Celebrating Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

Introduction: In this article – in honor of May being Asian Pacific American Heritage Month – Gena Philibert-Ortega describes resources for tracing your Asian/Pacific Islander American family history. Gena is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.”

Did you know that this month is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (also known as Asian and Pacific Islander American Heritage Month)? Initially a week-long event signed into law by President Jimmy Carter in 1978, it was later extended to a month-long celebration in 1990 by President George H. W. Bush. Two years later, May was designated the official month for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

Why was May so designated? The month of May “commemorates the immigration of the first Japanese to the United States on May 7, 1843, and to mark the anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869. The majority of the workers who laid the tracks were Chinese immigrants.” (1)

An article about Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, Times-Picayune newspaper article 9 May 1990
Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 9 May 1990, page 133

The Asian Pacific American Heritage Month website is:

“A collaborative project of the Library of Congress and the National Archives and Records Administration, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The contents of this site highlight only a small portion of the physical and digital holdings of the participating partners.” (2)

It’s here that you can explore online exhibits, collections, videos, and images from these partnering institutions. Don’t skip the For Teachers page; its resources are perfect for family historians, including information about immigration, World War II, and the Vietnam War – as well as links to digitized books.

An example of what you can find on the Asian Pacific American Heritage Month website is the link to the Alaska Digitization Project. This project of the National Archives at Seattle includes 126 photos that document everyday life in Alaska, from church and school to portraits and natural disasters, in the early to late 20th century. This collection is not just limited to photographs; you will also find documents, maps, and log books. The collections and links found on the Asian Pacific American Heritage Month website have to be explored to be appreciated.

One of the partners in the Asian Pacific American Heritage Month website is the National Archives, which holds records for tracing Asian American ancestors. Their appropriately titled Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month web page provides additional resources and information. Articles on this page cover the history of Asian Americans from the Chinese Exclusion Act to the Japanese Internment. These fascinating articles provide researchers with a better understanding of the Asian and Pacific Islanders’ American experience and are a must-read to better understand the history of the United States.

Don’t forget that historical newspapers are a great place to find even more information. By searching on the keywords “Asian Pacific American Heritage Month” in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, you can find articles about past events, personal experiences, and history.

An article about Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, San Francisco Chronicle newspaper article 16 May 2010
San Francisco Chronicle (San Francisco, California), 16 May 2010, page 15

How Will You Celebrate?

Does your community have events coinciding with Asian Pacific Heritage Month? Is your genealogy society planning an event to celebrate this month? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.


(1) “About Asian/Pacific Heritage Month,” Asian Pacific Heritage Month (accessed 4 May 2018).
(2) Ibid.

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