Each May, our nation pays tribute to the contributions of generations of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders who have enriched our history. Today, over 16 million Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders make up one of the fastest growing and most diverse populations in the United States. Each of the 45 distinct ethnic groups and 28 language groups contributes to the fabric of our nation.
In this nation founded by immigrants, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have made their mark on our cultural landscape -- providing labor for important national infrastructure such as the Transcontinental Railroad, creating jobs for all Americans through entrepreneurship, and offering leadership in the business, government, and civic sectors. Asian American and Pacific Islander communities have also faced challenges and discrimination, such as the Chinese Exclusion Act, the Japanese American Internment, racial profiling after September 11, and cultural and linguistic barriers in schools, hospitals, and voting booths. Addressing these injustices throughout our nation’s history has strengthened civil rights and civil liberties and has helped to make our country a more perfect union. ~ U.S. Rep. Mike Honda, Chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, May 2010
Thank you, Congressman Honda, for sharing that important message with Southwest’s Employees and Customers.
To mark Asian Pacific American Heritage month over the years, I’ve highlighted Southwest’s community outreach efforts; helped showcase Asian Pacific American achievements with fun trivia; shared stories about Japanese American war heroes; and even shared a personal anecdote about coming to terms with, and being proud of, my Vietnamese American heritage.
As a Community Affairs & Grassroots Manager, I have the honor of working with extraordinary Asian Pacific Americans and community groups - all passionate about making a difference within the APA community and for the greater good. This year, I’ve asked a few leading community icons to reflect on Asian Pacific American Heritage month with you.
And we’re fortunate to have the “living legends” who were responsible for the historic Asian Pacific American Heritage month legislation that we now celebrate every May. The Honorable Ruby G. Moy and The Honorable Norman Y. Mineta were kind enough to share their thoughts.
Ruby is the acting executive director of the national nonprofit Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies. APAICS strives to increase participation by people of Asian and Pacific Islander heritage at all levels of the political process, from community service to elected office. Ruby recalls:
When I started working for Congressman Frank Horton (R-NY) as his deputy administrative assistant in 1973, little did I realize that he was a staunch supporter of Asians. He was the primary sponsor of the bill to recognize a week in May as Asian/Pacific American Heritage Week, and then later as Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month. The co-sponsor was Congressman Norman Y. Mineta (D-CA).
In those days, in order to get a bill passed to recognize a day/week/month it had to have 216 signatures. I spearheaded this legislation each Congress until it was finally signed into perpetuity by President George H.W. Bush in 1992. Getting those signatures presented a challenge, especially the last 50.
When I asked if Ruby had any advice for our young leaders of tomorrow, she quoted American playwright Tennessee Williams. “’Life’s a journey,’ he said. I have used that quote many times but always added, ‘take it.’”
Former Commerce & Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta, who co-sponsored the bill that established Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, offered these poignant words:
I don’t believe this country to be a melting pot -- because in a ‘melting pot,’ all the ingredients are put into a crucible and stirred up and everything loses its own identity. I think of the United States as a tapestry, with each yarn representing a country or an ethnicity.
And each of those yarns is strong and beautiful on its own, representing the language, the art, the culture or the religion of our forebears, wherever they came from. But when the yarns are all woven together, it makes for a strong whole. That to me is the United States. That’s why Asian Pacific American Heritage Month is so important, so that we can all learn about each other.
Another community trailblazer is Daphne Kwok, chair of Asian Pacific Islander Vote (APIAVote), which focuses on voter mobilization and civic participation by the APA community. She shares how far we’ve come:
From APA Heritage Week to APA Heritage Month. From one AAPI Cabinet Secretary under President Clinton – The Honorable Norman Mineta – to three under President Obama (The Honorable Steven Chu, Secretary of Energy; The Honorable Gary Locke, Secretary of Commerce; and The Honorable Eric Shinseki, Secretary of Veterans Affairs).
We’ve come from one pioneering female AAPI Member of the House of Representatives – Patsy Mink, who championed Title IX, allowing girls the opportunity to participate in collegiate athletics – to now three AAPI Congresswomen: The Honorable Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, The Honorable Doris Matsui of California and the Honorable Judy Chu of California. There have been advances in so many fields, especially in the political field.
Yes, AAPIs still face numerous barriers, specifically the glass ceiling in employment, in the judiciary, in so many different areas. But we are being recognized for our contributions to this nation. There are new faces of leadership coming to the forefront and gaining visibility.
I am affiliated with a number of AAPI organizations, and almost every one of them has been supported by Southwest over the years. Thank you so much for your continued commitment to an exciting AAPI community.
On May 3rd, Southwest will kick off the special month with APIAVote’s “New Faces of Leadership” Forum in Washington, D.C., (http://www.apiavote.org/). And on May 11th, Southwest will celebrate with APAICS at their 16th Annual Awards Dinner Gala (http://www.apaics.org/). To learn about some of the other community organizations that Southwest supports, please read our guest blogs from OCA National, South Asian Americans Leading Together, and Asian & Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund that will be appearing throughout the month.
Through my community affairs work, I’ve heard countless stories of what our first and second generation forefathers and foremothers sacrificed and overcame to succeed in America. As a Vietnam War refugee, I know the heartache of leaving loved ones and a motherland behind, but I also know what freedom and opportunity can provide. As a community, we must remember our past, our collective history, and never take our freedoms for granted. During Asian Pacific American Heritage month, spend time with your parents and grandparents, and record your family story for posterity. And the next time you share a moment with an elder, I encourage you to just say “thank you.”
Ruby, Daphne, Secretary Mineta, and Congressman Honda, thank you for participating in our celebration this month – and for paving the way for my generation, my child’s, and generations to come.
Your dedication to advancing the APA cause and your Servant-Leadership have broken down the barriers, and all Americans are richer for it.
Congressman Mike Honda and my son, James Phan Delevett