This is America: It's not just Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month anymore
Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month was already a lot to take in.
There are so many distinct cultures and disparate experiences within these two massive identity groups, so often seen as one. But something changed in the framing last year that matters this month and always.
In 2021, the White House singled out Native Hawaiians in proclaiming May as Asian American and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander Heritage Month.
Welcome to "This is America," a newsletter centered on race, identity and how they shape our lives. I’m Eve Chen, a Travel reporter with USA TODAY and co-chair of Gannett's Asian American employee resource group.
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Lawmakers chose May in recognition of the first Japanese immigrants arriving in the U.S. in May 1843 and the first transcontinental railroad being completed in May 1869, largely by Chinese laborers who risked their lives for far less pay than other workers while navigating hostility and discrimination.
The 1992 law establishing Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month in perpetuity honors how "Asian and Pacific Americans have contributed significantly to the development of the arts, sciences, government, military, commerce, and education in the United States."
It didn't go into detail about Pacific Islanders.
A new addition
Now Native Hawaiians are being recognized.
Krystal Ka‘ai, the first Native Hawaiian to serve as executive director of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders, told USA TODAY:
"Since day one, the Biden-Harris Administration has made it a priority to bring visibility to the needs of the Native Hawaiian community, especially as they face significant COVID-19 health inequities. Furthermore, Native Hawaiians’ rights, resources, and lands are often affected by federal actions – and we are actively engaging with and elevating Native Hawaiian voices throughout all aspects of our work.
The steps we have taken so far – including the explicit recognition of Native Hawaiians in the Administration’s initiatives and celebrations – demonstrate our commitment to honoring Native Hawaiians as partners as we strive to build a more inclusive government."
“Kamehameha Schools is honored that Native Hawaiians are specifically named this year in AANHPI Heritage Month and grateful for the opportunity to highlight our history and culture," said Kau‘i Burgess, director of community & government relations with Kamehameha Schools, the prestigious Hawaii-based private school system for Native Hawaiian youth. "We celebrate with our AANHPI cousins across the country the unique and diverse heritages of our peoples and the shared experiences that unite us.”
As an Asian American, I couldn't be more thrilled for Native Hawaiians to have the spotlight.
We are not a monolith.
But Native Hawaiians (and the people of Guam, American Samoa, Northern Mariana Islands and various other islands) have the specific experience of having their homelands become part of the U.S. There is a whole lot of history and baggage there.
That deserves to stand out.
Read more about Native Hawaiians and the issues impacting them
- As Hawaii declares climate crisis, schools hope Indigenous knowledge will save the islands
- Native Hawaiian children were already grappling with poor health and food insecurity. Then came COVID-19.
- COVID devastated Hawaii's lei industry. Now generations-old shops are clawing back.
- Experts: Health of Native, Black moms key in fight to improve infant death disparities
- Surfing champion, hula masters, educators and advocates for Hawaii among Women of the Century
- Why Jason Momoa and other Native Hawaiians protested a telescope on Mauna Kea: What's at stake
- How to see America through Native travel
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