May Is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

Who Knew? So Here's What You Can do to Celebrate

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Bill Imada Bill Imada
It's May and it's time to commemorate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. Is it just my imagination or are most of you advertising folks forgetting to remember the myriad of contributions made by Asian and Pacific Islander Americans? Maybe some of you just aren't aware that May is more than just Cinco de Mayo and Memorial Day weekend.

But I digress. Back to Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

At one time, Asian Pacific Americans only had a weeklong celebration. The Honorable Norman Y. Mineta -- former congressional leader, cabinet member (under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush) and currently vice chairman of Hill & Knowlton -- teamed up with former Congressman Frank Horton to designate the first 10 days in May as Asian/Pacific Heritage Week. After the legislation passed through the House of Representatives, Sens. Daniel K. Inouye and the late Spark Matsunaga introduced a similar piece of legislation through the U.S. Senate which helped establish the weeklong commemoration. On Oct. 5, 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed a joint resolution of the House of Representatives and Senate designating Asian/Pacific Heritage Week as a national celebration. In 1990 the celebration was extended when President George H. W. Bush designated May as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

May was selected to recognize Asian and Pacific Islander Americans because in the same month back in 1869, the transcontinental railroad was completed by a workforce comprised largely of Chinese immigrants. May also marked the arrival of the first wave of immigrants from Japan back in 1843.

Most Pan-Asian communities around the country celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month by holding special-recognition dinners, street festivals, symposiums, conferences, poster/essay contents, Asian-inspired film festivals, and employee-sponsored cultural events at the offices of major corporations. Some recognize the contributions of employees, vendors and executives who are of APA heritage.

So what can you do to be part of this month-long celebration?
  1. Encourage, empower and engage employees of all backgrounds and cultures to learn more about Asian and Pacific Islander American culture by supporting and participating in community-sponsored conferences, panel discussions and symposiums. If none are available nearby, begin a dialogue with your own employees and co-workers.

  2. Identify, recruit and invite speakers from local and national Asian and Pacific Islander-American communities to speak to your company/agency about some of the important topics that impact these communities from a community, business, advertising and marketing point of view.

  3. Sponsor and actively participate in programs that commemorate the many achievements made by Asian and Pacific Islander Americans, including employees, customers, and civic leaders.

  4. Recognize and celebrate the diversity of the Asian and Pacific Islander-American community by creating a program or event that highlights the rich diversity of these consumers, co-workers, and clients, and the common values they share with all other Americans.

  5. Ensure that the spirit of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month is retained above and beyond just the month of May.
But the most important way that all companies and agencies can commemorate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month is by recognizing their own employees for their contributions, active engagement and achievements, regardless if they are big or small. So please take time to stop, think and ask: Why don't I know more about that acquaintance, colleague, client or new neighbor who moved down the street and just happens to be of Asian or Pacific Islander heritage? Then do something about it.

Here are a couple of photographs. The first is from the first-ever South Asian Excellence Awards presented by Sony Entertainment Television/Asia and sponsored by a number of major corporations including Wal-Mart Stores/Sam's Club, Nationwide Insurance, Air India, and Western Union. Proceeds from the event are being donated to the Asian & Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund. The second is from the 42nd Anniversary Gala for East West Players, the oldest Asian theater organization in the U.S.

South Asian Excellence Awards Gala -- May 10
Waldorf-Astoria, New York
L-R: Nationwide VP of Market Development & Diversity Tariq Khan; Sanjaya Malakar; Wal-Mart Stores SVP of Finance & Strategy Michael Fung; McDonald's Asian Owner/Operator Wai-Ling Eng.)

East-West Players Gala -- April 28
Universal Hilton Hotel, Universal City, Calif.
L-R: East West Players Producing Artistic Director Tim Dang; Southern California VP of Customer Service and Programs Erwin Furukawa; Southern California Edison Director of Corp Communications Stephen Gale.
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