What is Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month?

At the beginning of the month, I spoke about May being Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month (AAPIHM) and there were some people who didn’t know what it was – that’s okay! A year ago when I first started book blogging I had never heard of AAPIHM either. It’s thanks to a really great awareness raising post by Pasifika blogger Anjulie Te Pohe in her post about the erasure of Pacific Islander books during AAPIHM that I started learning more about this erasure and AAPIHM more generally.

To kick off my AAPI Heritage Month themed posts I wanted to start off with a basic question – What is Asian American & Pacific Island Heritage Month?

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What is it?

Asian American & Pacific Heritage Month happens throughout May and is a celebration of Asians and Pacific Islanders in the US. The month of May was chosen to commemorate the first immigration to America by a Japanese person on May 7th, 1843 and the building of the Transcontinental Railroad, mostly by Chinese immigrants, on May 10th 1869.

Originally called Asian Pacific American Heritage Month it was later changed to its full name of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, although it is still referred to by some as Asian/Pacific Heritage Month.

Events are hosted all over the United States to celebrate AAPI Heritage Month, demonstrating the rich diversity of Asian and Pacific Island heritage including cultural traditions, ancestry, native languages, and lived experiences.

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Who is included?

According to the Asian Pacific American Heritage Month website, Asian American and Pacific Islander includes:

  • All of the Asian Continent 
  • The Pacific Islands of Melanesia (New Guinea, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Fiji and the Solomon Islands)
  • The Pacific Islands of Micronesia (Marianas, Guam, Wake Island, Palau, Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Nauru and the Federated States of Micronesia)
  • And the Pacific Islands of Polynesia (New Zealand, Hawaiian Islands, Rotuma, Midway Islands, Samoa, American Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, Cook Islands, French Polynesia and Easter Island)

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Pacific Islander Erasure

For anyone reading this, I would really urge you to go and read Anjulie’s very articulate post on the issue of Pacific Islander erasure. In it, she talks candidly about the fact that Pacific Islander books aren’t often spoken about and that this becomes even more apparent during AAPI Heritage Month.

One major issue that Anjulie identifies in her post is the conflation of Pacific Islander with Asian, often denoted through the merging of these very separate identities under the ‘Asian/Pacific‘ label. AAPI Heritage Month is not Asian American or Pacific Islander Heritage Month, it is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. It is vitally important that all Asian and Pacific Islander identities are being recognized, rather than erasing the latter.

When attempting to compile my own list of books by PI authors last year I noticed that almost all, if not all, AAPIHM book recommendation lists only included Asian authors. It personally took me about 4-6 hours to compile a decent list of PI authors and their books after sifting through pages of these recommendations, as well as lists which often included books written by white authors about the Pacific Islands – books which are laden with colonial attitudes, racism, and erasure. It should not be this difficult to find books by PI authors, especially during AAPIHM. We need to be doing more in the book community to ensure that we are also celebrating the voices of Pacific Islanders.

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What can I do?

The first thing you can do is go and support Asian Americans & Pacific Islanders! Whether it’s finding new people to follow on Twitter, Instagram or WordPress, reading lots of AAPI books and talking about them on your blog, sharing articles about things like PI erasure or writing your own, attending any AAPI Heritage Month events near you, requesting more AAPI books at your local libraries, bookshops or schools, sharing recommendations of AAPI works, donating to AAPI creatives or backing kickstarters, or otherwise boosting AAPI voices!

Over the next few weeks, I will be sharing some of my own lists of books by Pasifika, South Asian, and Middle Eastern authors for you all to check out as well so keep your eyes peeled for those.

EST. 2015 (1)


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