Commentary

May 2, 2014

Honoring Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders

Sgt. 1st Class Chadd E. Breit
Equal Opportunity Advisor NTC and Fort Irwin

Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month is celebrated nationally in May to recognize the history, diversity, contributions by those cultures to the United States.

We pay tribute to the generations of Asian American and Pacific Islander people, who have enriched America’s history and are instrumental in its future success. This month was chosen to commemorate the immigration of the first Japanese to the U.S. on May 7, 1843, and to mark the anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869.

The “Asian/Pacific American” designation encompasses more than 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 Island subgroups representing a vast array of languages and cultures. These groups include Chinese Americans, Filipino Americans, Japanese Americans, Korean Americans, Vietnamese Americans, Asian Indian Americans, Laotian Americans, Cambodian Americans, Hmong Americans, Thai Americans, Pakistani, Samoan, Guamanian, and many other language groups. “Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander” refers to people having origins in any of the original peoples of Hawaii, Guam, Samoa, or other Pacific Islands. It includes people who indicate their race or races as “Native Hawaiian,” “Guamanian or Chamorro,” “Samoan,” or “Other Pacific Islander,” or designate themselves as Tahitian, Mariana Islander, or Chuukese.

For many in the AAPI community, their story is one also marked by lasting inequality and bitter wrongs. Immigrants seeking a better life were often excluded, subject to quotas, or denied citizenship because of their race. Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders endured decades of persecution and broken promises. Japanese Americans suffered profoundly under internment during World War II, even as their loved ones fought bravely abroad. During the last decade, South Asian Americans – particularly those who are Muslim, Hindu, or Sikh – have faced senseless violence and suspicion due only to the color of their skin or the tenets of their faith.

Generations of AAPI’s have helped make America what it is today – through proud accomplishments by: laborers, who connected our coasts one and a half centuries ago; patriots who fought overseas while their families were interned at home; those who endured the harsh conditions of Angel Island, and; to the innovators and entrepreneurs, who are driving our nation’s economic growth in Silicon Valley and beyond. Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month offers us an opportunity to celebrate vast contributions, reflect on the challenges still faced by AAPI communities, and recommit to making the American dream a reality for all.

The history of the AAPI community shows us how, with hope and resolve, we can overcome problems we face. We can reaffirm our legacy as a nation where all things are possible for all people. As we recognize Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, who are fulfilling that promise in every corner of our country, let us recommit to giving our children and grandchildren the same opportunity in the years ahead.




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