National Asian Pacific Islander American Heritage Month began as Asian/Pacific American Heritage Week, first observed in 1979 under President Jimmy Carter, who noted the “enormous contributions to the sciences, arts, industry, government and commerce” made by Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders. In 1990, President George H.W. Bush expanded the celebration to cover the whole month of May. May was chosen by the organizers in recognition of May 7, 1843, the date the first Japanese immigrants arrived in the United States, and in recognition of May 10, 1869, which marked the completion of the transcontinental railroad, which would not have been possible without the contributions of Chinese-Americans.
Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders in the U.S. Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders have a history in America that stretches back hundreds of years. The first record of Asians in North America dates to 1587, when Filipino sailors came to what is now California. The first Chinese people recorded in the United States were three sailors who came to Baltimore in 1785 as part of an interracial shipping crew.
Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders are a diverse group, making up more than 50 ethnic groups and speaking more than 100 languages. Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States and are among the fastest growing minority groups in the country.
Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders have made tremendous contributions.
Born in the Philippines, Itliong was a natural activist who began advocating for himself and his fellow workers while traveling around different states. Itliong lived and worked in Alaska, Washington and finally California, where he crossed paths with fellow activist Cesar Chavez.
Itliong captured the attention of other activists when he organized the Delano Grape Strike of 1965, an event that would eventually lead to the formation of the nation’s leading agricultural labor union, the United Farm Workers.
Fred Korematsu took his fight against the Japanese internment camps all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Korematsu was born in Oakland, California, to Japanese parents who ran a plant nursery. World War II started when he was 22, and the young Korematsu subsequently refused to report to Tanforan Assembly Center, where his family reported on May 9, 1942.
Korematsu was then arrested on May 30, 1942, for his refusal to comply with the mandatory evacuation order. His name was forever etched in history when he was visited by ACLU executive director Ernest Besig while in prison and he agreed to be the test subject in a case questioning the legality of the evacuation orders.
Korematsu was sent to the same camp as his family and he was later convicted of violating military orders, a ruling the Supreme Court held up in a 6-3 decision. He eventually moved back to San Francisco where his felony conviction made it hard to find a job.
Korematsu’s conviction was later revoked in 1983, with the activist proclaiming in court, "As long as my record stands in federal court, any American citizen can be held in prison or concentration camps without a trial or a hearing."
He went on to receive the Presidential Medal of Honor and on January 30, 2011, California held the first Fred Korematsu Day in honor of the activist.
Born in an internment camp in Wyoming, Kiyoshi Kuromiya went on to advocate for several movements that personally related to him. Kuromiya concentrated on the antiwar, civil rights and gay liberation movements throughout his life. He attended several key protests, including Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington and a protest in Montgomery, Alabama, where he led Black high school students in a voter registration march in 1965.
Four years later, Kuromiya founded the Gay Liberation Front–Philadelphia in 1969 and simultaneously served as a delegate to the Black Panther Party's Revolutionary People's Constitutional Convention.
His greatest activism came when the AIDS pandemic started decimating the gay community nationwide. To help those afflicted, Kuromiya founded the Critical Path Project. The project included a 24-hour telephone hotline, a web page and free internet service for people living with AIDS and HIV in Philadelphia and beyond. Sadly, Kuromiya later died due to AIDS complications in 2000.
An actor and activist, George Takei’s resolve came from his experiences while detained with his family at a Japanese internment camp from ages 5 to 9. The Takeis rough life continued afterwards, as they were left with no capital and were forced to live on L.A.’s Skid Row, an area known for a large homeless population
The young Takei persevered and attended both the University of California, Berkeley and the University of California, Los Angeles, where he graduated with both his Bachelor and Masters degrees. Though Takei wouldn’t reveal his sexuality until 2005, he lived openly among peers as a gay man and worked as an activist for several LGBTQ organizations.
He also became involved politically in Los Angeles, narrowly losing an election for City Council in 1963 and later serving as part of the Southern California Rapid Transit District where he cast the deciding vote to build the city’s subway system.
Takei remains one of the most prolific figures to have firsthand experience of the Japanese internment camps and has committed his advocacy to ensuring the horrors are never lived again by another set of people.
Anna May Wong
Anna May Wong was known as the first Asian American movie star. Born Wong Liu Tsong in 1905 in Los Angeles, she gave herself the stage name Anna May Wong. Wong lived in the Chinatown area of Los Angeles and was allowed to attend public schools, where she faced constant racial attacks.
She first tried out for a movie when she was a teenager. She was cast as an extra, and would go on to have a hard time landing a leading role due to racism in the industry and anti-race mixing laws that prohibited her from sharing a kiss with a man of a different race. Though she eventually left the United States for stage work in Europe, Wong remains the first Asian American to become a movie star.
George Helm Jr.
Like Trask, George Helm Jr. dedicated his short life to preserving the native culture of Hawaii. Helm was born on the Molokai island of Hawaii and later migrated to Honolulu to continue his studies. He became a renowned philosopher and is seen as a pioneer of Hawaiian sovereignty movement, aiming to bring independence back to the islands.
In 1975, Helm became involved in the efforts to protect the island of Kaho’olawe from being used as bomb target practice by the U.S. Navy. The next year, he and eight others occupied the island in efforts to protect it and he became spiritually connected to the sacred land.
Helm later died while trying to return to Maui from the island in the midst of bad weather. He was 26. His legacy lives on in his activism and music, with his recordings still often played on Hawaiian radio.
Due to current circumstances, there will be no posters available for pick-up* The poster and other information can be found on the Department of Defense and Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute (DEOMI) website, www.defenseculture.mil
*Headquarter Marine Corps (HQMC) is not responsible for the content and privacy policies of these sites also listing does not imply endorsement from HQMC.”