Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month

  • Published
  • By Maj. Paul Swenson
  • 319th Mission Support Group
We all celebrate major events in our lives...graduations, marriage, the birth of a child. Some celebrations are based on major events, like the 4th of July, Christmas and Passover. As Americans, we even celebrate our diversity with heritage awareness months--Hispanic, Black History and this month's celebration: Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month. If you're like me, you might have wondered how these cultural celebrations get started and why they are significant. So, let me tell you about Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month.

You might be surprised to find out that it literally took an act of Congress to make the recognition official. According to the Asian/Pacific American Heritage
Association, Representatives Frank Horton of New York and Norman Y. Mineta of California pushed the bill through the House, and Senators Daniel Inouye and Spark Matsunaga, both of Hawaii, sponsored the Senate bill in 1977 to establish Asian/Pacific Heritage Week. President Jimmy Carter signed the bill into law on October 5, 1978, and President George H. W. Bush further expanded the holiday to a one-month celebration in May 1990.

Why was May chosen to celebrate Asian/Pacific Americans? To answer that question, we look at our country's history. Again, the Asian/Pacific American Heritage Association tells us that the first Japanese immigrants landed in May 1843. The completion of the transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869, is an important date because the majority of workers that laid the track were Chinese immigrants. These two key hallmark dates in our nation's history were the driving force behind the choice of May to recognize the accomplishments of this important ethnic group.

The Census Bureau's latest statistics on our population from 2004 states that about 13 million Americans call themselves Asian, and nearly half of all foreign-born Asians arrived in the U.S. since 1990. Forty-eight percent of all adult Asian Americans have bachelor's degrees and, would you believe, the median value of all Asian-owned and occupied homes is $306,000, more than double that of your average American? Of course, home values may be related to location, as California, New York and Texas account for more than 50 percent of this population.

Whenever we celebrate our heritage, we like to talk about the accomplishments of those associated with that background. You probably know Michelle Kwan, world-champion ice-skater, and Yo-yo Ma, the famous cellist. How about Steven Chu, Nobel Prize-winning physicist? The results of his research make your SkyScan atomic clock as accurate as possible. Maybe Maya Lin is a name you remember. As a 21-year old architectural student at Yale, her design became what you can see and feel--the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., and she also went on to design the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Ala. Maybe this name will ring a bell: Jerry Wang. Do you Yahoo? He and a graduate student classmate, David Filo, created Yahoo to search the Web.

We defend a country of immigrants, from the original natives that crossed the Bering Sea to young Airmen like Ernesto Roman-Cruz who became a naturalized citizen six months ago. Such diversity and the recognition that we have such rich traditions of culture and language, help us understand each other. As Americans, we naturally accept our differences and celebrations such as Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month keep our differences and similarities in our minds.