Asian Pacific American Heritage Month 2022

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History is honored to recognize Asian Pacific American Heritage Month 2022. In 1978 the U.S. Congress officially recognized a week-long celebration, and then in 1992 expanded the commemoration to a month. The museum’s commitment to share and document the experiences and histories of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders extends to every day of the year.

May 2022 marks the third year of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. While this global health crisis has appeared to ebb, violence against peoples of Asian and Pacific Islander descent continues unabated nationally and globally. Public officials have associated race, ethnicity, and national origin with the virus. The result has not only been stigmatization of AAPIs but also attacks against women and older people across the country.

Despite this hate and ongoing violence, members of AAPI communities remain resilient. They have pooled resources and found creative ways to challenge persistent racism and misperceptions of AAPIs, demonstrating the power of grassroots organizing. NMAH curator Theodore S. Gonzalves has collected a banner from the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association that the organization created for a march and rally in San Francisco’s Chinatown on February 29, 2020. Emblazoned with the words “Fight the Virus, Not the People,” the banner will join the national collection of objects that foregrounds community-based activism around civil and human rights.

In these challenging times, it is more important than ever to stand in solidarity with AAPI communities and to stop the hate and violence. We can turn to history as one among many tools to educate, transform, and strive for social justice.

Group of people standing under a Chinatown archway, holding a banner that says fight the virus, not the people
This banner, created by San Francisco’s Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association, will be donated to the museum in a ceremony on May 10, 2022. The banner was featured in a digital program presented with AARP to mark Asian Pacific American Heritage Month in May 2021 and as part of the museum’s “Pandemic Perspectives” series in a session on “Fear and Scapegoating During a Pandemic.”

Resources

Viral Histories: Stories of Racism, Resilience, and Resistance in Asian American Communities

Viral Histories is a collection of conversations with community leaders who combat racism while serving on the front lines. During this pandemic, Asian Americans have been experiencing increased racism and hate crimes. While these incidents of increased prejudice and violence occur today, they reflect a long history of how power, prejudice, and public health have intersected throughout American history.

During the week of May 18, 2020, an interview was released every day, followed by a live Q&A with some of the featured speakers. To watch the archived Q&A for each conversation, check the links below each video.

Righting a Wrong: Japanese Americans and World War II

War Relocation Authority ID tag
ID tag worn by Bill Fuchigami while he was held at the Amache camp in Colorado.

After Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and the United States entered a war in Europe and the Pacific, the nation was overcome by shock, anger, and fear—a fear exaggerated by long-standing anti-Asian prejudice. Ten weeks later President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, under which nearly 75,000 American citizens of Japanese ancestry were taken into custody. Another 45,000 Japanese nationals living in the United States (but long denied citizenship because of their race) were also incarcerated. Some forty years later, members of the Japanese American community led the nation to confront the wrong it had done—and to make it right.

Righting a Wrong is traveling the country as a touring exhibition.

This exhibition was generously supported by the Terasaki Family Foundation, with additional assistance from the Japanese American Citizens League and AARP.

Support of the museum’s efforts to document and share the history of the Japanese American experience is also made possible by the Japanese American History Endowment. Major support for the endowment and the museum’s activities was provided by SF Gassho Trust; Terasaki Family Foundation; Advanced Fresh Concepts; Hawaii Air Cargo, Inc.; Ronald Yoshino; Patti Hirahara and Terry K. Takeda; Mary Hirahara; Tom Hoshiyama; and Dr. Himeo Tsumori.

Becoming US

Becoming US is a suite of resources for educators to present more accurate and inclusive immigration and migration narratives. There are five units organized by a theme, each with three case studies for in-depth learning. Within the theme of Policy, we have resources on the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. Nested in the theme of Belonging are a case study on Japanese Incarceration during World War II and one on Islamophobia in the wake of 09/11. The case studies include standards of learning, key questions and terms, primary sources, and teacher and student facing documents. 

These resources are supported with grants from the Smithsonian’s Understanding the American Experience Consortium, Youth Access Grants, Smithsonian-University of Maryland Seed Research Grants, the National Park Service, the Kettering Foundation, and the Segal Family Foundation.

Hidden Workers, Forgotten Lives

Laborer's hat
Chinese laborer’s hat, about 1900

The construction of the Transcontinental Railroad was an engineering feat of human endurance, with the western leg built largely by thousands of immigrant Chinese laborers. Chinese workers found some economic opportunity but also experienced hostility, racism, violence, and legal exclusion. In America in the 1800s, Chinese workers were seen as racially inferior to white workers and were paid less and relegated to the most undesirable jobs. The growing anti-Chinese movement at the local level culminated in the passage of the 1882 Exclusion Act, the first federal law to restrict the immigration of a group of workers by the criteria of race and class, and made Chinese migrants “illegal aliens.”

This online exhibition includes objects and narratives that illustrate the history of these "hidden" workers.

Additional Resources

For more AAPI-related materials to use in the classroom, please visit our themed landing page on History Explorer, the museum's home for K-12 resources. Visit the site.

See content about Asian Pacific American inventors from the museum's Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation. Visit the site.

Visit our featured video playlist highlighting AAPI stories on the museum's YouTube channel. See the playlist.

National Endowment of the Humanities (NEH) Virtual Bookshelf comprises NEH-supported projects on the Asian-American and Pacific Islander experience. Visit the site.

The Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center (APAC) “Standing Together Against Hate” portal provides links to exhibitions and resources from across the Smithsonian museums focusing on Asian-American and Pacific Islander voices: Visit the portal.

Another resource from APAC, Care Package is a collection of creative offerings by artists, writers, and scholars, addressing grief through vision, reflection, and healing. Visit the site.