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May: Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month

May: Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month
Photo: U.S. National Archives

During National Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we celebrate and pay tribute to the many contributions made by generations of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders to America's society and culture. This year's theme is, "Striving for Excellence in Leadership, Diversity and Inclusion." The theme was chosen to focus on the Executive Order on Diversity and Inclusion signed by President Obama on August 18, 2011.

The designation of the month of May by Congress to commemorate Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders was based on two considerations as follows: 1) the first immigrants from Japan landed in America on May 7, 1843; and, 2) the transcontinental railroad, built largely by Chinese workers, was completed on May 10, 1869.

According to the 2010 Census data projections, the Asian American and Pacific Islander populations will more than double by the year 2050. There are approximately 17.3 million Americans, of Asian descent. That number is expected to grow to 40.6 million by 2050. Similarly, there are more than 1.2 million residents who claim Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander descent and that number is expected to increase to more than 2.6 in 2050.

Take the opportunity this month to learn more about the immigration experience of Asian and Pacific Islanders. For example, most Americans are familiar with Ellis Island. But what is not commonly known is that Angel Island Immigration Station, located in San Francisco Bay, served as an immigration checkpoint from 1910 until 1940. Dubbed the "Ellis Island of the West," approximately 175, 000 Chinese immigrants were detained and processed at Angel Island. Thousands of immigrants from Japan, Korea and the Philippines were interned on Angel Island as well as upon their arrival to America. This immigration station was scheduled to be demolished until the discovery of Chinese character carvings were found on the walls. This site is now a museum dedicated to the education of the immigration of Asians and Pacific Islanders.


Presidential Proclamation

Generations of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) have helped make America what it is today. Their histories recall bitter hardships and proud accomplishments -- from the laborers who connected our coasts one-and-a-half centuries ago, to the patriots who fought overseas while their families were interned at home, from those who endured the harsh conditions of Angel Island, to the innovators and entrepreneurs who are driving our Nation's economic growth in Silicon Valley and beyond. Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month offers us an opportunity to celebrate the vast contributions Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have made to our Nation, reflect on the challenges still faced by AAPI communities, and recommit to making the American dream a reality for all.

Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders comprise many ethnicities and languages, and their myriad achievements embody the American experience. Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have started businesses, including some of our Nation's most successful and dynamic enterprises. AAPI men and women are leaders in every aspect of American life -- in government and industry, science and medicine, the arts and our Armed Forces, education and sports.

Yet, while we celebrate these successes, we must remember that too often Asian American and Pacific Islanders face significant adversity. Many AAPI communities continue to fight prejudice and struggle to overcome disparities in education, employment, housing, and health care. My Administration remains committed to addressing these unique challenges. Through the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, we are working to expand opportunities for AAPI communities by improving access to Federal programs where Asian American and Pacific Islanders are currently underserved. To learn more about the Initiative, visit

As we also take this occasion to reflect on our past, we mark 70 years since the Executive Order that authorized the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. Last month, I announced my intent to posthumously award the Presidential Medal of Freedom -- the country's highest civilian honor -- to Gordon Hirabayashi, who openly defied this forced relocation, and bravely took his challenge all the way to the United States Supreme Court.

This year, we also commemorate the 100th anniversary of the first Japanese cherry blossom trees planted in Washington, D.C., an enduring symbol of the friendship shared between the United States and Japan and a reminder of America's standing as a Pacific nation. Over the centuries, we have maintained a long, rich history of engagement in the Asia-Pacific region, and our AAPI communities have been essential to strengthening the economic, political, and social bonds we share with our partners around the world.

This month, we reflect on the indelible ways AAPI communities have shaped our national life. As we celebrate centuries of trial and triumph, let us rededicate ourselves to making our Nation a place that welcomes the contributions of all people, all colors, and all creeds, and ensures the American dream is within reach for all who seek it.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim May 2012 as Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. I call upon all Americans to visit to learn more about the history of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and to observe this month with appropriate programs and activities.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this first day of May, in the year of our Lord two thousand twelve, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-sixth.



May: Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month
Photo: U.S. National Archives