Celebrating Asian
Pacific American Heritage

Special VOICES Web
Asian Pacific American History

"It was because of my grandfather's story and stories that belong to everyone who have Chinese and Asian American parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents that shows that we have indeed contributed a great deal to the building of the United States.  But stories about the APA experience should not only be told to just me and [other APAs] but to all Americans, and that we should be part of the history of America because it is important that Americans understand our past, the importance of our presence, and how critical we are to the future of America"

~Jeanie Jew, President 
Organization of Chinese American Women
 


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Celebrating Asian Pacific American Heritage

Americans of Asian Pacific descent are one of the fastest growing groups of immigrants in the United States. They are probably also the most misunderstood. For various reasons, many are not familiar with that part of the world. People from Asia have played important roles in the settlement and development of this country, especially in the West.

In 1976, when America was making plans to celebrate its bicentennial, Jeanie Jew, president of the Organization of Chinese American Women, was concerned that Asian Pacific Americans were not being included in the celebration.

"We were excluded from those stories during celebrations of the country's bicentennial," Jew recalled. "We were literally ignored even though we were part of building this country."

Jew’s grandfather had come to America to find a better life and worked with thousands of other Chinese immigrants to build the nation’s first transcontinental railroad. Later, he became a successful prominent business person and community leader. In the late 1800’s, Chinese were being blamed for the variety of economic problems. Asian Pacific Americans were beaten and killed.

Jeanie Jew’s grandfather was murdered when he tried to speak out on behalf of his people. His death was a direct result of the ignorance of the significant work that Asian Americans contributed to the founding of America. Now wonder she felt compelled to speak out.

At the time, American had been observing African American history and Hispanic heritage. It just made sense to honor the contributions of those from Asian descent.

The first ten days of May were chosen for the celebration because the first Japanese immigrants arrived on U.S. shores on May 7, 1843, and the completion of the transcontinental railroad was marked by Golden Spike Day on May 10, 1869. Celebrating Asian Pacific American history in May also allowed activities and events to be included in schools across the nation.

President Jimmy Carter signed the resolution to observe Asian American History on October 2, 1978 and the first Asian Pacific American Heritage Week was celebrated in May 1979. This resolution, however, did establish a national celebration. Jeanie Jew, and her supporters had to lobby for the commemorative law to be re-authorized each year.

In 1992, both the both the House of Representatives and the Senate unanimously agreed to create a resolution that would permanently designate May as Asian Pacific American History Month. On October 23, 1992, President George H.W. Bush signed the bill into law.

To the granddaughter of an Asian American that was murdered because of public ignorance about Asian American’s contributions to this county, the creation of an annual, month-long tribute was important. It did not, however, erase the pain of her personal loss. Jeanne Jew devoted a major portion of her life fighting to get America to observe the many ways her ancestors helped make America a mighty nation.

"What started out as a dream in a young woman's eye has become, I think, the single-most significant event to honor Asian Pacific Americans," Jew said. "It may have started in Washington, but it now crosses each state and every state has its own significant manner in which to celebrate it.”

“My dream continues,” Jew added. "Hopefully I'll live long enough to see more of my dream realized. It is a journey, it is a dream; it is an Asian American dream for us to continue because each generation puts their stamp on what this month means to them."

While today the celebration of Asian Pacific American history is a joyous event, all of these celebrations for the different heritages that build this country involve and acknowledge a people who were once excluded and neglected. No, paying homage to people that were once disrespected or even persecuted does not make past wrongs right.

It is a way, however, to create a more meaning dialog in this country and build an appreciation for diversity. People from Vietnam, India, China, Korea, Japan, Cambodia, Fiji, the Philippines, Thailand, and many other nations, as well as the islands of Guam, American Samoa, and Hawaii, have enriched every aspect of American society.

Spending some time each year acknowledging and honoring the talents, intellect, and determination of immigrants is important. It is part of our national heritage. It is also the best way to ensure that Americans will never again commit acts of violence against any ethnic group out of ignorance and intolerance.

By Bill Breitsprecher
©2006, Breitlinks.  All Rights Reserved

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Research Guide:  
Asian Pacific American Heritage

Here are some resources to learn more about the contributions of Asian Pacific Americans.  Conducting a search for information in an organized manner will help us locate what we need with the least amount of work.  It also helps ensure that we start projects with good information.  To see an easy to follow outline to help organize a research project, check our Mr. B's "Take Five" Research Process.   To see more about writing, please look at Mr. B's Writing Quick Tips for "tips & tricks" and links to other Websites that cover virtually ALL aspects grammar and writing.  

Topic:  The contributions diverse people built this country.  Understanding and appreciating this diversity begins when we honor and celebrate many ways individuals and groups of people influenced U.S. history.  People of Asian-Pacific descent have been living in the U.S. since the mid-19th century, but only recently have that large immigrations and sweeping political and societal changes allowed the Asian American population to become a significant participant in U.S. society.  Studying the rich heritage of Asian Pacific Americans allows all Americans better understand the value of diversity on our nation's history, culture, and economy.

Library Subject Headings.  Understanding the difference between keyword and subject heading searches is important.  Keywords represent text that appears in a document.  Subject headings are assigned by an information specialists to help researchers identify resources that cover similar topics.  A powerful tool, subject headings create connections between sources and allow a user to benefit from someone else's work classifying information. 

Computerize library catalogs, can be searched with keywords, just like most Internet search engines.   Many useful resources, however, do not share keywords -- this means they will not be located by keyword searches.  Subject headings, however, identify documents that contain information about similar topics even when those documents do not share keywords.  Here is a listing of common subject headings (Sears), typically used in public and school libraries.

bulletAsian Americans
bulletAsian Americans -- Attitudes
bulletAsian Americans -- Biography
bulletAsian Americans -- Biography -- Juvenile literature
bulletAsian Americans -- Businesspeople
bulletAsian American children
bulletAsian American children -- Education
bulletAsian Americans -- Civil rights
bulletAsian American college students -- Scholarships, fellowships, etc.
bulletAsian Americans -- Cultural assimilation
bulletAsian Americans -- Drama
bulletAsian Americans -- Employment
bulletAsian Americans -- Ethnic identity
bulletAsian Americans -- Fiction
bulletAsian Americans -- Genealogy -- Handbooks, manuals, etc.
bulletAsian Americans -- Health and hygiene -- Wisconsin -- Statistics
bulletAsian Americans -- History
bulletAsian Americans in literature -- Bibliography
bulletAsian Americans -- Juvenile fiction
bulletAsian Americans -- Juvenile literature -- Bibliography
bulletAsian Americans -- Politics and government
bulletAsian Americans -- Race identity
bulletAsian Americans -- Scholarships, fellowships, etc. -- United States -- Directories
bulletAsian Americans -- Social conditions
bulletAsian Americans -- Social life and customs
bulletAsian Americans -- Social life and customs
bulletAsian American students
bulletAsian Americans -- Wisconsin
bulletAsian American women

Note:  Substitute other countries or pacific territories for the term "Asian" to find information about a more specific geographic location.  For example:

bulletHawaii (Do not use in conjunction with the term "American")
bulletIslands of the Pacific
bulletEast Asian American
bulletChinese American
bulletJapanese American
bulletKorean American
bulletMongolian American
bulletTaiwanese American
bulletTibetan American
bulletPacific Region
bulletFiji
bulletPapua New Guinea
bulletPolynesia
bulletSoutheast Asian American
bulletBurmese American
bulletCambodian American
bulletFilipino American
bulletHmong American
bulletIndonesian American
bulletLaotian American
bulletThai American
bulletVietnamese American
bulletSingaporean American
bulletSouth Asian American
bulletBangladeshi American
bulletBhutanese American
bulletIndian American
bulletIndo-Caribbean American
bulletMaldivian American
bulletNepalese American
bulletPakistani American
bulletSri Lankan American

Decimal Numbers

bullet299 Religions Other than Christianity, i.e. Buddhism, Shinto, etc...
bullet305.85 Asian American Topics
bullet315 General statistics of Asia
bullet330.99 Pacific Rim
bullet394.26 Festivals, Customs & Holidays
bullet495 Asian Language Dictionaries
bullet641.595 Asian Cookbooks
bullet709.5 Asian Art
bullet915 Asian Culture & Facts
bullet931 Ancient Asian History
bullet950s Asian History
bullet973.04 Asian Americans
bullet979.7 Asian Americans - Washington (State)
bullet990 Islands of the Pacific

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