Student Opinion: AAPI Month

By Aberdeen Proving Ground, CC BY-SA 2.0,…

LOS ANGELES—May is the official month of celebration for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage accomplishments and heritage. And there is much to celebrate. The AAPI community has contributed heavily to the history, society, and culture of the United States.

There are an estimated 24 million people of Asian descent and 1.7 million of Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander descent living in the US, based on U.S. Census data from 2021. Furthermore, a study conducted by the Pew Research Center found that Asian Americans were the fastest-growing racial or ethnic group from 2000 to 2019, increasing by 81% during this time. They project that the Asian American population in the U.S. will continue to grow exponentially in the future

As the number of AAPI individuals in the US increases, highlighting the achievements of their communities is essential to understanding multiculturalism in the 21st century. In the U.S., though, the AAPI community’s cultural contributions had been historically under-recognized until the end of the 20th century.

Official recognition of AAPI accomplishments and contributions to American society first occurred when a resolution was signed into law which proclaimed that the first week of May would be considered Asian/Pacific American Heritage Week, starting in 1979. In 1990, this week was expanded into a month, and, in 2009, Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month was renamed AAPI Heritage Month.

May is now the designated time to recognize Asian American and Pacific Islander contributions to the United States. This annual occasion is celebrated across the country through storytelling, events and other activities. 

In 2020, AAPI individuals made up 15% of the population in Los Angeles County with a population size of 1,489,525. The AAPI population growth rate in California increased by 53% from 2000-2020 and LA has historically consisted of sizable Chinese, Filipino, Indian, Vietnamese, Korean and Japanese communities. The diverse and substantial AAPI groups populating Los Angeles and all of California have enriched these communities for decades.

Organizations across the state, including, but not limited to, the Boys and Girls Club of America, universities, and news networks, are currently using this AAPI month to highlight AAPI legacies through fostering curiosity and respect for these individuals and their contributions. 

The city of Los Angeles also offers cultural exhibits, film screenings, and live performances to immerse yourself in AAPI culture. The Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA), for example, puts on “a citywide celebration that honors the cultures of the AAPI community, and the generations of AAPIs who have helped make Los Angeles one of the most diverse cities in the world.” This year, the city emphasized “strength through community.”

Notable events the city put on this year include the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival (VC Film Fest) and the AAPI LA Market at Smorgasburg.

Also, the Hammer Museum in Westwood featured an art exhibit titled “Only the Young”, an exploration of Experimental Art in Korea from the 1960s–1970s, which began in the beginning of May. The exhibition brings to life the work of artists who emerged in the years after the Korean War. The young artists featured in the exhibit were dealing with a “rapidly evolving social and political landscape” which led them to “take up an expanded, transdisciplinary approach to their creative output”.

Like many other cultural explorations occurring during AAPI Heritage Month, the exhibition of “Only the Young” is an homage to the struggles of the ancestors of Asian immigrants to America.

At the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), 35 percent of undergraduate students and 21 percent of graduate students identify as Asian or Pacific Islander. For this reason, there are an array of festivities organized by students, faculty and staff which allow students to appreciate the cultures highlighted during AAPI month.

The UCLA Student Union (ASUCLA) published an article detailing the events students can attend on campus this May. From an Asian Pacific Island (API) film night to events led by AAPI organizations on campus, the UCLA community provides many opportunities to participate in immersive, diverse experiences.

Though the month of celebration is coming to a close, resources are available year-round to learn more about AAPI heritage through appreciation of literature, art, and other media.

Novels such as Real Americans by Rachel Khong, View Finder by Jon Chu and Jeremy McCarter (which will be released on July 23, 2024), and All This Could be Different by Sarah Thankam Mathews all feature captivating stories of Asian American identities. Past Lives directed by Celine Song, a Korean-Canadian director, is a film about the immigrant experience that illustrates the changing realities of a woman grappling with aspects of her Korean and American identity.

 There are countless other ways to immerse yourself in the cultural offerings of the AAPI communities; they can be accessed through educational institutions, public libraries, online platforms and even social media. It is essential to seek out the resources that enable you to learn more about such a rich and diverse part of American history.

Government organizations and agencies such as the U.S. Federal Courts, the White House, and the National Archives all have exceptional resources for further readings on important moments in AAPI history in the United States. Check them out!

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