Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month
by Ryan Park
During the month of May, the United States recognizes Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. This celebration, spanning from May 1st to May 31st, honors the contributions and accomplishments of Asian Americans, Pacific Islander Americans, and Native Hawaiians.
Why the month of May?
In 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed a bill that was passed by Congress to expand Asian American Heritage Week into the entirety of the month. Two years later, it was renamed Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month to recognize the contributions of all Americans of Asian descent. The month of May was chosen because it commemorates the first immigration of Japanese Americans on May 7, 1843. In addition, it commemorates the completion of the transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869, as Asian immigrants made crucial contributions to our country’s first coast-to-coast railway.
Making their Mark in America
An important aspect of the commemoration of AAPI Heritage Month is sharing the many life stories of those of Asian descent.
Born May 31, 1912, Dr. Chien-Shiung Wu is a pivotal figure in the history of physics. An immigrant to the United States from China, she did important work for the nuclear Manhattan Project, helping to develop the process for separating uranium into uranium-235 and uranium-238 isotopes by gaseous diffusion. Wu studied nuclear physics at the University of California, Berkeley where she got the chance to learn from physicists like J. Robert Oppenheimer. She later went on to become the first female instructor in the Physics Department at Princeton University, and her contributions to experimental physics include the Wu experiment, which proved that parity is not conserved.
On March 12, 2023, at the 95th Academy Awards, Malaysian actress Michelle Yeoh made history by becoming the first Asian woman to win an Oscar for Best Actress for the film Everything Everywhere All at Once. You can also find her in other popular movies like Shang Chi; Crazy Rich Asians; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; and Wicked.
On that same day, Vietnamese-American actor Ke Huy Quan won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for the same movie. Ke Huy Quan was the first Asian to win this award in 38 years! A fun fact is that Ke Huy Quan was the actor who played the part of Short Round, a young boy in the popular Indiana Jones movie series.
Chloe Kim, a Korean-American Olympic snowboarder, is the youngest woman to win an Olympic gold medal in snowboarding. In the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeong Chang, Chloe became a gold medalist in the women’s snowboard halfpipe at the age of 17 and later became a two-time Olympic gold medalist. Although she has taken a break from the sport, she is set to return to the 2026 Winter Olympics in Italy.
You can find out more on: https://www.asianpacificheritage.gov/