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Asian and Pacific Islander American Month

Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage month is a annual celebration to recognize the contributions of individuals and groups of Asian and Pacific Islander descent to the United States. AAPI heritage month is celebrated from May 1 through 31, because it commemorates the immigration of the first Japanese people to the United States on May 7, 1843.

May also is a significant month because it recognizes Golden Spike Day, May 10, 1869, which marks the completion of the transcontinental railroad that was built with significant contributions from Chinese workers.

It took more than 10 years to officially recognize Asian American and Pacific Islander contributions to the United States. It started as a week-long celebration in May in 1979, after the House and the Senate passed the Resolution, President Jimmy Carter signed it into Public Law 95-419 on Oct. 5, 1978. From 1980 to 1990, each president passed annual proclamations for Asian/Pacific American Heritage Week.

In 1990, Congress expanded the observance from a week to a month. May was annually designated as Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month in 1992 under the George H. W. Bush administration with the passing of Public Law 102-540.

Asian American and Pacific Islander Spotlights

Ang Lee

Ang LeeAng Lee is a Taiwanese American filmmaker known for being the first non-white director for winning an Oscar for producing and directing films both in Chinese and English. He was born on Oct. 23, 1954, in Chaozhou Township, Taiwan, but later came to the United States to study film. Lee has been nominated for nine Academy Awards and has won three Best Foreign Language Films for “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” “Brokeback Mountain” and “Life of PI.”




Dr. Chein-shiung Wu

Dr. WuDr. Chein-Shiung Wu was a Chinese American nuclear physicist known for playing a critical role in the Manhattan Project. She helped develop the process of separating uranium into uranium-235 and uranium-238 isotopes through gaseous diffusion. Born on May 31, 1912, in Jiangsu Province, China. She moved to the U.S. in 1939 to pursue a Ph.D. at Berkely. Wu was a recipient of the inaugural Wolf Prize in Physics and the first woman to become president of the American Physical Society.




Duke Kahanamoku

Duke KahanamokuDuke Kahanamoku also known as the “Big Kahuna” was a five-time Olympic medalist in swimming and was a famous surfer who helped popularize the Hawaiian sport of surfing around the world. For several years, he was known as one of the greatest freestyle swimmers in the world. Born on Aug. 24, 1890, in Haleakala, Duke was not only a surfer and swimmer, but he also worked as an actor and a sheriff.






Kalpana Chawla

Kalpana ChawlaKalpana Chawla is most famous for being the first woman of Indian descent to go into space. Chawla served as a mission specialist and primary robotic arm operator on the space shuttle Columbia. On Jan. 16, 2003, she and six other crew members went on a mission on the space shuttle Columbia to conduct experiments on earth and space science. Sadly, when the shuttle disintegrated on the re-entry, the earth’s atmosphere killed all the crew members. Today, Chawla is regarded as a national hero in India and has several streets and institutions named after her. She was also awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor for her contributions.

Samuel Lee

Samuel LeeSamuel Lee was a Korean American Olympic diver, coach, and physician. He is regarded as the first Asian American to win an Olympic gold medal for the U.S. and the first man to win back-to-back gold medals in Olympic platform diving. Lee competed in the 1948 and 1952 Olympics and helped coach U.S. Olympic divers. After coaching, Lee became an ear, nose and throat doctor for 35 years before retiring.




Last Updated 5/4/22