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What is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month and why is it in May?

Map of Asia, including China and Taiwan are displayed on a globe at a studio in London, Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)AP

Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month is observed from May 1 to May 31. It celebrates AAPI culture, history and the stories of more than 20.6 million Americans per the U.S Census.

The AAPI population encompasses people from a wide swath of the world, including cultures from East, Southeast and South Asia, the Hawaiian Islands and the Pacific Islands of Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia.

In honor of AAPI Heritage Month, MassLive will highlight AAPI leaders across the state.

But what is AAPI Heritage Month? Why is it celebrated and how was it established?

Rep. Frank Horton, R-NY, and Senator Daniel Inouye, D-HI, introduced two separate bills into Congress in 1977 that would designate the first 10 days of May as Asian/Pacific American Heritage Week, according to

The reason for choosing May was to commemorate two historical days for the AAPI community, according to the bills drafted by Horton and Inouye. The first was to celebrate May 7, 1843, the date when a 14-year-old Japanese boy named Nakahama Manjirō and his shipwrecked crew came to the United States after they were found by Capt. William Whitfield. Whitfield adopted the boy and brought him to his home state of Massachusetts — making Manjiro the first Japanese person to immigrate to the United States.

The second day commemorated in the bills was May 10, 1869 — the completion of the transcontinental railroad. A total of 12,000 Chinese immigrants made up the majority of those working on the railroad, and helped lay down tracks to connect the western part of the railroad to the eastern half.

Both these bills failed, but Horton introduced an identical bill the following year, which was approved by both the House and Senate and then signed into law by President Jimmy Carter. In 1979, the first Heritage Week was celebrated with an official proclamation by Carter.

In 1992, Congress voted to expand Asian/Pacific American Heritage Week into a month-wide observance, which President George H.W. Bush signed into law that year. In 2009, the name Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month was rebranded as AAPI Heritage Month after President Barack Obama expanded the month to include the recognition of Pacific Islanders and Native Hawaiians.

The AAPI community is comprised of people who are from or have family that have come from several different countries, including China, Japan, Cambodia, India, Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, Polynesia, Laos, the Hawaiian Islands, the Marshall Islands and more.

According to the 2020 U.S. census, the AAPI population in Massachusetts is 504,900, with Boston and Quincy having the highest and second-highest AAPI populations in the state, respectively. Throughout May, Boston will be home to several events celebrating AAPI Heritage Month, such as an AAPI 5k race on May 18 and an AAPI comedy festival at the Rozzie Square Theater from May 24 to May 25.


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