By Lisa Kelly, Evolver Diversity Council Member, in honor of the 2018 Asian/Pacific Heritage Month
Founded on the notion of liberty and freedom for all, the United States of America thrives on the diversity of its people. Our country’s various religions, races, and cultures create a unique nation where citizens can be as proud of their cultural heritage as they are to be American. Each culture contributes to the rich tapestry that is the American way of life. This month we recognize and celebrate our Asian/Pacific Islander American sisters and brothers in our country.
Congress chose May for Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month to coincide with two important milestones in Asian/Pacific American history: the arrival in the United States of the first Japanese immigrants (May 7, 1843) and contributions of Chinese workers in building the transcontinental railroad, completed May 10, 1869.
Asian/Pacific encompasses all of the Asian continent and the Pacific islands of Melanesia (New Guinea, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Fiji and the Solomon Islands), Micronesia (Marianas, Guam, Wake Island, Palau, Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Nauru and the Federated States of Micronesia) and Polynesia (New Zealand, Hawaiian Islands, Rotuma, Midway Islands, Samoa, American Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, Cook Islands, French Polynesia and Easter Island).
Some Facts about Asian/Pacific Islanders in the United States:
- Asian/Pacific Islander Americans are the highest-income, highly educated, and fastest-growing racial group in the U.S, with Asians now making up the largest share of recent immigrants.
- Asian/Pacific Americans account for 18,205,898, or 5.8%, of the U.S. population.
- 6 percent of Asian Americans age 25 and older have a bachelor’s degree or higher which is significantly higher than the percentage of all Americans (30.1%).
- California has the largest number of Asians (6.1 million) and Hawaii’s Asian population share makes up 56% of the population, the only state in which Asians are a majority.
- The Japanese-American population is the only Asian-American group in which the majority are U.S. born (73%). All other Asian-American subgroups are comprised of foreign-born immigrants. The largest Asian/Pacific ethnic population in the U.S. is Chinese (3.8 million).
Our country has realized some significant achievements in government, science, and the arts from Asian/Pacific Americans:
Patsy Mink is a Japanese American, born and raised in Hawaii, who became the first Asian American woman and first woman of color elected to Congress in 1965. She was a principal author of the Title IX Amendment to the Higher Education Act of 1972, a federal civil rights law which helped bring women into the world of sports.
Maya Lin is a Chinese American designer, architect, and artist known for her work in sculpture and land art. As a 21-year-old architectural student at Yale University, Lin won a contest to design the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., beating out more than 1,400 entries. The Memorial was dedicated in 1982 and features a 594-foot granite wall with the names of the 58,000+ U.S. soldiers who died during the Vietnam War. Lin also designed the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama, which was opened in 1989. Today, Lin’s work is found in several American cities and continues to inspire the entire nation.
Sunita Williams is an Indian-American astronaut and United States Navy officer. She formerly held the records for total spacewalks by a woman (seven) and most spacewalk time for a woman (50 hours, 40 minutes. Williams was assigned to the International Space Station as a member of Expedition 14 and Expedition 15. In 2012, she served as a flight engineer on Expedition 32 and then commander of Expedition 33. She is currently assigned to the cadre of astronauts training to fly the initial test flights for America’s first commercially built spacecraft the Boeing CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX Dragon.
Steven Chu is a Nobel Prize winning scientist who served as a U.S Secretary of Energy in 2009. Chu became a professor at Stanford University in 1987 where his work won the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize in Physics “for development of methods to cool and trap atoms with laser light”, in essence, using light to slow atoms so they can be studied. Today, Chu is the Director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Professor of Physics and Professor of Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of California, Berkeley. Chu also advocates for more research into renewable energy and nuclear power, believing that moving away from fossil fuels is essential to combat climate change and global warming.
Dalip Singh Saund was the first Asian elected to Congress in 1956. Born in India, Saund came to the United States in 1920 to study at the University of California, Berkeley, where he earned a doctorate degree in mathematics. Despite being highly educated, Saund discovered that his career options were limited due to anti-immigrant feelings in the U.S. As a result, he worked in farming for the next 20 years. Saund fought discriminatory laws against Indians and in 1949, he and other Indians finally earned the right to become U.S. citizens. He served three terms in the House of Representatives, working to improve U.S.-Asian relations.
Yo-Yo Ma is one of the world’s great musicians, Yo-Yo Ma began studying the cello at the age of four. As a toddler, he and his parents moved from Paris, France, to New York. At age nine, Ma made his musical debut at the famed Carnegie Hall in New York City. Since graduating from the Julliard School and Harvard University, Ma has played as a soloist with orchestras around the world. He recorded 50 albums and won over a dozen Grammy Awards. He is also dedicated to bringing music into the lives of young people through education programs and family concerts.