Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month

How many notable Asian American and Pacific Islanders can you name? Struggling? You’re probably not alone. Asian-Pacific American history in the United States is generally not a focus in schools. You probably learn about Chinese workers and the U.S. Railroads or the highly decorated Japanese-American Air Force units of World War Two, but what else?

Cuisine and technology may come to mind, but Asian-Pacific Americans have contributed significantly to the fabric of America. Whether it’s growing up Asian-Pacific American during World War II, or breaking down “Asian” stereotypes on a national stage, it’s time we recognize the trials are just as important as the successes. So in May, during Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, we invite you to work toward a comprehensive story of our history by celebrating a culture that doesn’t always get the credit it’s due.

It’s 1977. Representatives Norman Mineta and Frank Horton initiate a conversation that’s long overdue. They propose the first 10 days of May as Asian-Pacific American Heritage Week . Why May? It coincides with the arrival of the first Japanese in the U.S. in 1843, and the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad

in 1869-- a massive project with 80% of the workforce comprised of Chinese immigrants. The unyielding efforts of these immigrants allows the Transcontinental Railroad to be completed an astonishing seven years ahead of schedule. Efforts to commend contributions like this gain momentum, so in 1990, President George H.W. Bush officially declares May, Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month.

Though Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders make up a little more than 5% of our population, one can argue that their impact drastically outweighs their size. Celebrating Asian Pacific Heritage Month and other statistical minority groups, moves us toward a more accurate depiction of U.S. history. Please join us as we recognize a few of the many Asian-Pacific Americans who, through their tenacity and perseverance, paved a path for others to follow.

With restrictive media coverage in China during the late 1980s, American journalist Sheryl WuDunn knows that getting the story means risking it all. As a fresh faced correspondent for the New York Times Beijing, she throws herself into the turmoil of the Tiananmen Square protests.

Crouching behind cars as bullets fly overhead, she conducts interviews of students and soldiers. This life-risking journalism earns WuDunn the Pulitzer Prize, a first for Asian Americans, and creates space for future women and minorities to thrive in media and journalism.

Sheryl WuDunn

Wataru Misaka

Who was the first Asian-American in the NBA? Jeremy Lin might come to mind, but that path was paved over half a century ago by point guard Wataru Misaka. Misaka makes history in 1947, when he’s the first collegiate pick in professional basketball history. But his legacy reaches further than the court.


In a time when thousands of Japanese-Americans are placed in internment camps, Misaka stands as a symbol of endurance and hope. Misaka humanizes Asian-Americans on a national stage and makes a way for other Asian athletes to follow.

If you were forced into an internment camp by your government, would you consider being a public servant for the same country that imprisoned you? During World War II, Norman Mineta’s experience in an internment camp sparks a selfless desire to protect civil liberties, for all Americans.

His political roles span from the first Japanese-American mayor, to the first Asian- American cabinet member. His most notable contribution? The Civil Liberties Act of 1988-- a public recognition and apology to Japanese-Americans for injustices during World War II. Norman Mineta spends his life in service, and builds a path for others to pursue change and civil justice.

Norman Mineta

Hazel Ying-Lee

During the 1940s, few jobs are available to Chinese-American women, but Hazel Ying Lee breaks the mold as the first Asian American female pilot in the United States military.


During World War II, the U.S. Air Force looks past their "no women" policy and Lee is eager to serve, even though female pilots are denied the benefits of military status. It's women like Lee, whose bold efforts make the case for the U.S to extend military status to women decades later.

It's 1910. A film crew sets up shop in Los Angeles' Chinatown neighborhood, as a young girl bombards crew members with questions. This early brush with movie-making leads Anna May Wong to seek Hollywood success. She breaks into the industry in 1920 and rises to fame for her innovative take on stereotypical roles.
As the first Asian-American to achieve Hollywood acclaim, Wong uses her stardom to question poor representations of Asian-Americans in film. She challenges notions of what Asian-Americans could or should be, and leads the way for Asian actors to follow.

Anna May Wong

Cristeta Comerford

Can you imagine cooking breakfast for a United States' President? In 2005, George W. Bush hires Cristeta Comerford as the first Asian-American White House Executive Chef. Raised in the Philippines in the 1960s, Comerford’s love of cooking with her mother inspires her to pursue a degree in Food Technology.

In an industry where Asian women make up less than 1% of all chefs, Comerford has an uphill climb to the White House, but reaches the pinnacle of her field, pioneering the trail for women and minority chefs.

Duke Kahanamoku

It’s 1912. Hawaiian native Duke Kahanamoku wins a silver and gold medal for the U.S. Olympic swim team. Olympian status doesn't protect Duke from racial discrimination, but it does present him with a platform on which to share his native culture.

He introduces the ancient art of surfing to the U.S. and love for this new sport spreads worldwide. Duke becomes known as the "Father of Surf" and preserves his native Hawaiian culture for future generations.