Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month’s theme for 2019, “Unite Our Mission by Engaging Each Other,” is a celebration of the historic contributions and achievements of Asians and Pacific Islanders in the United States. The Asian and Pacific region spans the Pacific Ocean to the Pacific Rim; from the two most populous nations on earth, India and China to the 600 islands of Micronesia, where 110,000 people are scattered across an ocean expanse five times the size of France.
Asian Pacific American Heritage Month is celebrated each May to pay tribute to the achievements and contributions generations of Asian, Desi and Pacific Island Americans have made in the United States. According to a Pew Research Center study, between 2000 and 2015, "The U.S. Asian population had the fastest growth rate of any major racial or ethnic group."
Asian Pacific American Heritage Month was first designated as Asian-Pacific Heritage Week by Representatives Frank Horton of New York and Norman Y. Mineta of California. It was celebrated the first ten days of May. In 1978, a bill was passed and signed by President Jimmy Carter to designate the annual celebration. In 1990, President George H. W. Bush signed a bill to extend the week-long celebration into the full month of May.
May was chosen to commemorate the date, May 7, 1843, which marked the immigration of the first Japanese to the United States. The month also marks the anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad, May 10,1869, in which the majority of the workers were Chinese immigrants.
There is significant history associated with this month. Some recollections are bittersweet, but most boast proud accomplishments from as early as the late 1800’s, through several military conflicts until present time. From the laborers who connected our coasts more than one-hundred and fifty years ago, to the patriots who fought overseas while their families were interned at home and on to the innovators and entrepreneurs who are driving our Nation's economic growth in Silicon Valley and beyond, Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month offers us an opportunity to recognize the vast contributions that have been made to our nation. It also offers an opportunity to reflect on the challenges still faced by Asian American and Pacific Islander communities and recommit to making the American Dream a reality for all.
Today, some 16 million Americans claim Asian-Pacific heritage, and their personal histories are linked to one of the most diverse regions of the world where there is a unique blend of nationalities, cultures, languages, dialects, religions and ethnicities. As a microcosm of America’s diverse nationalities, the U.S. Navy is comprised of Asian/Pacific American Sailors, both past and present, who contribute to the strength of our force and the defense of our nation.
Since very early in our nation’s history, tens of thousands of individuals of Asian or Pacific Island heritage have served in the U.S. Navy. Our story would not be the same without these men and women, including Filipinos who have served a significant role since the late 1800’s, Japanese-Americans who joined the Armed Forces in evidence of their extraordinary patriotism during World War II and numerous other groups’ contributions, including the approximately 25,000 individuals of Asian/Pacific heritage serving in the Navy today, including eight admirals, 659 chief petty officers and 318 officers, according to our most recent figures. These Sailors represent more than 56 ethnic groups, speaking more than 100 languages from Asia and the Pacific Islands, living in the United States.
I encourage each of us to take some time this month to increase our knowledge and awareness of the contributions of Asian and Pacific Americans to our Navy and our nation by celebrating Asian and Pacific American Heritage Month through programs, exhibits, publications and participation in military and community events. Please join me as we salute generations of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders at various celebrations this month.