AAPI Roots to AANHPI Brilliance: Navigating Through History, Culture, and Culinary Experiences in America

May 2, 2024
The history of North America is indelibly marked by the immigrants from Asia and the Pacific, as well as the indigenous populations of the Pacific Islands. Through generations, these immigrants and their descendant have established communities and nurtured distinctive cultures in the United States. AAPI Heritage Month, observed in May, commemorates significant events in Asian American and Pacific Islander history. In May 1843, the first Japanese immigrants arrived in the US, while in May 1869, the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, which saw substantial contributions from Chinese immigrants, marked another milestone. The Congress (1977-1978) introduced resolutions to designate the first 10 days in May as Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Week. The celebration commenced as a week-long event in 1979, later extended to a month by Congress in 1992. In 2022, the Biden Administration renamed it Asian American and Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander (AANHPI) Heritage Month. Together, AAPI individuals constitute approximately six percent of the U.S. populace. 
The history of AAPI is a multifaceted and dynamic narrative, unfolding over centuries and embracing diverse cultures, experiences, and contributions to American society. Chinese immigrants were among the earliest, arriving in the 1850s, with the California Gold Rush drawing even more. Despite enduring discrimination and violence, Chinese immigrants played pivotal roles in the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad. Native Hawaiians were the first Pacific Islanders to migrate to the United States in the late 18th century, with subsequent waves of migration occurring in the late 19th century. Filipinos became part of Spanish expeditions exploring North America and later established a settlement in St. Malo, Louisiana, in 1763. They also played significant contributions to labor movements and activism.
From the vibrant streets of Chinatown to the tranquil shores of Hawaii, every community brings forth its unique language, customs, and heritage. As the custodian of the nation’s narratives, the National Park Service endeavors to share the stories of ordinary and extraordinary AAPI, preserved in country’s parks, memorials, and historic sites. For instance, the Huilua Fishpond in Kahana Bay, located on the Island of Oahu, Hawaii, illustrates the remarkable aquafarming traditions of the Hawaiian people. The cemeteries at Japanese American confinement sites, such as the Rohwer Relocation Center Memorial Cemetery in Desha County, Arkansas, serve as memorials to honor Japanese American soldiers who lost their lives fighting in Europe during World War II. The Chinatown and Little Italy Historic District in New York City embodies a rich cultural legacy. New York’s Chinatown emerged through the adaptation of existing buildings to accommodate Chinese customs and preferences, creating a vibrant and distinct community. The George Nakashima Woodworker Complex, situated in New Hope, Pennsylvania, served as the residence and workspace for the internationally renowned furniture designer and architect, George Nakashima. The Star of India, docked at the Maritime Museum of San Diego in California, holds the distinction of being the fourth oldest ship still sailing in the United States and the second oldest active sailing vessel worldwide. Through generations, these immigrants and their descendants have established communities and nurtured unique cultures across the United States. March through May, Yale University commemorates the contributions of APPI within our community.
AAPI individuals have made remarkable contributions to American culture, arts, and entertainment. From Hollywood legends such as Anna May Wong and Bruce Lee to contemporary talents like Yo-Yo Ma and Mindy Kaling, their influence resonates deeply and widely. AAPI individuals have also excelled across various fields, including science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Icons like Yuri Kochiyama, a dedicated advocate for civil rights, and Dalip Singh Saund, the first Asian American elected to Congress, epitomize the courage and perseverance of those who paved the path for future generations. Despite their accomplishments, AAPI continue to encounter obstacles such as discrimination, stereotyping, and unequal access to opportunities.
Overall, across diverse languages and ethnic backgrounds, AAPI share common threads of resilience, perseverance, and cultural heritage. AAPI Heritage Month provides a platform to recognize and confront injustices while honoring the resilience and strength of those who have overcome challenges. It is a moment to pay tribute to the sacrifices of earlier generations and reassert our dedication to constructing a fairer and more inclusive society for everyone.
Written by: Sandeep Kumar Mishra