12 Ways to Celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

Celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month by exploring the history, arts, and culture of Asian and Pacific Islander Americans in the United States

By Google Arts & Culture

Asian Pacific American Heritage Month is celebrated annually in May in the United States to highlight the history, heritage, and contributions of Asian Pacific American communities. Home to 48 countries, Asia is the largest and most populous continent.

Over 20 million people of Asian and Pacific Islander descent live in the United States totaling about 6 percent of the U.S. population, representing a wealth and diversity of cultures and experiences within the United States. 

Detail of Jenifer K Wofford's Pattern Recognition (2020) by Jenifer K WoffordAsian Art Museum

Now, immerse yourself in the richness and complexity of cultures that make up this community with 12 stories curated by experts, curators, historians, and archivists from cultural institutions in the U.S. on Google Arts & Culture.

Ritual vessel in the shape of a rhinoceros Ritual vessel in the shape of a rhinoceros (prob. 1100-1050 BCE, Shang dynasty (approx. 1600-1050 BCE))Asian Art Museum

1. What if George Washington were Japanese American?

Explore what it means to be American in this in-painting tour with Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. What if George Washington were Japanese American? Get up close to Shimomura Crossing the Delaware where Roger Shimomura poses this thought-provoking question. 

Shimomura Crossing the Delaware (2010) by Roger ShimomuraSmithsonian's National Portrait Gallery

2. Discover the journeys

Join the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center on artists’ immigration journeys. The Immigration Act of 1990, which included the creation of the H-1B Visa, opened up opportunities to many Asian immigrants skilled in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

However, for many, to live in the U.S. on an H-1B visa is to live a life of uncertainty. Feel the anxiety, dignity, isolation, and opportunity associated with this life-changing immigration category. 

Dual Intent (2013) by AishwaryaSmithsonian Asian Pacific American Center

3. Experience the rebirth of Chinatown

Experience San Francisco’s Chinatown, reborn with Chinese Historical Society of America. The Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 provided an opportune time for the Mayor and developers to call for the destruction of this now historic landmark. Instead, Chinese leaders in San Francisco united to rebuild their community with an ignited spirit of fortitude and resilience.

Chinatown in Ruins (c.1900) by UnknownChinese Historical Society of America

4. Go beyond Bollywood

When you imagine India, what comes to your mind? India conjures up many things: elephants, saris, and spices; gurus, gods, and goddesses; turbans, temples, and a billion faces drawn from ancient history, modern-day Slumdog Millionaires, and the pulsating energy of Bollywood movies. Beyond Bollywood curated by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center explores Indian American contributions far beyond these stereotypes. 

Beyond Bollywood Flagship Image (1983) by Saarika SharmaSmithsonian Asian Pacific American Center

5. Learn the citizenship stories

Learn about different stories of Asian Americans seeking citizenship, from Bhagat Singh Thind in 1918 to how Tereza Lee became the first “Dreamer” unfold by the Center of Asian American Center. Waves of Asian immigrants questioned what rights their new place of residence would extend to them? To what extent would the “American dream” be extended to these new faces? 

Anna May Wong Certificate of IdentityCenter for Asian American Media (CAAM)

6. Meet March Fong Eu

You can listen to the incredible story of March Fong Eu’s lifetime service provided by the California State Archives

Among the many notable Asian American trailblazers, March Fong Eu broke many barriers in her long career in public service, from being the first woman to serve as division chair of the University of California San Francisco's Dental Hygiene Department in 1951 to being the first Asian-American woman to serve as acting-Governor of California in 1976. 

March Fong at Capitol (1975/1975) by Office of the Secretary of State. California State ArchivesCalifornia State Archives

7. Meet Ruth Asawa

The de Young museum invites you to meet Ruth Asawa (American, 1926–2013), a pioneering modern artist best known for her innovative abstract wire sculptures. Born in California to Japanese immigrants, Asawa embodied a uniquely expansive vision, regarding herself as a “citizen of the universe,” saying, “I don’t think of myself as Japanese. I think of myself as somebody with an idea, a human idea rather than an ethnic idea.”

The de Young museum invites you to meet Ruth Asawa (American, 1926–2013), a pioneering modern artist best known for her innovative abstract wire sculptures.

Born in California to Japanese immigrants, Asawa embodied a uniquely expansive vision, regarding herself as a “citizen of the universe,” saying, “I don’t think of myself as Japanese. I think of myself as somebody with an idea, a human idea rather than an ethnic idea.”

Ruth Asawa in her studio (ca. 1956)de Young museum

8. Asian American actors, activists, and storytellers

Find inspiration in the Asian American Storytellers presented by the Center of Asian American Media, from actress Anna May Wong breaking barriers in Hollywood in the 1920s to activists seeking justice for the murder of Vincent Chin. 

"Representation matters, and we all benefit due to the efforts and hard work of scores of writers, historians, and artists.” - Stephen Gong, CAAM’s Executive Director

Asian American Students FilmingCenter for Asian American Media (CAAM)

9. Discover Bruce Lee and Hollywood

Did you know that Bruce Lee was not only the first Asian American in a lead role to appear in a Hollywood produced movie, but that he was also the Crown Colony Cha-Cha champion of Hong Kong?

Born Lee Jun-Fan, Bruce Lee showed the world that a Chinese actor could be a leading man— tough, with inflexible morals, and determination to make the world a better place.  Learn more about his impact on the industry with the Bruce Lee Foundation

1973 in "Enter The Dragon" (Circa. 1973) by Warner Bros.Bruce Lee Foundation

10. Japanese Pictorialists in focus

Admire the photographs by the Japanese Camera Pictorialists of California (JCPC) based in Los Angeles’s Little Tokyo neighborhood from the J. Paul Getty Museum collection. The members, of this lesser-known part of 20th-century American art history, were a mix of amateurs, hobbyists, and professional photographers who developed their modernist styles during the 1920s - 1940s.

Perpetual Motion (1931) by Asahachi KonoThe J. Paul Getty Museum

11. Hawaiian Queens

Meet two visionary queens of Hawai‘i, Queen Kapi’olani and Queen Lili’uokalani with the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center. Their work to improve the quality of life for everyone in Hawai’i and support future generations to “E kūlia i ka nu‘u (Strive to reach the summit),” carries on a legacy today through wellness, maternity, and life-long learner education programs.

Queens Kapiolani and Lilioukalani of Hawaii (2020) by A. A. MontanoSmithsonian Asian Pacific American Center

12. Explore a magnificent mural!

Can you find your favorite Asian American artists’ names in this mural by Jenifer K Wofford?

The mural "Pattern Recognition" highlights the cultures of Asian immigrant communities in the Bay Area, including the signature “spiral” design of Carlos Villa and the pottery silhouettes of Jade Snow Wong.

As a passionate educator, Wofford hopes the mural will elevate underrepresented histories and strengthen the connection between the Asian Art Museum and the local community.

Detail of Jenifer K Wofford's Pattern Recognition (2020) by Jenifer K WoffordAsian Art Museum

Want to find out more? Meet Pulitzer Prize-winning author Viet Thanh Nguyen to discover what Asian Pacific American Heritage Month means to him. 

Shimomura Crossing the Delaware (2010) by Roger ShimomuraSmithsonian's National Portrait Gallery

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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