by Ezra Baeli-Wang, NAAAP member since 2018
It’s been a crazy, rich year for Asians in North America. While the first film to feature a majority Asian and Asian American cast in a quarter of a century stole the show with its record-breaking performance at the box office, this past year saw AAPI achievement extend far beyond the silver screen: Priyanka Chopra became the first Indian woman to grace the cover of U.S. Vogue magazine; Chloe Kim became the youngest woman to take home an Olympic snowboarding medal claiming the gold in PyeongChang; and for the second time in a row, Americans elected a record number of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders to Congress.
May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, and as we look back on an outstanding year for the AAPI community, it bears reflecting not only on all that we’ve achieved, but also all that we’ve overcome along the way. A lot changed in the 54 years between when policymakers passed an immigration act banning Asians from entering the United States and when Congress declared a full week to celebrate the Asians and Pacific Islanders living in America. That change was driven by enterprising, industrious, dedicated and disruptive Asian and Pacific Islander immigrants, determined to establish a better life for themselves and the best possible life for their families—both those back in their homeland and those they raised in their new homes in the United States.
In other, sometimes devastating, ways, much remained unchanged. As one of last year’s NAAAP100 honorees, Frank Wu, eloquently penned in his New York Times defense of the continuing importance of Vincent Chin’s murder, often “it is premature, if tempting, to celebrate progress.” Chin, a Chinese auto worker in Detroit blamed by his white assailants for Japan’s impact on the American auto industry, was murdered—and his killers served no jail time—four years after Congress extended Asian American Heritage Week to a full month.
We’re now a quarter of the way through 2019 and three AAPI candidates are running for president of the United States. Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have fought for, and gained, representation in politics, business and the media. There’s no doubt we’ve come a long way, but as the justice system takes on claims that Harvard’s admissions officers invoked racial stereotypes to decrease Asian applicants’ personal rating scores, it’s important to neither overestimate nor underestimate the reality of life in America as an Asian American or Pacific Islander. Our experiences are simultaneously shared and non-monolithic. Harvard, complicatedly, is being defended by one its own Asian American alumni. The AAPI in America, like all communities of people, are diverse. We are proud to defy the stereotypes we refuse to let limit us.
May is our month to embrace the complexities of our unique experiences and to celebrate the inexplicable, beautiful unity of our differences. Let us never forget the joys and sorrows of our past, and let us resolve, every day, for a more joyous future. Happy Asian Pacific American Heritage Month!