In 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed a resolution that created Asian Pacific American Heritage week. 1990, President George H. W. Bush expanded the celebration from a week to a month. Asian Pacific American Heritage Month is celebrated in May to commemorate the arrival in May 1843 of the first Japanese immigrants to the United States, and to honor the Chinese immigrants who contributed to the transcontinental railroad, which was completed on May 10, 1896.
But Asian Pacific Americans include more than just Chinese and Japanese Americans. They have their origins in many countries in the Far East, Southeast Asia, and the Indian subcontinent including, Cambodia, China, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippine Islands, Thailand, and Vietnam. Also included are people with origins in Hawaii, Guam, Samoa, or other Pacific Islands.
THEY HELPED DEFEND AMERICA
“Go For Broke” was the motto of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, an Army unit comprised of Japanese Americans from Hawaii and the mainland United States. The motto was derived from a gambler’s slang used in Hawaii to “go for broke,” which meant that the player was risking it all in one effort to win big. The player would put everything on the line. The 442nd Regimental Combat Team was the most decorated unit for its size and length of service, in the entire history of the US Military. In total, about 18,000 men served, ultimately earning 9,486 Purple Hearts, 21 Medals of Honor and seven Presidential Unit Citations.
THEY HELPED BUILD AMERICA
In 1863, construction began on the transcontinental railroad—1,776 miles of tracks that would form a link between America’s West and East coasts. In 1865, Central Pacific officials hired 50 Chinese laborers to lay down a section of track. Their work was so well done, they decided to recruit more Chinese men. In the end, nearly 12,000 Chinese railroad workers were hired to perform dangerous work that white men refused to do. Thanks to their hard work, America became the first continent to have a coast-to-coast railroad.
FAMOUS ASIAN PACIFIC AMERICANS
DUKE KAHANAMOKU – SWIMMER/SURFER
Duke Kahanamoku became known as the father of international surfing, but the Hawaiian native made his first splash as a swimmer at the 1912 Olympics. He was born in Honolulu in 1890, and he “struck gold” by setting a world record in the 100-meter swimming freestyle, and earned a silver medal in the 200-meter relay. He won two more gold medals at the 1920 Olympics, a silver at the 1924 Olympics, and a bronze at the 1932 Olympics. Kahanamoku’s swimming and surfing talents caught the attention of Hollywood, and he appeared in nearly 30 movies.
DALIP SINGH SAUND – POLITICIAN
Dalip Singh Saund made history in 1956 when he became the first Asian elected to Congress. Born in India in 1899, Saund came to the United States in 1920 to study at the University of California, Berkeley, where he earned a doctorate degree in mathematics. Although he was highly educated, Saund discovered he could only find a job farming for the next 20 years. At the same time, Saund began ghting discriminatory laws against Indians. In 1949, he and other Indians finally earned the right to become U.S. citizens. In 1956, Saund left the fields of California for the halls of Congress. He served three terms in the House of Representatives and opened the door for Asian Americans to enter U.S. politics.
YO-YO MA – CELLIST
One of the world’s great musicians, Yo-Yo Ma began studying the cello at the age of four. As a toddler, he and his parents moved from Paris, France, to New York. At age nine, Ma made his musical debut at the famed Carnegie Hall in New York City. Since graduating from the Julliard School and Harvard University, Ma has played as a soloist with orchestras around the world. Along the way, he has recorded 50 albums and won more than a dozen Grammy Awards. He is also dedicated to bringing music into the lives of young people through education programs and family concerts.
MICHELLE KWAN – OLYMPIC SKATER
Michelle Kwan is a retired American figure skater. She is a two-time Olympic medalist,
a five-time World champion and a nine-time U.S. champion. Her career 37 perfect scores are the most of any skater in history. When competing, Kwan always wears a Chinese good luck charm around her neck. The charm was a gift from her grandmother. Kwan began skating at age five and won her first competition two years later.
MAYA LIN – ARCHITECT
Maya Lin rose to fame in 1981. When she was just 21 years old and still an architectural student at Yale University, Lin won a contest to design the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. Her design beat out more than 1,400 entries. The Memorial’s 594-foot granite wall features the names of the more than 58,000 U.S. soldiers who died during the Vietnam War. Today, Lin’s designs can be found in several American cities and continue to inspire the entire nation.
AMY TAN – NOVELIST
Amy Tan was born in 1952 in Oakland, California, the daughter of Chinese parents who had immigrated to the United States three years earlier. She gained international attention in 1989 when her first novel was published. The Joy Luck Club, is a story about Chinese women and their Chinese-American daughters. The book has been translated into 25 languages and has been made into a movie. In addition to her best-selling novels, Tan has also written two children’s books, The Moon Lady and Sagwa.