Remembrance in the Nation of Immigrants
Updated: Dec 31, 2020
Every May, a culturally significant observance occurs, honoring the millions of Asian American and Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander communities in America. The custom originated from the idea of one woman -- Jeanie Jew. Jew proposed this idea in the 1970s to New York Congressman Frank Horton, who then introduced the bill at a congressional hearing in 1992. Jew had noticed the exclusion of Asian American recognition in the U.S. Bicentennial celebrations of 1976 (Moon, 2019). As of 1992, May became officially designated as Asian and Pacific American Heritage Month, a huge step from targeting Asian American immigrants and workers in the late 19th century.
The month of May was chosen to memorialize two events (Moon, 2019):
The first immigrants from Japan arrived in America on May 7, 1843.
The transcontinental railroad was completed on May 10, 1869, built by approximately 20,000 Chinese laborers.
Since the arrival of immigrants in America from multiple Asian countries, generations of Asian Americans have contributed to national economic, social, and political success. With nearly 22.2 million Asian people making up the demographics of this country, it is crucial that we recognize the achievements of this ethnicity. With an entire month in honor of them, this nation is not only commemorating the heritage and story of Asian Americans, but holding true to its title as a “nation of immigrants.” The month of May brings light and revelation to the diverse barriers and identities of one of the most populated ethnicities.
Historic Moments of 2019-2020:
1. LGBTQ Rights
May of 2019 marks a turning point for the entire Asian continent as Taiwan became the first country in the region to legalize same-sex marriage. This passage represents a sign for equality and a success for a long-time struggle. At least 200,000 people were involved in Taiwan’s Pride Parade in 2019, and the legalization has allowed over 2,000 couples to get married, bringing hope to the LGBTQ community in China. While homosexuality is not illegal and has been removed from the official list of mental disorders, members continue to face discrimination and lack of rights such as prohibition of adopting children or marriage (Westcott & Jiang, 2019).
2. Scientific Impacts
Indian-American economist, Abhijit Banerjee and his wife Esther Duflo won the 2019 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for their works regarding global poverty. Japanese chemist Akira Yoshino also won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry and European Inventor Award in 2019 for his developments of lithium-ion batteries. Indian environmental activist Afroz Shah was listed as one of CNN’s 2019 Heroes of the Year for his fight to minimize plastic pollution in oceans.
3. Leaders in Flight
In May 2019, Flight Lieutenant Bhawana Kanth was recognized as the first female pilot qualifying to accomplish combat missions on a fighter jet. In December, Sub Lieutenant Shivangi became the first female pilot in the Indian Navy.
4. Know My Name
Chanel Miller, or more well-known under her pseudonym “Emily Doe”, marked multiple accomplishments with her 2019 published memoir Know My Name, regarding her painful experience as a victim of sexual assault and the subsequent court case People v. Turner. Her book became a New York Times bestseller, a New York Times Book Review Notable Book, and a National Book Critics Circle Award winner. The memoir was also included in lists of best books of 2019 in Time, the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, NPR, and more (Miller, n.d.).
5. Entertainment Industry
Bowen Yang became the first Asian American cast member of Saturday Night Live. Simu Liu will become the first Asian superhero of Marvel and star in the first Marvel film with an Asian lead. In the same year, Sandra Oh not only became the first Asian person to host the Golden Globes, but also became the first female of Asian heritage to win multiple Golden Globes (as Cristina Yang on Grey’s Anatomy and as Eve Polastri on Killing Eve) and the first in 39 years to win a Golden Globe for best actress in a TV drama (Grady, 2019). Most recently, Korean movie Parasite directed by Bong Joon Ho made history at the Oscars, winning four Academy Awards including Best Picture, Directing, International Feature Film, and Writing. It was the first international film to win Oscars' Best Picture as well as the first Korean movie to be named top foreign-language film at the Golden Globes. During one of Bong’s award acceptance speeches, he said, “Once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films…I think we use only just one language: the cinema,” truly showing the unity of people through art.
6. Taking the Musical World by Storm
A wave of Korean music, or K-pop, has been taking the musical world by storm. The girl group BlackPink became the first female K-pop artists to perform at Coachella in 2019. The well-known BTS is now also known for their multiple achievements on the Billboard Artist charts, performance at the 2019 Billboard Music Awards with Halsey, and being the first K-pop group to perform at the Grammys just this past January.
Grady, C. (2019, January 7). Sandra Oh made history 3 times at the golden globes. Retrieved May 4, 2020, from https://www.vox.com/culture/2019/1/7/18171587/sandra-oh-golden-globes-2019-history-milestones.
Kermode, M. (2020, February 10). Parasite review – a gasp-inducing masterpiece. Retrieved May 4, 2020, from https://www.theguardian.com/film/2020/feb/09/parasite-review-bong-joon-ho-tragicomic-masterpiece.
Miller, C. (n.d.). Know My Name. Retrieved May 4, 2020, from https://www.chanel-miller.com/.
Moon, K. (2019, May 23). How one woman's story led to the creation of Asian Pacific American heritage month. Retrieved May 4, 2020, from https://time.com/5592591/asian-pacific-heritage-month-history/.
Westcott, B., & Jiang, S. (2019, May 23). For China's LGBTQ people, Taiwan's rainbow victory is a moment of joy and pain. Retrieved May 4, 2020, from https://www.cnn.com/2019/05/22/asia/taiwan-china-gay-marriage-intl/index.html.