By Jennie L. Ilustre
Ever wonder why the month of May was chosen to celebrate Asian Pacific American (APA) Heritage Month? May honors two historic milestones: The arrival of the first Japanese immigrants in May 1843, and also the completion of the transcontinental railroad in May 1869. In 1978, the U.S. Congress established Asian/Pacific American Heritage Week through a joint congressional resolution. Congress expanded the week to a month-long celebration in 1992.
This year, the community continues its tradition of celebrating its heritage and progress in this great nation. It also continued the tradition of recognizing Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) who are making a difference through their talents and civic engagement.
Something is markedly different this year, however.
Throughout this month, the Asia Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA) is scheduling resistance events with other national organizations. APALA AFL-CIO Executive Director Gregory Cendana said in an email: “During this year’s Asian Pacific American Heritage Month APAHM, we’re celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander resistance, both past and present. Our communities are no strangers to oppression–from the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II to the uptick of hate violence against Muslims and perceived-to-be Muslim communities. Nor are we strangers to resisting, organizing, and fighting back. With an administration with aggressively anti-worker, anti-immigrant, and pro-corporate agenda, we choose to center our resistance as part of our legacy and heritage.”
APALA, he added, is collecting resistance events as part of the #AAPIsResist Month of Action at https://aapisresist.org/2017/04/28/calendar-of-events/. He has urged those interested in adding an event to email email@example.com.
John C. Yang, president and executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice/AAJC, emailed on May 1: “During this month-long celebration into Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we stand together to remember and honor the contributions of the AAPI community, a community rich in immigrant history,” “It is also a time to reflect on the xenophobic and anti-immigrant moments of the past and refuse to let history repeat itself today.”
GOP Celebrates APA Achievements
On May 1, Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel and Co-Chairman Bob Paduchik recognized the contributions of Asian Americans to the nation’s prosperity and strength.
“This month we honor the Americans of East Asian, South Asian, Southeast Asian and Pacific Islander descent with APA Heritage Month,” said Chairwoman McDaniel. “APA Heritage Month is a reminder of the contributions Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have made to the prosperity of our diverse country and the sacrifices many have made to realize the American Dream. I am grateful to the Asian American and Pacific Islander leaders who have made great contributions not only to the Republican Party, but also to our nation.”
Co-Chairman Paduchik noted: “During APA Heritage Month, we commemorate Asian and Pacific Islander immigrants and their countless contributions to the prosperity and strength of our country. As we honor and celebrate the diversity of our Asian and Pacific Islander communities, we will continue to work on behalf of all Americans, ensuring that our nation offers equal opportunities and freedom for all.”
The Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies (APAICS), founded by former U.S. Congressman and former U.S. Secretary of Commerce and also Secretary of Transportation and Norman Y. Mineta, will hold its 23rd Annual Awards Gala Dinner on May 16 at the Washington Hilton on Connecticut Avenue NW.
The annual event celebrates Asian Pacific American Heritage Month and recognizes leaders and other outstanding individuals and organizations that continue “to politically empower the AAPI community.”
Every year, the event attracts over a thousand guests and top government officials. This year’s keynote speakers are Senator Cory Booker (confirmed) and U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley (invited). The gala boasts of the largest gathering of AAPI local, state, and federal elected officials and appointees, as well as community and business leaders from across the country.
This year’s honorees are Chancee Martorrell, Community Leadership Award; Randall Park, Vision Award, and Verizon Corporate Achievement Award. CBSN News Correspondent Elaine Quijano is program emcee with singer and TV, film and video game composer Larissa Lam performing the National Anthem.
Community Leadership Award
Martorell studied political science and public law at UCLA, where she received her B.A. and her M.A. in Urban Planning. A social activist for decades, Martorell is currently the Executive Director of the Thai Community Development Center, a non-profit organization she founded in 1994.
Two of the projects undertaken by Thai CDC under Martorell’s leadership include the development of affordable housing through the rehabilitation of one of Hollywood’s historical edifices, the Halifax Apartments, and the development of Palm Village, an affordable senior housing project in Sun Valley.
In 1999, under her leadership, Thai CDC played a pivotal role in aommunity organizing campaign, culminating in the designation of the first Thai Town in the nation in East Hollywood.
She is known most notably for her work on over a half dozen major human rights cases involving over 400 Thai victims of human trafficking, who were discovered working in conditions of slavery in the U.S.
Among her top awards are the Phenomenal Women Award, from the California State University of Northridge Women and Gender Studies Department, and the Royal Decoration of the Most Admirable Order of the Direkgunabhorn from King Bhumibol Adulyadej, for her tireless service to the Thai community overseas.
Actor and writer Park is in demand on TV and in Hollywood. Currently, Park is in two top-rated TV shows. He plays Eddie Huang in the ABC hit comedy series “Fresh Off the Boat,” now enjoying its third season. In the critically acclaimed HBO series “Veep,” he has a recurring role as Minnesota Governor Danny Chung in. His film credits include two forthcoming attractions: 20th Century Fox’s “Snatched,” starring Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn, and also “The Disaster Artist” with James Franco. Park won a ‘Best Actor Award’ at the 2010 NBC’s Short Cuts Film Festival for Blueberry, which he also wrote.
D.C. Mayor’s Awards
In D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser will lead the Annual Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month Celebration on May 8. Highlight of the program at 7.m. is the awarding of the Mayor’s Community Service Awards to outstanding individuals who have made a difference in the AAPI community. The honorees will be announced during that evening.
A reception and a cultural show featuring AAPI artists and a photo exhibit will precede the recognition program. Venue is the Howard Theatre on T Street Northwest.
Looking to the Future
In celebration of the APA Heritage Month, the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA), based in the nation’s capital, is celebrating Asian American contributions in the nation’s progress, as well as focusing on the future. For the first time since it was founded in 1997, the organization passed the torch of leadership to the millennial generation.
Jason Tengco, the new NaFFAA Executive Director, announced this month: “With NaFFAA’s 20th anniversary approaching this October, the organization is focused on three core areas: Leadership Development, Civic Engagement, and National Advocacy. Building on the energy of AAPI Heritage Month, NaFFAA will host its first-ever Federation Forum leadership development summit in Washington, D.C. from May 14-15. The forum will empower leaders and help provide them with the tools, best practices, and capacity needed to better serve their communities.”
NaFFAA National Chairman Brendan Flores, another millennial, said on May 1: “Filipino Americans have played an important role in the history of this nation in many sectors of society, ranging from business, entertainment, health, law, politics, and beyond. NaFFAA celebrates AAPI Heritage Month by not only highlighting the achievements of Filipino Americans and other AAPIs, but by also promoting solidarity with diverse groups across the country. We’re proud of our community’s contributions, and feel energized by the next generation of Filipino Americans getting involved.”