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From Recognition to Resilience: The Evolution of Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month


                                                  Written By: Vera Mkhsian

The United States honors the diverse and vibrant cultures, history, and accomplishments of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders during Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. To grasp the gravity of this observation, an anthropological perspective—the study of human cultures and societies—is helpful.

Anthropology places a premium on cultural variety and the unique ways in which people from various backgrounds express themselves. The communities of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders are incredibly diverse in terms of their beliefs, practices, languages, and cultural practices. Anthropologists investigate these subtleties of culture to learn more about how they impact people's lives and sense of self in the United States.

The practice of holding heritage weeks or days to honor the accomplishments of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) dates back to the 1970s, when some states started doing so. Asian-Pacific American Heritage Week is celebrated annually in the first week of May, a tradition started by President Jimmy Carter in 1978 when he signed a joint resolution. The original festival was extended to a full month in 1990 by President George H.W. Bush, who formally designated May as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. A major step in recognizing the rich heritage and varied contributions of AAPI communities was this national acknowledgment.

A greater understanding of the rich history and varied perspectives of Native Hawaiians, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders has emerged in recent decades. The arts, academics, politics, and entertainment industries are just a few areas where this has been felt in the US. For instance, the first Asian American and Pacific Islander representatives, Patsy Mink and Daniel Inouye, were elected to Congress, which contributed to the increased national profile of these groups. Greater visibility and appreciation for AAPI tales and cultures have also  resulted from the achievements of AAPI artists in the entertainment industry.                        

 As a time for communities of Asian              Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders to unite and honor their heritage, traditions, and accomplishments, the month of Heritage has grown in popularity. All throughout the nation, AAPI communities get together to celebrate and honor their rich cultural heritage through various festivals, parades, performances, and culinary events. In addition to bringing people of different cultures together in joy and celebration, these events do double duty by strengthening bonds of pride and unity among AAPI communities.

Discrimination, inequality, and social inequalities are still issues that AAPI groups confront, even though there has been progress. Issues such as healthcare inequities, civil rights, immigration reform, and representation in politics and the media have been brought to the forefront by activists and advocates during Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. This month is a constant reminder of the hardships these communities have endured and how strong they have been through it all.

The Month of May’s Cultures:

  1. Cultures of Asian Americans include many different peoples and nations, including but not limited to Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Filipino, Vietnamese, and Indian. Traditions, languages, cuisines, and ways of life vary greatly from one group to another. Take this case in point:

  • Chinese culture celebrates traditions such as Lunar New Year with dragon dances, red envelopes (hongbao), and family gatherings centered around special foods like dumplings and fish.

  • Japanese culture reveres traditions like the tea ceremony (chanoyu), flower arranging (ikebana), and the art of calligraphy (shodo).

  • Korean culture values customs such as ancestral rites (jesa), traditional clothing (hanbok), and the Korean martial art of taekwondo.

  1. Traditions that have been passed down over many generations form the foundation of Native Hawaiian culture. Some important factors are:

  • Hula, a traditional Hawaiian dance form, which tells stories through movement and chants (oli).

  • Language: The Hawaiian language (ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi) holds significant cultural importance, and efforts are ongoing to revitalize and preserve it.

  • Connection to nature: Native Hawaiians have a profound reverence for the land (ʻāina), sea (kai), and sky (lani), reflected in their spiritual beliefs and practices.

  1. Samoan, Tongan, Fijiana, Micronesia, and Melanesiaan cultures are all part of Pacific Islander cultures. The languages, traditions, and practices of each are distinct from the others. As an example:

  • Pacific Islander communities often have strong oral storytelling traditions, preserving histories, myths, and legends through spoken word.

  • Traditional Pacific Islander art forms include intricate wood carvings, tapa cloth making, and tattooing, each with deep cultural significance.

  • Music and dance play a central role in Pacific Islander cultures, serving as expressions of identity, community, and celebration.


Mark Otto, J.T. (no date) Asian Pacific American Heritage month 2024, Asian & Pacific American Heritage Month. Available at:

Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month  (no date) National Archives and Records Administration. Available at:

Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month  (no date) National Archives and Records Administration. Available at:

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