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AAPI Month 2024: History, Innovation, and Celebration

by | May 1, 2024 | #DiversityandInclusion

Since 1978, the United States has recognized a week of recognition of Asian Americans and their contributions to the nation. In 2009, the government expanded this period to a monthlong celebration, encompassing all Asian American & Pacific Islander (AAPI) heritage.

The official theme of AAPI Month in 2024 is “Advancing Leaders Through Innovation” according to the Federal Asian Pacific American Council (FAPAC). Innovation can come in many forms, ranging from the physical world of technology & industry to the abstract world of political philosophy & artistic expression. Asian Americans have excelled in innovation by any metric, and their presence & societal contributions date back to the infancy of the United States.

The first Asians to settle as an established colony in the present-day continental United States came from the Philippines. Historians indicate that around 1763, Filipino sailors escaping Spanish persecution & slavery known as the ‘Manilamen’ landed in Louisiana. After settling the land for their own, fate would bring them to join the Americans in the War of 1812. The Manilamen fought alongside Andrew Jackson in the Battle of New Orleans. Despite wars, discrimination, and natural disasters in the marshlands of Louisiana, a society of Asian immigrants & settlers persisted and expanded their cultural influence for generations.

Almost a century later from that point, many things had changed. The United States’ territory had reached the Pacific Ocean, the Civil War had passed, and civil rights were now an expanding matter of political conflict. Asian Americans had arrived in significant numbers to California, and had literally built the infrastructure of the industrial age with the completion of the transcontinental railroad system. Their hard work – through grueling conditions, treatment, and unethical labor practices – allowed the country to become interconnected; the United States was now a land of faster information, geographical accessibility, and expanded multiculturalism.

In 1898, one of the most consequential Supreme Court rulings in the history of the United States was brought upon by the circumstances of a young Asian American; this ruling (169 U.S. 649) affirmed the citizenship birthright, even if born to non-citizen parents. Asian Americans’ dedication to advancing civil rights, and the impact they have played in setting legal precedent, is a testament to the willpower and political role of immigrants and their descendants. Many influential leaders today have been given a chance, a voice, and the political freedom to succeed in life due to the earliest Asian American settlers.

Innovation of the physical & scientific world has helped preserve life, increase standards of living, and ushered an era of unprecedented convenience. The leaders of tomorrow may be a result of the achievements of Asian Americans of recent history. For example, Filipino American Katherine Luzuriaga, M.D., was credited for accomplishing the first functional cure for HIV-positive infants in 2014. Asian Americans are excelling in the fields of professional science. Everyone is better off when there is discovery in the fields of medicine & technology.

We as country should celebrate the innovation of minority groups; not just for the inherent & deserved merit of their achievements, but for how we collectively benefit from innovation as a united whole. Asian American & Pacific Islanders are invaluable to our history, our culture, our success, and our country.

Sources & Further Reading

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