Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month
May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, a month that has special significance for me, since I’m a child of Chinese immigrants who were able to live the American Dream.
I am grateful for my heritage.
And I am thankful for heroes like Wong Kim Ark. Wong, a native-born American of Chinese descent, traveled abroad and was denied re-entry to the United States because of the Chinese Exclusion Act. He challenged this all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and won, back in 1898. Because of his fortitude, the Supreme Court ruled that the Citizenship Clause of the 14th Amendment signifies that everyone born in the United States is a citizen.
Back in 1978, Congress passed a resolution to commemorate Asian American Heritage Week during the first 10 days of May. This period was chosen to correspondent to two important dates in our history: the arrival of the first Japanese immigrants on May 7, 1843, and the completion of the transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869. The majority of the workers who laid the tracks were Chinese immigrants.
In May 1990, President George H.W. Bush designated a month-long commemoration in honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage.
During Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we remember the challenges and heartache that members of our communities faced and overcame to become part of the fabric of America.
I reflect on the dark days of internment when thousands of people of Japanese ancestry were imprisoned in “war relocation camps” during World War II. And I will never forget the decades of interrogations and long detentions of immigrants at the Angel Island Immigration Station before they were admitted to America.
Yet, we have persevered. And we have made enormous contributions to society, which can be seen in all walks of life. From the athletic field to the halls of Congress, we have made indelible marks on the American story. We have thrived in the business world and played a vital role in the nation’s technological advancement.
Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month is a great time to learn about the challenges and celebrate the achievements that define our great collective history.
Kathy Ko Chin is president and CEO of the Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum, a national social justice organization that works to improve the health of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders and other underserved populations. She can be reached at pmproj [at] progressive [dot] org.
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