Why Recognizing Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month Is Important
As May comes to an end, so does Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. We wanted to take the time to reflect on the beautiful culture, lives and stories of those who identify as AAPI. So, why was May chosen to honor AAPI heritage? The reason is twofold: For starters, May 7, 1843, marks the immigration of the first Japanese to the United States, and May 10, 1869, commemorates the completion of the transcontinental railroad, most of which was completed by Chinese immigrants who laid the tracks.1 It is imperative to remain educated not only about our own cultural heritage, but also the cultures of our friends, colleagues and partners since the blending of these rich cultures is what defines our country.
Recognition and respect has become increasingly important in recent years as we’ve seen terrible instances of racially motivated hate crimes across the US and other countries. At Scientist.com we stand strongly against racism and discrimination and think that celebrating each person’s difference can be an effective way to fight violence and bring us all closer together. In order to cultivate a deeper understanding of Asian American and Pacific Islander heritage, we asked some members of Scientist.com who identify as AAPI to share their thoughts on the importance of this month. Here’s what they had to say:
Clayton Zhang, Product Data Manager:
“Recognizing the AAPI community in May is a good reminder about how important it is to embrace what each person has to offer. I feel fortunate to live in a time where we can all look outside to see that many different cultures have influenced our everyday life, from music to food, even architecture. I think it is very important that we are kind to each other so that we can continue to have the amazing influences of different people added to our daily lives.”
John Yamauchi, Director of Strategic Partnerships, Marketplace Director:
“From my early years growing up in Los Angeles, I have always felt extremely fortunate to have been a part of a vibrant and active Japanese American community. Recognizing the cultural significance of AAPI communities during May is an important message for our youth to hear because it reinforces our true American culture. A culture that, yes, has had its fair share of historical challenges in the past, but ultimately fosters an openness and welcoming of other cultures and people. At Scientist.com, our strength is our openness to others in the workplace; our strength is our company culture.”
Diem Tran, Software Validation Engineer
“AAPI recognition is important because my cultural upbringing affects my life every day. Asian culture is not a hobby or trend — pho might be the hot thing this month and avocado toast the next, but I don’t get the luxury of picking when I can and can’t be an Asian American woman. My heritage follows me wherever I go, including at work. If you get the opportunity to work with me, I hope you can be cognizant of how our cultural differences will affect how we communicate and work together. And if you are unsure what that can mean, it is okay with me if you ask :)”
Sherman Tang, VP, Professional Services
“As an American-born Chinese (ABC), I grew up with high aspirations bestowed upon me by my family to bring honor to our name, which pretty much meant I was to aim for a career of high stature or monetary value. Social change was not highly valued, not just due to the perceived salary level, but also because it oftentimes went against the norm of stability. And going against the grain as a Chinese-American, Asian-American and person of color was in no shape or form perceived as a way to bring health, prosperity and stability to our family.
With these stipulations in mind, I’d ask myself, ‘What could I become?’ I looked for examples within my own family, but most of my potential role models were in business and finance, and neither of the industries piqued my level of curiosity. And so, I extended my search and came across people I could relate to: friends with similar situations as an ABC, members of shared communities with similar interests and people who just looked like me. This extended search still led me to careers with high Asian-American representation, including healthcare and software technology professions.
I eventually found interest in a career in the life sciences through my lifetime intrigue in animals and basic biology, and fortunately, I had a cousin who also ended up in the biotechnology profession, so I wasn’t alone!
In my personal life, throughout my early school years, my parents would tell me to follow the rules and not stand out - they thought this was for my own good to minimize bullying and other troubles. I’d even feel lucky that I was given an English name as opposed to an anglicized version of my Chinese name. Despite conforming to these norms, I’d still face adversity based purely on the color of my skin or the origin of my last name.
AAPI representation is crucial in fostering strong, inclusive communities - communities where there is equitable access to big dreams. - Sherman Tang
‘Fitting in’ was survival, but sometimes that wasn’t enough. We learned that from the legal inaction taken for the killing of Vincent Chin. What we also learned from those types of cases was that we’d have to take chances and be mavericks for just being a person of color and our authentic selves. In similar spirit to the trailblazers like Wong Kim Ark, Philip Vera Cruz, Larry Itliong and many others did, I continue to fight for what I feel is important. This feeling of empowerment is further galvanized with the emergence of individuals from the AAPI community who are willing to break barriers. The likes of Kamala Harris, MC Jin, Dwayne Johnson, Kristi Yamaguchi and Andrew Yang have set the precedent that as an AAPI, I can become anything. It’s okay to be different!
AAPI representation is crucial in fostering strong, inclusive communities - communities where there is equitable access to big dreams. Leaders among the AAPI community give young budding dreamers role models to help guide their paths toward their endeavors, but even when there are none to identify with, these leaders’ stories and life experiences can help the next generation of leaders pave the way.”
Just because this month has come to an end does not mean that we stop celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander heritage. Our appreciation for the cultures of those around us should not be confined to one month. Rather, it is our duty to maintain a constant respect and appreciation for cultures besides our own and to remain educated about the history of how our blended nation came to be.
For more resources catered to the AAPI community, please see below:
Mental Health Resources
- Asian Mental Health Collective
- Asian Mental Health Project
- Brown Girl Therapy
- Project Lotus
- South Asian Sexual and Mental Health Alliance
Other AAPI Support Groups
- About Asian/Pacific Heritage Month[online]. Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. Available from: https://asianpacificheritage.gov/about/ [Accessed 31 May 2022].