Celebrating and Honoring the Asian American Heritage

Posted on May 28, 2020

Dr. Ofelia Dirige, Founder & President, Kalusugan Kalakasan Ctr for Health & Wellness and Lecturer, Center for Asian Pacific Studies, CAL, SDSU

May is a very important month as many popular events are celebrated such as the Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (APAHM), Mother’s Day, Memorial Day and others. APAHW was established in 1978 by a joint congressional resolution. The first 10 days of May were chosen to coincide with two important milestones in APA history such as the arrival in the US of the  first Japanese immigrants (May 7,1843) and completion of Chinese workers to the building of the transcontinental railroad in May 10, 1869. In 1992, Congress expanded the observance to a month-long celebration known as Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. In 1997, the US Office of Management and Budget directive, separated it into 2 categories: Asian and Native Hawaiian. (Census 2020).

The AAHM is being celebrated this year by highlighting the History of Asian Americans(AA) and their accomplishments such as in the new film entitled “Asian Americans” produced by Asian American Advancing for Justice (AAAJ), various workshops on issues affecting AAs such as mental health and articles in various newspapers/journals regarding racial incidents related to COVID 19. This article features a brief demographics of AAs, their history and accomplishments and the racism and discrimination against them due to the current pandemic of COVID-19.

Demographics: The total population of AAs in the US in 2017 is $18,215.328 representing 6% of the total population (AAAJ). The AA immigrants comprise 27% or more than 12 million of the entire foreign-born population. Immigration has contributed to placing AAs among the fastest-growing racial groups in the U.S. The AA immigrant population grew four times as fast as the general population between 2010-2017. It has also become increasingly diverse with newer immigrants such as: Bangladesi, Guamanian or Chamorro, Indian. Pakistani, Cambodian and Taiwanese.

History: AAs have immigrated to the US since the mid-1800s beginning with the Chinese who came due to the gold rush, stayed to work in the railroad industry, and have been in the US since then. Although American history books cited the Chinese to be the first Asians to come to the U.S., Filipino historians have documented that Filipinos came to the US during the Spanish occupation of the Philippines (1565-1815) as a result of the galleon trades that brought goods from China to Spain by stopping by California, Acapulco, and New Orleans (R. Oades) were some of them settled. The Japanese, Indians and Filipino farm workers came in the early 1900s and have stayed or increased due to series of immigrations till the present. California has the largest AA immigrant population (3,665,172) followed by New York, Texas, New Jersey and Illinois.

Contributions to American Society:

Earlier AA immigrants and the second, third and fourth generations have contributed to the work force, economy, education and culture of the U.S. The earlier immigrants were mostly laborers in the agricultural fields and small businesses but the later immigrants were mostly educated professionals such as medical personnel  (doctors and nurses), computer technology experts, businessmen, and executives. The second, third generation and fourth generation children of immigrants are mostly well educated and are also working in all kinds of businesses and professions.

Nearly three-quarters of AA businesses are immigrant owned, numbering 1.1 M in the country. There are over 600,000 AA immigrant workers in the restaurant industry representing their top industry. We can imagine the impact of COVD-19 in the AA restaurant industry. Approximately four in five AA low-wage earners are immigrants.

Racism and Discrimination:

AAs have contributed to the history, culture and achievements of America. Inspite of this, they have been victims of racism and discrimination like many minority groups such as Blacks, Hispanics, Muslims, Jews and other minority groups. Incidences such as the Chinese Exclusion Act, early Filipino farmworkers working in poor conditions, low level of work of Filipino navy men in the US navy in the early 1910s and Japanese incarceration during World War II are just examples of racism and discrimination in their history. More recently with the advent of CoVID-19 infection and because of the pandemic’s start in China, AAs are again targeted with racial slurs, physical attacks, verbal assaults, and zoom bombing, a new form of online harassment that has been common in universities as they move to online learning.  In consists  of hijacking videoconferences and attackers post hate speech and other offensive content.

Just recently this April, a Filipino American (FilAm) student group at San Diego State University (SDSU), Andres Bonifacio Samahan (AB Samahan), was having a Zoom Q&A meeting Friday night with 45 members to elect with candidates for their board. Nearly 30 minutes into the meeting, they were suddenly interrupted by a group of unknown individuals yelling racial slurs and claiming others on the call “you all have  coronavirus” because they are Asian. The “zoom bombers” who interrupted the call logged in and out for five minutes and shocked members, according to the report of Lana Bautista, Chair of the AB Samahan group. The students were shaken but sat in silence to prevent any reaction but some were shocked, angry, confused and feared they were being violated and degraded in their homes. One student said they were traumatized.

There was an outpouring of concern and support from other AA and FilAm students, faculty, staff and community. The event was posted in Instagram and articles about the incident was reported in the Daily Aztec, student newspaper and  Diverse Issues in Higher Education.

There were Healing Circles formed among groups. The SDSU Administration showed their support by releasing the statement below:

We stand with the Andres Bonifacio Samahan and our Filipinx & Filipino American Students. Our SDSU community and diversity gives us strength, and we strive for a more inclusive society. SDSU does not condone or support any actions driven by racism or xenophobia or that serve to marginalize people based on their identities. We ask our campus to report such incidents via Inclusive SDSU.

Also, students may contact the Division of diversity and Innovation by diversity@sdsu.edu should they need support.

We see you, we value you, we stand with you.”