Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month: 5 Key Facts to Know

May is Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, which celebrates all of the Asians and Pacific Islanders in the United States who have made the country what it is today. During this month, the country celebrates the achievements and remembers the struggles endured by Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. 

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Here are 5 facts you need know about this celebratory month.

1. May was chosen specifically to celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander contributions

The month of May was chosen for two reasons. First, to commemorate the immigration of the first Japanese to the United States, a young fisherman named Manjiro, who arrived May 7, 1843. Second, May marks the anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869. The majority of workers on the transcontinental railroad were Chinese immigrants, who laid the tracks and were responsible for most of the dangerous and heavy manual labor tasks.

2. In 2009, former President Obama changed the official name

Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (APAHM), is now officially Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. The month celebrates individuals from the entire continent of Asia and the Pacific Islands: 

  • Melanesia - New Guinea, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Fiji, and the Solomon Islands
  • Micronesia - Marianas, Guam, Wake Island, Palau, Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Nauru, and the Federated States of Micronesia 
  • Polynesia - New Zealand, Hawaiian Islands, Rotuma, Midway Islands, Samoa, American Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, Cook Islands, French Polynesia, and Easter Island

3. Asian Pacific American women served in World War II

An often overlooked fact in history is the role of Asian Pacific American women in World War II. Judy Bellafaire, curator of the Women in Military Service for America Memorial notes, "Lots of Japanese and Chinese women were trained as interpreters and translators, and some Filipino American women put their lives on the line as members of the underground resistance in the Philippines."

4. The first large-scale immigration was in 1848

During the California gold rush, many gold-seekers came from Asia, specifically from China. This group endured horrible racism, which led to wrongful acts such as Chinese Exclusion Act and Foreign Miners Tax, which sought to drive out foreigners. No retribution has been made for the treatment of immigrants during this time.

5. 2017 marked the first year that 3 Asian American women sit on the Senate

Senator Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), and Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) all currently serve in the Senate. Senator Hirono was the only individual of Asian ancestry until both Senator Duckworth and Senator Harris were elected in 2016.


This month, be sure to check out the events and workshops by:


  •  Asia Society, an organization that promotes understanding among the people and cultures of Asia and the United States. 
  • Korea Society, an organization that promotes awareness, understanding, and cooperation between the United States and Korea.
  • Rubin Museum, an art museum in Chelsea primarily dedicated to Himalayan, Indian, and Tibetan artwork.



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