FORT MEADE, Md. –
Each May the United States celebrates Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month to commemorate the vital contributions of Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, and native Hawaiians to the American story and to recognize some of the challenges they have faced along the way. This year the Department of Defense has chosen a theme of “We Answered the Call,” aligning the AAPI Heritage Month observance with the commemoration of the 75th Anniversary of World War II, a period replete with stories of incredible bravery and patriotism by Asian American and Pacific Islanders on behalf of our Nation and its allies. Indeed, many of their stories offer us much to celebrate and learn from.
Also compelling is the theme selected by the Federal Asian Pacific American Council (FAPAC), representing Asian American and Pacific Islander employees in the federal government and District of Columbia. Their theme this year is “Unite Our Nation by Empowering Equality,” with a focus not only on the advancement of the AAPI community but on the unifying power that is generated through equality. It is a particularly poignant and timely theme given the challenges brought on and highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic. As they did 75 years ago during World War II, members of the AAPI community have experienced mistreatment and racism associated with the origins of COVID-19, and yet they continue to make incredible contributions to our country and in our local communities to include serving at the forefront of efforts to curb the spread and impact of the virus.
This pandemic in no way lessens the significance of the month or the impact of the many contributions and remarkable stories of Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, and native Hawaiians both now and throughout our Nation’s history. With roughly 94% of the 20 million Asian Americans in the U.S. today tracing their roots to 19 different origin groups from East and Southeast Asia and the Indian Subcontinent, we can appreciate the rich diversity they represent and the unique histories, cultures, languages, and experiences they are weaving into the fabric of the U.S., making it stronger and more beautiful with each new thread.
Like most commemorative months and heritage observances, AAPI Heritage Month was instituted by Congress via a joint House/Senate Resolution that was signed into law by President Jimmy Carter in 1978. What started as a week-long celebration was later extended to a month-long observance by President George H.W. Bush starting in 1992. While it is true that this pandemic has challenged us and perhaps forever changed us, it may also have given us an unexpected opportunity to support one another in incredibly kind and powerful ways. Maybe it will also prompt us to go a step further than President Bush did and extend our AAPI heritage appreciation throughout the year.