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AAPI Activists You Should Know About for Asian American/Pacific Islander Heritage Month

Image Via Yale School of Management

If you don’t already know, in the United States, May is Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month— the celebration of Asians and Pacific islanders throughout the nation. Asian (American)/Pacific Islanders (AAPI) refers to the broad combination of people from the entirety of the continent of Asia and the Pacific islands—Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia— as well as their American descendants. It is a significant annual celebration that recognizes the influences, contributions, attainments, culture, and history of the AAPI community. AAPI heritage month is a great way to recognize and support AAPI folk as well as those who have made and are currently making history. 


As a fundamental portion of the American cultural mosaic that includes approximately 50 ethnic groups speaking over 100 languages with connections to various Asian and Pacific Islander ancestries, 7.3% of the U.S. population is AAPI. This is equivalent to over 24 million Americans with about two-thirds of the population identifying with their specific ethnicity or country of origin. In 1587, the first Asians were documented in the Americas when “Luzonians”—migrants from the Philippines—arrived as part of a Spanish trading party. These Filipino immigrants came upon Spanish ships and were immediately subjected to such unlivable conditions that half of them died on the journey. They eventually settled in colonial Mexico and reportedly refused to cross the Pacific ocean to return home. 

A Brief History of AAPI Heritage Month 

AAPI Heritage Month originated with Congress and, similarly to other months of ethnic celebration, began as a week when Reps. Frank Horton of New York announced the House Joint Resolution 540 proclaiming the first 10 days of May as Pacific/Asian American Heritage Week. Another political figure— Senator Danial Inouye—introduced a similar resolution in the same year, however, neither resolution was initially passed. Thankfully, in 1978, Horton introduced House Joint resolution 1007 proposing similar conditions as his original resolution which was successfully passed and legitimized as Public Law 95-419 in October of that year. Afterward, presidents annually passed proclamations for Asian/Pacific American Heritage week until 1990 when the week was lengthened to Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month with the passing of  Public Law 101-283 by congress. In 1992, May officially became the annually designated month for celebrating Asian/Pacific Islander heritage to accommodate the immigration of the first Japanese to the U.S. on May 7, 1843. This month also honors the anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad— the majority of workers being Chinese immigrants. 


Ways to Celebrate AAPI Month 

There are many ways to celebrate AAPI heritage and acknowledge and celebrate the culture and accomplishments of AAPI individuals. As always, donating to organizations that support AAPI individuals in various ways is always amazing. You can also financially support AAPI by supporting their art or businesses. With the popularization of the harmful stigma against AAPI folk due to COVID-19 it is now crucial we show our support to the community. Educating yourself on the various cultures, histories, and accomplishments of the AAPI community is also a great way to honor and acknowledge AAPI folk this month. We have several resources on Lemon-Aid for supporting and learning more about the AAPI community in recent years including: 


The Scary Surge in Violent Attacks Against Asian Women in the U.S. 

It’s Time to Deconstruct the Model Minority Myth

The World Against People of Color


However, the learning doesn’t stop there. So, in honor of AAPI Heritage month, here are some AAPI activists you should know about. Feel free to do more extensive research into these individuals and continue to support the AAPI community all year long! 


AAPI Activists

Amanda Nguyen (she/her)

Nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, CEO of social moment Rise, and social entrepreneur, Nguyen’s 2021 viral video ignited global coverage of anti-Asian hate crimes and is widely credited as a pivotal moment of the Stop Asian Hate movement. Her civil rights activism unanimously passed the Sexual Assult Survivor’s Bill of Rights. She teaches grassroots organizing, is an expert advisor on the Chloé Sustainability Board, and previously served at NASA. Is there anything she can’t do? Absolutely not! 


Yuri Kochiyama (she/her)

Kochiyama, tireless political activist, dedicated her life to contributing to social change through her participation in social justice and human rights movements. She was a radical Japanese-American liberation pioneer of the intersectionality movement understanding how various aspects of identity combine to create different forms of discrimination. Kochiyama’s activism began in Harlem in the 1960s where she participated in the Asian-American, Black, and Third World movements for civil and human rights, ethnic studies, and against the war in Vietnam alongside many other historical activists such as Malcolm X. She founded Asian Americans for Action to build a more political Asian American movement that connected the struggle for Black liberation. 

Kevin Aipopo (she/he/they)

Aipopo is an admirable community advocate, storyteller, student leader, and Pacific Climate Warrior. Dedicated to their community and environment, their work is crucial to the climate justice and climate liberation movements and focuses on the intersection of ethnic identity and gender fluidity. Kevin uses her platform to challenge social norms and uplift voices in his community. They use their poetry, education, and community organizing to make an especially influential and impactful change. 

Cynthia Choi (she/her)

Choi, with over 26 years of experience in nonprofit and philanthropic sectors, is the Co-Executive Director of Chinese for Affirmative Action— a community-based civil rights organization aimed at advancing racial and economic justice, immigration rights, and education equality. In 2020, after anticipating increased Asian hate due to racist rhetoric from elected U.S. leaders, Choi was one of the activists who co-founded Stop AAPI Hate. Stop AAPI Hate is a coalition that tracks, documents, and responds to incidents of hate, violence, and discrimination against AAPI folk in the U.S. and has been a great resource for challenging AAPI discrimination and violence. 


George Helm Jr. (he/him) 

Helm was a Native Hawaiian aloha ʻāina activist and musician who developed many ideas of Hawaiian Sovereignty that continue to inspire and lead the community. He began his grassroots activism in 1975 with the group Hui Alaloa as he joined several community activists in their fight to develop and maintain Native Hawaiian access rights. Helm became deeply involved in the Protect Kahoʻolawe ʻOhana, an organization of Native Hawaiians seeking to end the bombing and military control of the island Kahoʻolawe. Helm and others known as the "Kahoʻolawe Nine" occupied the island in an effort to end the mistreatment of Kahoʻolawe. Unfortunately, their presence did not cease the bombing and Helm went missing but Helm is still honored for his leadership and dedicated activism. 


Find out about more AAPI activists here


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Featured Image ViaNicole Bengiveno/The New York Times

Sources: 

https://asianpacificheritage.gov/about/ 

https://www.nami.org/Your-Journey/Identity-and-Cultural-Dimensions/Asian-American-and-Pacific-Islander 

https://stopaapihate.org/timeline/ 

https://asianpacificheritage.gov/about/ 

https://www.dosomething.org/us/articles/10-incredible-aapi-activists 

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/07/us/cynthia-choi-stop-aapi-hate.html 

https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/the-two-asian-americas 

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