How One Woman's Story Led to the Creation of Asian Pacific American Heritage MonthBreaking News
tags: history, Asian Pacific American Heritage Month
One persistent voice expressing frustration toward the status quo can change the way history is remembered. Case in point: Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. The observance now takes place every May in the U.S. and is marked by communities within the country’s 22.2 million Asians and 1.6 million Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islanders. And yet, despite that scale, the seeds for the commemorative month originated from one woman.
During the Congressional hearing in 1992 in which then New York Congressman Frank Horton introduced the bill that called for May to get that designation, he made a point of singling out that woman: Jeanie Jew, a former Capitol Hill staffer who had first approached Horton about the idea in the mid-1970s — more than 15 years earlier.
She had witnessed the U.S. Bicentennial celebrations of 1976 and was concerned about the lack of recognition given to Asian Pacific Americans. “She thought, what are the different ways that we can promote public awareness of the contributions?” says Claudine Cheng, a former president of OCA — Asian Pacific American Advocates.
At the time, celebrations for Black History Month and Hispanic Heritage Week were already in place. While Black History Month was decreed by President Gerald Ford in 1976 to become a national observance, Hispanic Heritage Week was designated as a national celebration by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1968. “The right thing to do was to push for the Asians to also have a similar time during the year for commemoration and celebration,” Cheng says.
And for Jew, the lack of recognition was very personal: Her great-grandfather, M.Y. Lee, had come to the U.S. from China in the 1800s and had helped build the transcontinental railroad. He and his peers had played a key role in American history but had suffered for it.
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