May 11, 2012

May is Asian and Pacific American Heritage Month

by Alic Nelson
305th Air Mobility Wing Historian

JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. — May is Asian and Pacific American Heritage Month – a celebration of Asians and Pacific Islanders in the United States.

This year’s theme is “Striving for Excellence in Leadership, Diversity and Inclusion.”

Representatives Frank Horton and Norman Y. Mineta introduced a resolution to the House of Representatives in June 1977, calling upon the president to proclaim the first ten days of May as Asian and Pacific Heritage Week. A month later, Senators Daniel Inouye and Spark Matsunaga introduced a similar bill to the Senate; Congress passed both bills.

President Jimmy Carter signed a joint resolution Oct. 5, 1978, designating the annual celebration. The holiday was expanded further in May 1990, when President George H. W. Bush designated May as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

May was historically significant to Asians. The immigration of the first Japanese to the United States occurred on May 7, 1843 and May 10, 1869, marked the completion of the transcontinental railroad; built primarily by Chinese immigrants.

Additionally, Asian-Americans have fought on behalf of the United States since the War of 1812.

It is estimated that 12 to 20 thousand of all Chinese-American men served during World War II. Of those serving, about 40 percent were born overseas and unlike Japanese and Filipino Americans, 75 percent served in non-segregated units. A quarter of those served in the U.S. Army Air Force with some seeing action in the 14th Air Service Group and the Chinese-American Composite Wing in the Chinese Burma India Theater.

The first Asian-American general was Brig. Gen. Albert Lyman, who was part Chinese and Hawaiian American. He was followed by Rear Adm. Gordon Chung-Hoon, the first Asian American flag officer.

The United States military has had 43 Japanese Americans, 26 Chinese Americans, 10 Filipino Americans and four Korean American general flag officers serve.

The highest ranked of these is retired U.S. Army General Eric Shinseki. He served as Army Chief of Staff prior to his nomination as Secretary of Veterans Affairs by President Barack Obama on Dec. 7, 2008. His nomination was unanimously confirmed by the Senate on Jan. 20, 2009 and he was sworn in the next day.

Although Asian Pacific Islander Americans are 3.49 percent of the national population aged 18 to 24, they are about 9 to 10 percent of the classes of 2014 at West Point, the Naval Academy, and the Air Force Academy.

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