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Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

May marks Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, a time when we celebrate the contributions of the AAPI community. The 2022 theme for AAPI Heritage Month is Advancing Leaders Through Collaboration.

In October 1587, the first Filipinos landed in what is now the Continental United States at Morro Bay, California.  In 1778, the first Chinese immigrants landed in Hawaii. The Japanese followed the Chinese, and in 1806 they too established a presence in Hawaii.

In the United States today, the Asian-American and Pacific Islander population reflects the diversity of AAPI cultures found around the world. The fastest-growing racial groups in the United States are Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.  Based on the 2020 census, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders now make up 5.8% of the U.S. population or 19.1 million people. Of the 19.1 million,12.4 million immigrants.

From the westward expansion of the pioneers, to the Gold Rush, to the construction of the transcontinental railroad, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders contributed to the creation of the United States alongside other immigrant groups. Unfortunately, violence and a myriad of court cases and laws prevented most from becoming citizens.

Despite not being allowed to become citizens or to vote, the AAPI community remained determined to be productive members of American society. Almost 70 years before Brown v. Board of Education, Mary Tape fought for her daughter's right to attend public school in California. Mary immigrated to the United States from China when she was eleven years old. In 1884, she tried to enroll her eight-year-old daughter, Mamie, at a white public school in San Francisco and was denied. Tape v. Hurley was the first time that all White schools were challenged in court.  Tape v. Hurley would serve as a blueprint for Brown v. Board in 1954.

The AAPI community has been one of the most successful immigrant communities in the United States concerning contributions to scientific research.  Dr. Har Gobind Khorana was an Indian American biochemist who was instrumental in discovering the genetic code of cells. Dr. Tsai-Fan Yu,  a Chinese American researcher, and physician immigrated to New York in 1947, after receiving her medical degree from Peking Union Medical College in 1939. In 1957, she became a member of the Mount Sinai Medical Center staff.  Dr. Yu conducted extensive research into the causes of and treatments for gout, a painful inflammatory disease similar to arthritis. Some of her findings are still in use today.

Dr. Khorana was born in British India in 1922 and earned his Ph.D. from the University of Liverpool in the UK.  Dr. Khorana immigrated to the United States and settled in Madison, Wisconsin, where he was offered a position at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.  Dr. Khorana won the 1968 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine and the U.S. National Medal of Science in 1987 for his role on the team that is credited with developing the first synthetic protein.

Korean Americans have also made significant contributions to our country’s cultural diversity. Park Yong-man was a Korean independence activist who earned critical acclaim for establishing various Korean nationalist organizations in Denver, Nebraska, and Hawaii. Yong-man also worked for The New Korea, a Korean-American newspaper founded by the Korean National Association located in San Francisco. His work with these organizations later led to him being recognized as a leader in the Korean-American community.

Vietnamese immigration is largely associated with America's involvement in the Vietnam War.  Immigration records indicated three distinct waves of immigration for this segment of the AAPI community.  The first wave occurred immediately after the fall of Saigon in 1975, when 15,000 immigrants arrived in the United States.

During the late 1970s, a second wave occurred when the North Vietnamese government began targeting Vietnamese citizens in the South for allegedly collaborating with American soldiers. The second wave is called “the boat people” refugee crisis.  In the 1990s, the third and final wave consisted largely of the children of American soldiers who began to arrive in the United States.

Nguyet Anh Duong is emblematic of the Vietnamese immigrants who overcame language barriers, and cultural misalignment to achieve success in America. Since 2002, Nguyet Anh has been the director of Science and Technology of the Naval Surface Warfare Center, a branch of the U.S. Department of Defense.  In this capacity, she is responsible for overall technical investment strategies, guiding and overseeing research and development programs in all areas of science and technology, and focusing these efforts toward the creation of future weapon generations for the United States military.

May is set aside as a point in time for all Americans to reflect on the contributions of the AAPI community. Some of those contributions are listed here, but you can learn more about the AAPI community by visiting this webpage.

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