The Department of Anthropology at The University of New Mexico is celebrating Asian American and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander Heritage Month in May with a website page full of resources about history, racism, culture, and many other topics.

“Asian American and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander Heritage month is an opportunity to celebrate a community that has been historically marginalized, and which continues to face discrimination,” said Anthropology department administrator Jennifer George, who compiled much of the information. “Our webpage highlights some historical events and experiences, current events, research, and resources, with reference links included. Our goal is to provide a collection of materials to the public to celebrate accomplishments and diversity. We will continue to add content throughout the month, and welcome comments, questions, and contributions.”

The effort to officially recognize Asian American and Pacific Islander contributions to the United States began in the late 1970s and took over 10 years to make it a permanent month-long celebration.

In 1977, New York representative Frank Horton introduced House Joint Resolution 540, which proposed proclaiming the first 10 days of May as Asian/Pacific American Heritage Week. Hawaii Senator Daniel Inouye introduced a similar joint resolution the same year. When the resolutions did not pass, representative Horton introduced House Joint Resolution 1007 the following year, which requested the president to proclaim a week during the first 10 days of May starting in 1979, including May 7 and 10, as Asian/Pacific American Heritage Week.

After the House and the Senate passed the Resolution, President Jimmy Carter signed it into Public Law 95-419 on October 5, 1978. From 1980 to 1990, each president passed annual proclamations for Asian/Pacific American Heritage Week. In 1990, Congress expanded the observance from a week to a month. May was annually designated as Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month in 1992 under the George H. W. Bush administration with the passing of Public Law 102-540. Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month was renamed as AAPI Heritage Month in 2009.

On April 29 this year, President Joe Biden issued a Proclamation on Asian American, Native Hawaiian, And Pacific Islander Heritage Month, 2022 to recognize “the innumerable contributions, vibrant cultures, and rich heritage of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders (AA and NHPIs). As some of the fastest-growing racial and ethnic groups in the Nation, AA and NHPI communities represent a multitude of ethnicities, languages, and experiences that enrich America and strengthen our Union.”

The proclamation noted that “AA and NHPIs have long played an essential role in writing the American story.  From serving our country in uniform, advocating for civil rights, starting new businesses, and winning Olympic medals, the contributions of the AA and NHPI community touch the lives of Americans every day.  AA and NHPIs serve with distinction at the highest levels of Federal, State, and local government.”

He also observed that Vice President Kamala Harris is the first person of South Asian descent to serve as Vice President.

Read the full proclamation text here. More information from the federal government is available on the Asian Pacific American Heritage Month site.

Among the resources on the UNM campus for students is the Asian American Pacific Islander Resource Center, which was established during the 2021-2022 academic year. The mission of the Asian American Pacific Islander Resource Center is to build a sense of belonging for students of Asian/Pacific Islander/Desi American Heritage at UNM and provide culturally relevant programs that cultivate Asian/Pacific Islander leaders within communities.

The Anthropology Department website page also includes information and photos about the Japanese-American internment during World War II, an article by UNM adjunct assistant professor Cyler Conrad about Dutch archaeologist Hendrik Robert van Heekeren, information about UNM scholars, research, local, state, and national events, and much more.

For more on Asian American and Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander heritage, go to the Anthropology department website page.

Image: Mess line, noon, Manzanar Relocation Center, California / photograph by Ansel Adams, Library of Congress

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