Air Force

May 2, 2014

Asian American – Pacific Islander Heritage Month: Knowing the Facts

One of the first Asian-American woman pilots, Maggie Gee joined the Women Air Force Service Pilots (WASPs). Since women were not allowed to regularly serve in combat at the time, she trained male pilots and also copiloted military planes for simulated dogfights. In 2010, she and other WASP pilots would receive the Congressional Gold Medal for their contributions.

Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month is a celebration of Asians and Pacific Islanders in the United States. In 1992, the official designation of May as Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month was signed into law. The month of May was chosen to commemorate the immigration of the first Japanese to the United States on May 7, 1843, and to mark the anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869. The majority of the workers who laid the tracks were Chinese immigrants. The observance of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage month is an occasion to remember the patriotism of AAPIs who have served, and are currently serving, in the United States Military. The first recorded instance of Asian Americans fighting on behalf of the United States was in 1815, when General Andrew Jackson recorded that Filipinos had fought alongside him in defense of New Orleans.

In celebration of AAPI Heritage Month, the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute Directorate of Research Development and Strategic Initiatives released the May Fact’s of the day as follows:

  • The Asian American/Pacific Islander American designation encompasses over 50 ethnic or language groups, including Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders. There are now more Asian and Pacific Islander groups than in the past, with 28 Asian and 19 Pacific Islander subgroups representing a vast array of languages and cultures.
  • Each year, the National Cherry Blossom Festival commemorates the 1912 gift of 3,000 cherry trees from Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo to the city of Washington, DC. The gift and annual celebration honor the lasting friendship between the United States and Japan and the continued close relationship between the two countries.
  • In 2013, Democrat Mazie Hirono became the country’s first Asian-American female senator. She was also Hawaii’s first-ever female U.S. senator. In addition, she’s the first senator born in Japan.
  • The Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders reported that 16.6 million Asian American/Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) reside in the U.S., comprising 5.4 percent of the U.S. population. By 2050, AAPIs will make up 9.7 percent of the total United States population totaling over 40 million people. AAPIs represent over 30 countries and ethnic groups that speak over 100 different languages.
  • The fall of Saigon in 1975 started an exodus from Vietnam that would eventually see the resettlement of 900,000 Vietnamese refugees in the United States
  • The 113th Congress is the most diverse group of representatives in history. There are 98 women, 43 African Americans, 31 Latinos, 12 Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and seven gay and bisexual people who are now new members of the House and Senate. Rep. Tammy Duckworth said, “It is good to see Congress starting to look more like the rest of America.” Duckworth, a double-amputee veteran, is one of the historic numbers of Asian-Americans elected.
  • This May, the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center theme for AAPI Heritage Month is “I Am Beyond.” The phrase captures the aspirations of the American spirit and how Americans of Asian and Pacific Islander descent have always sought to excel beyond the challenges that have limited equal opportunity in America.
  • On May 7, 1990, President George H. W. Bush issued a proclamation designating May 1990 as the first Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month, changing the observance from a week to a month.
  • This year marks 40 years since the Lau vs. Nichols decision, a landmark ruling that expanded the rights of non-English speaking students in America. Language access remains a critical civil rights issue today for Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, and other immigrant communities.



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