Today marks the fourth day of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, a month designed to focus on the culture, heritage, trials, and accomplishments of Asian Americans and Pacific Islander Americans. Today is also what was previously the first day of Asian Pacific American Heritage Week, which ran May 4th to May 10th from 1979 to 1992. After 1992, congress would designate May as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month which, other than a slight but important name change to Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in 2009, has been celebrated every May since.
This change from Asian Pacific American to Asian American and Pacific Islander may seem like a mouthful, but it is an important distinction for many people! Asian Pacific Islander was easily misinterpreted to be just one identity, instead of two separate categories, Asians and Pacific Islanders (to learn more about the differences and who exactly makes up each category, check out this article. As a result, many Pacific Islanders argued their unique culture, heritage, and struggles were ignored both in National celebrations and activism work because the focus was instead on Asian Americans alone. Where Asian Americans are generally middle class, have access to higher education, higher rates of employment, and have primarily focused on fighting for immigration rights and to not be sexualized or stereotyped as the “model minority,” Pacific Islanders are more likely to be below the poverty line, lack access to higher education, are stereotyped as lazy, and fight for causes like decolonization of the islands they have always lived on. The variations in history and culture, as well as discrimination and fights for equality, is distinct enough that the importance of identifying both in the name of this monthly celebration can’t be overstated. Plus, these two distinct groups were categorized separately starting with the 2000 census, so it only makes sense that the way we talk about, honor, and recognize these groups changed too.
Despite this differentiation in the census and national celebrations, statistics on discrimination and hate crimes against these communities are still lacking, and what exists rarely differentiates between hate crimes against Asian Americans and hate crimes against Pacific Islanders. Even so, it is clear that Asians and Pacific Islanders have been discriminated against throughout history, from Chinese immigration bans and Japanese internment camps to forced colonization of Islands like American Samoa and Guam, as well as more recent discrimination like the false claims that Chinese people are at fault for COVID-19 (to learn more about historical discrimination and violence against Asians, consider this article from the Washington Post). And since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a huge increase in hate crimes not only against Chinese Americans, but almost all Asian Americans. In New York City from 2019 to 2020 there was a decrease in overall hate crimes by 38%, but over an 800% increase in anti-Asian hate crimes over the same time period, while some parts of California had seen as much as a 1200% increase in anti-Asian hate crimes. Reports of these crimes overwhelmingly show victims were targeted due to Asians being blamed for COVID-19. This Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we can best serve these communities by recognizing their current and past struggles and doing our part to create change.
Since it is happening nationwide, it is unfortunately safe to assume this rise in hate crimes and discrimination is also happening in our own Jackson County community. We can address this head on and counter this discrimination by going out of our way to make all members of our community feel welcome and supported, both among friends and family and at Jackson County libraries. Whether you are Asian American or Pacific Islander yourself or have never heard of the term before today, there are always ways we can create an atmosphere that values and embraces marginalized communities. Everything from taking opportunities to share, listen, and highlight the experiences of Asians and Pacific Islanders in our community to calling out anti-Asian slurs, microaggressions, and discrimination in our circles can help our county grow and create a welcoming and supportive environment for Asian and Pacific Island communities. Similarly, making an extra effort to learn about the accomplishments, impact, and history of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders can help people find community, understand current needs, and amplify the voices of those in the community. That’s where the library can come in! Read our recent statement, Stop AAPI Hate, visit displays at the Medford Library, or consider reading something new about Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders from this list.