps to the increased anti-AAPI hate brought on by the COVID-19 outbreak. While racism continues to pervade and impact their social and economic progress, the AAPI community has shown immense resolve. Their achievements are vast, from expanding labor rights of farm workers to technology and medicine to arts, culture, and social justice. Many of the luxuries we enjoy today like Zoom, the star Compass, YouTube, and USB technology were invented and introduced to America by members of the AAPI community. Now that you know how they’ve impacted your life, here are some ways you can celebrate and support AAPI organizations, individuals, and communities now and in the future.
Related: Asian American, Pacific Islander Heroes of History: 5 Incredible Figures
1. Understand the difference between Asian and Pacific Islander ethnicities
The term AAPI is a catch-all term that doesn’t fully recognize the ethnic diversity of the community. East Asia and South Asia are home to many different religions, values, cultures, and languages—over 2,000 languages and dialects are spoken across the continent! And that doesn’t even cover the many different Pacific Islander cultures. The model minority myth is an example of the homogenization of the AAPI experience—depicting all Asians as hard working, self-sacrificing, and committed to achieving the “American Dream.”
During the month of May, make a concerted effort to learn about the plethora of ethnicities and experiences of different AAPI community members. Need a good place to start? The University of Southern California’s Pacific Asian Museum and Asian American Student Assembly partnered together to create an exhibition of AAPI student stories to help debunk the model minority myth and illustrate the diversity of the lived experiences of their communities.
2. Donate to and raise money for AAPI organizations
Financial support to underserved communities is the most tangible way to show allyship. There are several nonprofit organizations that support AAPI rights and education while helping address issues of racism, sexism, and xenophobia. There has been an uptick in AAPI discrimination over the past few years, with the organization Stop AAPI Hate recording nearly 4,000 reports of hate incidents between March 19, 2020 and February 28, 2021. Several other organizations are also combatting hate, discrimination, and social problems in the community but have limited funds. Here’s a list of organizations to consider donating to or working with! You could even organize a donation campaign, profiling or highlighting an organization in a social media campaign, or speak to your school about organizing a fundraiser.
Related: Scholarships for Asian and Pacific Islander Students
3. Support AAPI businesses
There are 2.2 million AAPI business owners in the US, according to the AAPI Chamber of Commerce. Shopping from AAPI-owned clothing shops, bookstores, restaurants, and more can help us in understanding the culture and contributions of this group—and it helps revitalize their communities as well. The AAPI community is among the most diverse and entrepreneurial in the US, creating businesses at a faster rate than other minorities in some cities. During the pandemic, many AAPI small businesses suffered from decreased revenue and the lack of federal aid they received. In fact, 58% of AAPI entrepreneurs reported they had challenges accessing federal, state, and local relief programs targeted to small businesses during the first year of pandemic. For AAPI Heritage Month, consider seeking out these businesses when you’re shopping and dining out, planning a small business fair featuring local AAPI businesses, or using an AAPI-owned restaurant or catering company for a school event.
4. Take a virtual bystander intervention training
Allyship is focused on action, and learning how to intervene safely when you observe incidences of public hate is a good way to help others in harmful situations. When someone witnesses or ignores a public incident, they’re often seen as condoning or reinforcing the offender’s behavior, which leads to increased feelings of marginalization for the targeted individual(s). Many AAPI communities may be reluctant to report incidents of hate or discrimination. Right to Be offers free bystander intervention training. If you’re a student, staff member, or teacher, advocate for a campus- or school-wide bystander intervention training. Educating students and staff about how to intervene safely is a great way to promote inclusivity.
Related: How Non-Asian Students Can Join in AAPI Cultural Events
5. Follow AAPI activists, educators, and leaders on social media
Social media is a place where many of us share stories and learn about important events and ideas. Many activists and educators use social media to share stories and highlight incidents of racism in underserved communities. As an ally, it’s important to listen to those who share the lived experience you’re seeking to understand. If you have Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, here are some leading AAPI activists to follow:
- Ai-Jen Poo, a labor activist and leader for women’s rights
- Simran Jeet Singh, a South Asian writer, educator, and speaker who highlights racism and violence against the Sikh community
- Saru Jayaraman, an attorney and activist who advocates for underrepresented and immigrant restaurant and tipped workers
6. Donate to support Hawaiian families displaced by colonization
Hawai’i is often a popular tourist destination for many American families, but the state and its communities struggle with tourism because it has led to the displacement of its Indigenous peoples and culture. Many Indigenous communities depend on Hawaiian land for work, the cultivation of familial identity, food and natural resources, and to continue cultural traditions on their native land. Excessive tourism has led to a decreased quality of life, increased housing costs, and job displacement for residents. It’s important to be cognizant of how tourism can threaten the longevity of Indigenous communities. Consider donating to organizations in Hawai’i that help with the economic and social displacement of Indigenous communities, like Kahumana Organic Farms.
Related: AAPI Representation and Clubs in College Communities
There are many ways to celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, but as we always like to remind you—allyship isn’t just confined to commemorative celebrations! You can connect on social media, donate to AAPI-led organizations and businesses, and support these communities any time of the year. Let’s consistently continue to show AAPI people how much we value and appreciate their unique cultures and histories.
Want more ideas on how you can be a good ally? Team up with your AAPI friends on the college search and help them find schools that are highly supportive of AAPI students.