May 31, 2022

Celebrating AAPI Heritage Month

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Episode Highlights

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Robyn Carney is back again to discuss Asian American and Pacific Islander Month, this time with Leah Dugan of Holistic. We’ll explore how the term “AAPI” developed and the broad sweeps of history that lead to this month being recognized.

Episode Transcript

Hi everyone! As promised, here’s our second video about the heritage month series. If you may have already seen the last video we did, which was about Jewish heritage month, that was with myself and Emily Goor.

Today Leah is joining me from Holistic to talk about Asian American and Pacific Islander Month. Hi Leah! Hello. Thanks for having me Robyn. Always happy to have you around to talk about things. Now let’s talk about the elephant in the room, neither of us are Asian- correct, in any shape or form. But it’s still important to talk about AAPI month, even if you are not Asian.

We wanted to make sure that we were practicing what we preach. In the last episode Emily and I talk extensively about being Jewish and how excited we are to talk about being Jewish and not necessarily everybody wants to talk about it. So when it came to making sure that we recognized AAPI month, we didn’t want to put pressure on anybody to add to their already extensive workload to talk about their experience, on top of everything else.

There’ll be more videos in the future where we talk a little bit more about the lived experience of Asian American and Pacific Islanders with some of our colleagues who have already mentioned interest in talking just could, not for timing reasons, do it this month- which I’m super happy that they put up their hand to do so.

But today we’re just going to talk about the history. And Leah you know this, but anybody watching this might not know, but I went to two different colleges for history and I’m a bit of a nerd. So this has been a fun sort of projects you do a lot of research on. There were some things I already knew.

There’s some things that I know extensively about that I’m cutting the information out just because it does not make sense for us to talk about like the niche knowledge that I have in this particular concept. So we’re going to keep it pretty clean today just talking about AAPI history in the United States.

So let’s start by talking about the term AAPI. I’ve said it multiple times. Asian American and Pacific Islander. That is a large percentage of the globe if you’re thinking about Asia and Pacific Islanders. The Pacific covers most of the globe. There’s like a certain, you can see a map where the Pacific is like the entire planet from a certain angle, which is really great.

So obviously, why do we have such an expansive term to cover so many different ethnic groups? There’s a lot of history that comes into why this term is the way it is. And in order to talk about it, we got to go back to the good old days of Manifest Destiny and the West- which spoiler alert,

they weren’t actually the good old days. So it’s important that when we’re talking about AAPI month, that we recognize that there’s a lot of different ethnic groups that are built into the same term. So I’m going to gloss over a lot of American history to talk about some significant events that led to the world as we understand it.

So when we’re talking about AAPI, usually the conversation starts and in the Old West with the creation of the railroad. There was a man named Charles Crocker who said that promoting like hiring Chinese immigrants to do the work that the white Westerners would not do, would be a great way to kind of make sure that the Pacific railroad gets made.

And it went from 1550 to a large percentage of the railroad was created and made by Chinese immigrants who were brought in for the specific, very painful, very dangerous work. When we’re also talking about Japanese immigration, it’s happening at the same time in history in the late 1800’s with extremely different energy. But coming primarily to the West Coast of the United States, if you think about geography, how that works makes a lot of sense, right?

When it comes to Japanese Americans the most talked about episode of Japanese. American descendants in the United States is when we’re talking about interment camps in World War II, which I highly recommend reading more about as you can. And then of course, we also talk a lot about the colonization of Hawaii and how that led to Hawaii becoming a state in the 1950s.

These events that I’m talking about, kind of get shuffled in and out of history to talk about. They’re brought up the most in terms of like talking about AAPI history.

There’s a lot more events that happened in American history where Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders were very integral to the creation of the nation as we know it. But there’s a lot of times where this conversation can disappear and devolve into the tracks.

In 1976 a woman of Chinese descent named Jenna Jew, which is the best name ever, actually was that a bicentennial celebration and she noticed that there weren’t a lot of Asian Americans or Pacific Islanders involved in the celebrations at all. So she worked very closely with Frank Horton,

who’s actually from my hometown of Rochester. And at the same time, a Hawaii Senator named Daniel Inouye, both put in a request that there’d be a week that focus on Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders. The first week of May was an intentional decision for Asian Pacific American week, which is what it was originally called because it commemorates the first Japanese immigrants to arrive in the US on May 7th, 1843

and the completion of the transcontinental railroad on May 10th, 1869. Which as I said, was largely built by Chinese immigrants. However, it would take another two years before the week was recognized. So not until 1979 and then it wouldn’t be until 1990 that it would become recognized as a full month by George HW Bush.

So in the intervening time, the US consensus is beginning to change how it’s talking about the Asian American and Pacific Islander population. Before then, the term had mostly been Asian slash Pacific. Now they have decided to switch to Asian American and Pacific Islanders. However, this wouldn’t get reflected in the title of the name until 2009, when the title of May would become Asian American/ Pacific Islanders month. And that’s a brief history of the creation of Asian Pacific Islanders month as butchered by yours truly- as presented by yours. Truly.

So I wanted to talk a little bit about a movement or a recent movement called stop Asian hate. This movement was started as a result of the 2021 Atlanta Spa shootings.

And then also generally, sort of xenophobia and racism that increased in America during the COVID-19 pandemic. Just in the last year alone, violence and hate speech against Asian Americans has increased by 339%. Yes. That’s alarming. That is an alarming statistic. So that’s part of why this movement was started. So stop Asian hate or hashtag stop Asian hate is a series of demonstrations and protests, rallies against violence targeting Asians and Asian Americans.

They’ve been held across the United States. The organization is still doing great things. If you’re looking for more information on stop Asian hate, you can check out, stopaapihate.org That’s great. And I think that usually when we do these videos, we talk a little bit about how to improve your company in order to like accommodate or recognize.

And I think by starting by aknowledging that this month is happening is a great way to start. So what can you as a company do in order to improve and recognize the AAPI community within your company? First of all, recognize this month. Recognize that it’s happening. Just recognize that the AAPI community has a voice and creating a safe space for anybody who is in the AAPI community, has the safe space in order to bring up any issues that they might be seeing. And also it does not hurt to donate money to stopasianhate.org. A couple of other things that organizations can do as well,

you kind of talked a little bit on it, and making sure that your employees have a safe space to talk, establishing an ERG if you have more than a handful of folks who identify as AAPI, so that they have a place that is sanctioned by the organization and supported by the organization where they can do things like established mentorship programs or ask for resources from the organization

and just congregate and talk about their unique experiences so that they feel heard and they feel valued as employees. And then also, it’s kind of a small thing, but having a calendar of holidays that aren’t just Judeo-Christian holidays- having a work culturally inclusive calendar, so that

you can put up a sign or send out an email like happy lunar new year or what have you. So that you’re being more inclusive of folks who may be celebrating those other holidays as well. And it seems kind of like a small thing, but it really can make people feel seen and make it feel like they’re not invisible and that the leaders in their organization

see them and know that they’re there and value them as employees. Yeah and to reiterate what we said in our previous video, make sure that you’re avoiding tokenism. So if you are thinking like oh, these are great programs, let me go ask like the one person who is like a Pacific Islander who’s in market.

And like let me go talk to them about setting this up. No, don’t do that. There are very talented people who work in this field who can help guide you in the right direction to have these conversations. If you’re unsure of where to start, reach out to us. We’re always happy to kind of point you in the right direction,

maybe start the conversation ourselves. Hirewell is rolling out ERGs right now and it’s a lot of fun. I widened my eyes when I said it. It’s a lot of fun. It’s just very nerve wracking too. So it’s great. Yeah, and I think that’s it.

Stay tuned. We’ll always have more content coming down on these videos. We’re always happy to talk about literally anything but specifically about inclusivity and DEI.

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