May Is Time to Celebrate Asian-Pacific American Heritage

What Can Your Company Do to Learn More About This Group's Achievements and Contributions?

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For many in the U.S., May is about celebrating Cinco de Mayo or planning for long Memorial Day weekend and the start of summer. But for this writer and more than 18 million Americans of Asian, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander heritage, it's Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month.

Why May? In May 1983, the first Japanese immigrants arrived in the United States, and in May 1869, the transcontinental railroad was completed by a workforce that included a large number of immigrants from China. These are two major historical events, giving us all an excuse to commemorate the many contributions made to the country by Americans of Asian, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander descent.

How are corporate marketers and advertisers marking Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month? Many, including AT&T, McDonald's and Walmart, are sponsoring programs and events at their home offices or in cities such as Atlanta, Chicago, Honolulu, Houston, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington honoring civic, educational, business, corporate and governmental leaders. Some are holding conferences, panel discussions and symposia covering a range of topics, including leadership development, political empowerment and civic engagement.

Marketers and advertisers need to know that Asian-Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders are not monolithic. We hail from a variety of cultural backgrounds and ethnicities. Our numbers are not concentrated in the West but are increasing rapidly in a large number of states in the Midwest, Northeast and Southeast.

What could your companies be doing to learn more about the achievements and contributions made by Americans of Asian or Pacific Islander heritage? Plenty. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Invite an Asian-American or Pacific Islander American member of your executive team to give a talk on his or her experiences living in the U.S. (You need to have at least one Asian-American or Pacific Islander American on your team to apply this idea.)

  • Invite a faculty member from a college or university with an Asian-American or Pacific Islander American studies program to offer a talk about these communities and consumers.

  • Convene a panel discussion of Asian-American and Pacific Islander American community and civic leaders to talk about their communities, interests, needs, and aspirations.

  • Invite one of the more than 865 Asian-American or Pacific Islander traditional media outlets and/or one of the more than 400 social-media sites to offer a talk on their perspectives about their respective communities and on the future of media in the U.S.

  • Invite an elected or an appointed official of Asian-American or Pacific-Islander heritage to talk about the growing number of this group in public service.

  • Take a member of your team who is Asian-American, Native Hawaiian and/or Pacific Islander out for a meal or a drink to learn what it means for him/her to be a member of that group, or person of mixed heritage.

If you complete one or more of the foregoing, you'll walk away with a greater appreciation for the diversity of our country and the contributions made by Asian-Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders.

A note about the actor Ashton Kutcher and Pop Chips.

I agree with what blogger/entrepreneur Anil Dash said in his blog. I also want to note that I don't believe for a minute that anyone at Pop Chips or its agency is racist. (The company recently apologized and pulled the offending ads.)

We do need to learn from these gaffes. It is not OK to paint your face brown, dress up as an Asian Indian and speak with an exaggerated foreign accent to promote a product or service. This is not only demeaning but bolsters negative stereotypes about Asians and Asian-Americans as silly, feeble-minded and devoid of sophistication.

Perhaps Pop Chips should take this opportunity to invite a group of civic and community leaders to its offices to talk about having a more positive portrayal of Asians and Asian-Americans. After all, it is Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month. I'd be more than willing to offer them a few suggestions.

Bill Imada is chairman-CEO of the IW Group, New York.
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