History

Origins of Asian Pacific American
Heritage Month

This month long celebration is a dedicated time during the year for celebrating the diverse history and heritage of Asian Pacific American. It is a time for promoting cultural appreciation and community partnerships.

 

Why is the month of May designed for APA Heritage Month?

In the mid 1970s, a nationwide advocacy campaign was launched to obtain Congressional Resolution to designate one week in May as Asian Pacific American Heritage Week. This concept originated from Jeanie F. Jew, a staff person on Capital Hill at the time and a board member of the Organization of Chinese Americans.

Ms. Jew was frustrated that Asian Pacific Americans were not included as a recognized community in the celebration of the United States Bicentennial and she would like to see the United States government acknowledge Asian Pacific Americans as part of the country. In addition, she also wanted to commemorate her great grand father who had worked as a labor in the building of the Transcontinental Railroad.

Frank HortonConsequently, Jeanie Jew enlisted the support of Ruby Moy, then an administrative assistant to Congressman Frank Horton (NY). In June 1977, a bill (HJRes.540) was introduced by Congressman Horton, co-sponsored by Congressman Norman Mineta (CA) to call upon the President of the United States to proclaim the seven day period beginning May 4, 1979 as “Pacific/Asian American Heritage Week.”

Norman Mineta
In June 1977, a bill (HJRes.540) was introduced by Congressman Horton, co-sponsored by Congressman Norman Mineta (CA), to call upon the President of the United States to proclaim the seven day period beginning May 4, 1979 as “Pacific/Asian American Heritage Week.”
Proclamation_Carter0001

A few weeks later, a similar bill (SJRes.72) was introduced in the United States Senate by Senators Daniel Inouye and Spark Matsunaga. Both bills were subsequently revised to conform to the Census Bureau’s designation of the community as “Asian/Pacific” (SJRes.1007) rather than “Pacific/Asian.”

The drafter of the bills selected the week of May 4th because of two significant historical events that took place during that period: the arrival date of the first Japanese immigrants to the United States was recorded as May 7, 1843, and the date of completion of the Transcontinental Railroad was May 10, 1869.

The proposed legislation required the support and co-sponsorship of at least 218 members of Congress in order for the bill to pass the House Post Office and Civil Service Committee. An intense national advocacy campaign was launched. Jeanie Jew founded and chaired the National Coalition for an Asian/Pacific American Heritage Proclamation, and together with Ruby Moy, they also founded the Asian Pacific Congressional Staff Caucus.

Major national organizations that were involved in the advocacy of the passage of these bills were: Organization of Chinese Americans, Japanese American Citizens League, and the Organization of Chinese American Women. This was the first national advocacy campaign that involved the youth and young professionals in our community, notably members of Young OCA under the leadership of then OCA Executive Director Hayden Lee.

As a result of persistent efforts, the coalition was able to secured 231 Congressional Representatives to co-sponsor the bill, and the bills were passed by an overwhelming majority in both the House and the Senate.

Proclamationjointres
On October 5, 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed the Joint Resolution into law which proclaimed the week of May 4-11 Asian/Pacific American Heritage Week.

Meanwhile, the Joint Resolution adopted did not contain a provision for annual designation, and community organizations had to apply to Congress every year for the proclamation of Heritage Week. It took more than ten year of advocacy before the celebration was extended to include the entire month of May. On May 7, 1990, President George W. Bush signed into law proclaiming Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

Subsequently, Congressman Frank Horton introduced legislation in March 1991 to designate May 1991 and May 1992 as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. This proposed legislation received 200 co-sponsors and was adopted by both the House and the Senate.

In 1992, the Heritage Month celebration was finally institutionalized when Congressman Horton introduced legislation (HR 5572) to designate “May of each year as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.” The support for this proposed legislation was unanimous.

On October 23, 1992, community leaders from around the country witnessed a new chapter in Asian Pacific American history as the President signed into law proclaiming the month of May every year as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month in perpetuity.

With this law, the President of the United States is “authorized and requested to issue annually a proclamation calling upon the people of the United States to observe the month designated… with appropriate programs, ceremonies and activities.”

In addition to the Federal Proclamation, the law also provides for “State Proclamation,” so that “the Chief Executive Officer of each State is requested to issue annually a proclamation calling on the people of the State to observe the month designated… with appropriate programs, ceremonies and activities.”