Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month

Happy May 4! AKA Star Wars Day. But this isn’t a critique of the Star Wars franchise as it relates to race and social justice – that sounds tempting, but I will have to do some research and rewatch the movies to make that happen. (Sidenote: Remind me to tell you how Moana and Star Wars The Force Awakens are the same).

Picture of a lucky cat figurine on a white background. Photo by Miguel u00c1. Padriu00f1u00e1n on

Since it is May, we get to celebrate Kodomo no hi tomorrow Children’s day and Boy’s day in Japan, and in the US it is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

Here are a few notes if you’re celebrating/honoring Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

Celebrate the diversity of Asian and the Pacific Islands in America – it isn’t East Asian and Sometimes Southeast Asian Heritage Month with a sprinkling of others month — It is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

Too many organizations forget, practice laziness, or have honest oversights about the diversity of the API race group and default to primarily focusing on East Asians. Do it right and honor the greater diversity of APIs.

Learn about AAPIs

The race group is very diverse and expansive. The Asian race group spans from:

  • East Asia: Japan, Korea, China, Taiwan, etc.
  • Southeast Asia: Viet Nam, Thailand, etc.,
  • South Asia: India, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, etc.,
  • Central Asia: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan,
  • West Asia and Middle East: Armenia, United Arab of Emirates, Yemen, Qatar, Palestine, etc.*

*Currently in the US Census Middle East rolls up into the white race category. There are conversations to have the Middle East become its own race group. For now, I am including the Middle East in Asia as a point of inclusion and want to acknowledge and honor West Asia and Middle East people’s contributions.

In 2000, the US Census separated the Pacific Islander race group into their own category. Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders (NHPI) include three major subregions of Oceania:

  • Melanesia: Fiji, New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, etc.
  • Polynesia: New Zealand Māori, Samoa, Tonga, Tahiti
  • Micronesia: Guam, Caroline Islands, Palau, Yap

The lists above are not inclusive, the examples listed are meant to be geographic place markers.

Please make sure if you’re celebrating AAPI Heritage Month you are inclusive of many different regions of Asia and the Pacific Islands.

No Tokenism

As you celebrate the month, please make sure you stay away from tokenizing Asians and Pacific Islanders. We do not want a celebration that looks like a fake Hawaiian luau with plastic leis and blow-up palm trees. Stay away from caricatures of Asians or over femininized Asian women.

Instead do some research and learn about the Asians and Pacific Islanders in your community. Migration patterns are different for different ethnic groups; this is reflected in where different ethnic and language groups have settled in the US and beyond. Learn about the Asian and Pacific Islander communities in your area and get to know them. EPIC’s website has a lot of great information about the Pacific Islander diaspora in the US. I also remember reading in Detours about how Native Hawaiians migrated to Washington state, and in particular how Kalama, a town in Washington can trace its name back to a Native Hawaiian.

As an example, I live in Seattle and since it is spring, I am enjoying watching the Samoan cricket league start to gear up. During the summer my neighborhood park becomes the home field to the Samoan Cricket League. I don’t understand the game, but I enjoy watching the families settle into the park on Saturdays to play, watch cricket, and be their authentic selves. Sometimes if I’m lucky some of the families have food and drinks for sale. It is a treat and reminds me of food from Hawai’i. Last year I spied some round donuts and asked the aunty what they were, she told me and gave me a sample. It tasted exactly like andagi, Okinawan donuts. I told her we call it andagi in Okinawan and bought a few to share with my kid.

Learning More

As an Asian who grew up in a majority Asian community, I know I have blind spots. I grew up mostly with East Asians and Native Hawaiians. I have a lot more to learn about other Asian and Pacific Islander experiences.

I also have to learn a lot more about the intersectionality of the Asian experience with other race groups, such as how is the Asian-Black experience different, awareness of indigenity with Asians and Pacific Islanders, disabled Asian and disabled Pacific Islanders experience, etc. I recently read Sonora Jha’s book How to Raise a Feminist Son. While Jha and I are both Asian women our experiences, I learned a lot about how she sees the intersections of feminism and different forms of identity.

Celebrate and Honor AAPIs

Please celebrate and honor Asian American and Pacific Islanders. We are here and we contribute mightily to our communities. Don’t dismiss the month, take some time to enjoy what AAPI month has to offer.

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I am writing from the lands of the 29 federally recognized and non-federally recognized tribes in now Washington State, including the Coast Salish people — Duwamish, Muckleshoot, Suquamish, Snoqualmie, Snohomish, and Native American organizations that have treaty rights and have been here since time immemorial. I give my thanks to the elders, Native and Indigenous colleagues and relations, and the land itself. Fakequity pays “rent” to Native organizations in Washington and Hawai’i; a small act to repair and work to be in more justice-based relations.