On October 5, 1978, President Jimmy Carter designated the first week of May as Asian-Pacific American Heritage Week. Under President George H.W. Bush, the event was extended and became a month-long celebration in honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander culture. They chose the month of May to commemorate the arrival of the first Japanese immigrants to the United States on May 7, 1843. It also marks the transcontinental railroad’s completion on May 10, 1869, which Chinese immigrants primarily built. Today, the Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (APAHM) pays tribute to the generations of Asian and Pacific Islanders who have enriched America’s history and are instrumental in its future success. Each May, cultural celebrations occur nationwide, even globally, through different media, art, schools, museums, communities, and various social events.
The Asian American and NHPI (Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander) communities stand 20 million strong, with Asian Americans showing the fastest growth rate of any major racial or ethnic group in the United States. According to demographic experts, by 2055, Asians would become the largest immigrant group in the country, surpassing Hispanics. And in 50 years, Asians will make up 38% of all US immigrants. John F. Kennedy once said, “Our attitude towards immigration reflects our faith in the American ideal.” This ideal celebrates the rich cultural diversity of the American nation and honors the contributions of all immigrants. Indeed, the promise of living the American dream still holds sway over many, including our kababayans.
Filipinos (19 percent, or 3.9 million) are the 3rd largest single origin group, next only to Chinese (24 percent) and Indian-origin Asians (20 percent). The Philippines and the United States have long enjoyed a time-tested friendship and mutual trust. In his column, in the wake of super typhoon Haiya, Philippine Ambassador to the US, Jose Manuel G. Romualdez, wrote that the US aircraft carrier USS George Washington was the first ship to arrive in the heavily devastated city of Tacloban. Hayan (Yolanda) was one of the most powerful tropical cyclones ever recorded to have hit the Philippines. Over in the US, Los Angeles City Mayor Eric Michael Garcetti spoke of the popularity of Filipino food and culture in California, which has the largest Filipino American community in the US. But both countries did not build their friendship overnight.
In the year 1898, the US battleship Maine exploded and sank in Havana Harbor. The blast provided the catalyst for a war with Spain that spread to its colonies in the Far East, where Commodore George Dewey’s Asiatic Squadron defeated the Spanish fleet in the Battle of Manila Bay. As a result, the US gained island possessions in the Pacific and the Caribbean, including the Philippines. These events enabled large numbers of Filipinos and other Pacific islanders to join the US Navy.
Even then, Filipinos have been making waves wherever they go. A Filipina named Connie Mariano was the first female director of the White House Medical Unit, the first military woman to be appointed as the White House Physician, and the first Filipino-American to become a Rear Admiral in the US Navy. In 1915, the Filipino Navy Fireman First Class Telesforo de la Cruz received the Congressional Medal of Honor for rescuing two men after a boiler exploded on board San Diego. Over time, more and more Filipino Americans continue to prove that ethnic diversity is a national asset and is something to be celebrated. The first Asian woman to pass the NY State Bar is a Filipino-born American lawyer and businesswoman named Loida Lewis, who served as Attorney General for ten years. In 1994, she became one of the first women to own and successfully ran a billion-dollar empire. She was number one on the list of Top 50 Women Business Owners in America by Working Woman Magazine in 1995.
Today, many Filipino Americans are making their mark in their respective fields in every facet of American society. Filipino-American chef Cristeta Pasia Comerford has been the White House Executive Chef since 2005 and is the first woman and first person of Asian origin to hold the post. She has served the Bush, Obama, and Trump administrations. Over at Silicon Valley, Filipino entrepreneur and engineer Dado Banatao developed the first 10-Mbit Ethernet CMOS with silicon coupler data-link control and transceiver chip, the first system logic chipset for IBM’s PC-XT and the PC-AT, and the local bus concept, and the first Windows Graphics accelerator chip for personal computers. Countless others in the business sector, public offices, healthcare facilities, entertainment industry, academic institutions, and other branches of society are working behind the scenes to build a better future and open up new opportunities to collaborate.
This year, as we celebrate Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, we intend to empower the Asian community as members of the global tapestry and recognize the vital roles they play in the fabric of American society. More than ever, all efforts towards promoting cultural diversity and ethnic representation are essential to advancing diplomacy and mutual understanding among nations. Wherever you are in the world, you can join us online as together; we make a stand for unity in diversity this May 2021.
Event: Asian Heritage Month Virtual Leadership
Theme: “Embracing Diversity. Empowering Inclusion. Breaking Barriers.”
Dates: May 5, 12, 20, and 26, 2021
Topics: History, Family, Values, Culture
Where to watch: Live broadcast on Suyomano Facebook page
How to register: https://suyomano.com/aapi2021/
Complete this form so you can take part in this fantastic event celebrating Filipino culture and heritage!
“Our ability to reach unity in diversity will be the beauty and the test of our civilization.” – Mahatma Gandhi
https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2021/04/09/asian-americans-are-the-fastest growing-racial-or-ethnic-group-in-the-us/ https://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/publications/2020/demo/p2
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Zia Kalong is a regular Philippine Daily Mirror columnist. She is a Filipina writer nurturing a deep love for cultures, stories, and the written word. Her mission in life is to find beauty in both the curious and the mundane, share the story of the Filipino people, and stay caught up in the world’s wonder.