Every year since 1992, Congress has recognized May as a time to honor Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) heritage. (It was first proposed by Congress in 1977 as an honorary week, but the resolution expanded to the entire month of May about 15 years later.)
May was chosen to commemorate the first Japanese immigration to the United States, on May 7, 1843, and also to mark the anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad, which was achieved largely through the efforts of Chinese immigrants, on May 10, 1869. Teachers and educators have used the month to focus curricula on the contributions of American descendants from the Asian continent and the Pacific islands of Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia.
While celebration and acknowledgment are important this month, support from people outside the AAPI community is clearly needed every day. In the past year alone, the nonprofit reporting organization Stop AAPI Hate received nearly 3,800 reports of hate incidents against the AAPI community, including physical attacks on Asian American elders in public spaces. In New York City, the NYPD reported an increase of at least 1,900 percent in anti-Asian hate crimes between 2019 and 2020.
Witnesses’ video recordings of these attacks, as well as community feedback and social action, have led to more visibility and awareness among non-AAPI individuals. The height of the violence came on March 16 of this year, when a white man killed eight people, six of them Asian women, at three Asian-owned and -operated massage parlors in the Atlanta area.
Experts attribute the increase in incidents, which includes both verbal harassment and physical attacks, to politicians’ use of racially charged language, such as referring to the coronavirus as the “Chinese virus,” “Wuhan virus,” or “kung flu.”
Silence allows racist harassment to continue, but you can be part of the change for good. Here are some ways to help support and honor the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities.
- Recognize that the term “Asian American” doesn’t represent a monolith. The AAPI community is actually a vast and diverse group of people. Languages, food, religions, and cultural practices are unique across countries — and within regional areas as well.
- Report hate crimes to the FBI and Stop AAPI Hate, which catalogs and reports these incidents.
- Take a bystander intervention course through the Hollaback! anti-harassment organization. The group offers free guides and virtual training sessions to help individuals assess a situation and intervene when they witness someone being harassed.
- Patronize Asian American–owned businesses and dine at AAPI-owned restaurants in your area.
- Donate to nonprofits such as Stop AAPI Hate, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, and the Asian American Advocacy Fund (to name a few), which are collecting resources, promoting policies, and offering tools to help all communities to come together in the fight for civil rights.
- Address unconscious bias. Understanding your own proclivities can help you overcome barriers and rethink how you treat other races and cultures. Take the free Implicit Association Test from Harvard University here, and find guidance on addressing your biases here.
- Educate yourself on the history of anti-Asian racism in America. Discrimination and violence against East Asians, for example, began with the first wave of immigration to the United States in the 1850s. Asian discrimination extended throughout the decades to the Chinese Exclusionary Act of 1882, which limited immigration and legalized a ban on Chinese labor; U.S. detention of Japanese Americans in internment camps during World War II; as well as the civil rights movement and labor union movements led by Filipino American grape farmers. Many resources are available online, and organizations such as the Center for Global Education at the Asia Society, as well as PBS, provide professional development and educator resources that can also be useful to individuals in any field.
- Use your Asian colleagues’ given name or preferred name. Repeatedly mispronouncing someone’s name — intentionally or not — is a form of “name-based microaggression,” according to Ranjana Srinivasan, PhD, a researcher in multicultural awareness and mental health and a psychologist at the Manhattan VA Medical Center. She notes that European names tend to be perceived as normative, “whereas racial minorities with names of religious and ethnic origins may be seen as an inconvenience. This can result in experiences of discrimination and ostracism.” Ask for proper pronunciation, actively listen to retain, apologize when you misspeak, and practice with online tutorials, like this “Guide for Native English Speakers” for Chinese names.
- Subscribe to Asian American press either locally or nationally, and support AAPI artists, businesses, and online vendors.
- Destigmatize mental-health care. The pandemic has illuminated many inequities in healthcare access, including the disparities in access to mental-health resources for communities of color. A report by the American Psychiatric Association noted that individuals identifying as Asian were the least likely to use mental-health services, and the Asian Mental Health Collective outlines how intergenerational trauma, pressure to succeed, and the “model-minority myth,” for example, can play a part. Everyone can take action to break down barriers to adequate treatment and therapy — and in normalizing mental-health care.
- Groups like Compassion in Oakland, which pairs safety chaperones with San Francisco’s Chinatown elders, and Heart of Dinner, which delivers food to Asian American seniors in New York City, launched to promote safety and community. Both groups also take donations, and you can find volunteer opportunities locally through Meals on Wheels of America and VolunteerMatch.org.
- Celebrate as an ally. This month is designated to honor traditions and respect the contributions and rituals of the AAPI community. Engaging in meaningful conversations, asking thoughtful questions, and offering support and care for your Asian American colleagues and friends can make a positive impact.