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Asian Pacific Islander Americans Month: Celebrating and Raising Awareness

Throughout the month of May, Oregon Food Bank (OFB) will be observing Asian Pacific Islander American Heritage Month (APIAHM) to celebrate and raise awareness of the Asian Pacific Islander Americans (APIA) community, a non-monolithic group of millions of people who hail from or have ancestry from a vast area of our planet including: Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, Guam, Hawaii, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Maldives, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Samoa, Sri Lanka, and Taiwan to name a few.

Here’s a link to a complete list of countries of the Asia-Pacific. For some additional context, we wanted to share some background information on APIAHM and where it originated. 

In 1979, Asian Pacific Islander Heritage week was established by President Jimmy Carter in recognition for their contributions to American society. In 1990, President George H. W. Bush expanded the heritage week to be a month. May was designated Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month in honor of the first Japanese immigrants arriving in the U.S and the completion of the transcontinental railroad. 

At OFB, observing APIAHM is crucial to elevate the APIA community’s accomplishments and contributions. It is an opportunity for us to lift up the anti-Asian-hate work that’s necessary to advance racial justice, foster an inclusive democracy and achieve our 10-year vision. And, it is a month when we recommit to honoring the humanity of our APIA community members. For too long, APIA contributions have been erased from US history, the valid fear for their safety invisibilized, and harmful “model minority” myths created and perpetuated by White Supremacy. 

Myths and biases aside, the APIA community is diverse and its long history rich. Asian and Pacific Islander Americans have been instrumental in the economic and social development of America, despite the very blatant and explicitly racist policies enacted in the late 1800s. Prior to these policies being introduced, Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Korean and South Asian immigrants were recruited as contract laborers to work in the mining and railroad industries due to a shortage of labor workers. 

Efforts to halt immigration from China came with The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 which “suspended Chinese immigration for ten years and declared Chinese immigrants ineligible for naturalization.” This law was in effect much longer, however, as “Chinese immigrants and their American-born families remained ineligible for citizenship until 1943 with the passage of the Magnuson Act.” ( Additionally, during WWII from 1942 to 1945, the US government incarcerated anyone of Japanese descent – including those who were American citizens – in incarceration camps. In total, it is estimated more than 120,000 people were relocated and held in detention as a result of this barbaric human rights violation.  

In the face of this racist discrimination and violence, members of the APIA community have made tremendous contributions to the arts, industry, government, sciences and activism for labor and immigration rights. One example is Larry Itiong, a Filipino-American labor organizer who recruited thousands of members to join the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC) and prompted the Delano Grape Strike. He later contacted Cesar Chavez and encouraged Mexican farmworkers to join the strike. For a few more examples, read through this brief list of 2020 achievements in the API community

Though a recent violent attack against the APIA community shed light on the anti-Asian racism in America, harm and disproportionate hardships – including roughly 9% of APIA households experiencing food insecurity, according to a recent study and USDA data, as compared to 7.9% of White households – have persisted for many decades, and reports of violence in 2020 rose by nearly 150% nationwide. Oregon was rated 16th in the top states for the most reported crimes with 41 reports. We recognize this data does not reflect a full picture, as most incidents go unreported to police due to fear, distrust and a lack of accountability. Roy Austin, a former deputy assistant attorney general of the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice states, “A lot of these law enforcement agencies don’t believe that they have a problem with hate crimes. If they don’t think they have a problem, they won’t deal with it well.”

Oftentimes, these inhumane actions of hatred go unpublicized for a few reasons, namely a lack of uniform reporting systems and a general fear of the government. Non-APIA folx must be informed of these realities so as to actively work to combat them through interruption and ensuring hate crime laws are being enforced. It is imperative that we band together to combat the “model minority” myth, a tactic used to create racial divides amongst communities of color to prevent cross-cultural organizing, undermine Black struggles and invisibilize racism experienced by the APIA community. All of this leads to those who benefit from White Supremacy to excuse themselves from responsibility and accountability.

At Oregon Food Bank, we hold people at the center of all we do. Those who are disproportionately affected by hunger must lead the way in creating a world where hunger does not exist. It is on us as a community to lift up those voices and heed the calls for racial justice. Food justice is racial justice. We recognize that we cannot address anti-Asian racism and xenophobia if we don’t understand the root causes. That’s why we must educate ourselves on the real history of America. Anti-Asian racism is directly linked to history and how members of the APIA community are depicted and treated in society today. 

Join us in this work. Below, find a number of events to participate in this API Heritage Month, readings to further enhance your understanding, and ways to advocate at the legislative level for real, lasting change that will create a more equitable world for all. 

APANO (Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon) Curated Events:

Wednesday, 5/5/21 (5 – 7 PM) | Reconciling History & Social Locations What is race? What is racism? How do we confront racism in ourselves, in our communities, in society? | This is an event for BIPOC only.

Saturday, 5/8/21(11-1 PM) | Rise Up Against Hate Rally Watch a livestream of our event from 11:30 am to 1 pm on our youtube channel | Welcome to all audiences 

Wednesday, 5/12/21 (5 – 7 PM) | Radical Self-Awareness What is the model minority myth? How can we disrupt the weaponization and create a model minority mutiny? | BIPOC only event

Friday, 5/14/21 (Noon – 1:30 PM) | Celebrating Asian & Pacific Islander Resilience & Solidarity All audiences are welcome to learn about and celebrate Asian & Pacific Islander Resilience & Solidarity. 

Tuesday, 5/18/21 (5 – 6:30 PM) | Unlearning Anti-Blackness in Non-Black Communities We will challenge our personal practices, build skills for discussing anti-Blackness with our communities, and commit to de-centering ourselves in order to center Black livelihood. | This is an event for BIPOC only.

Wednesday, 5/19/21 (5 – 6:30 PM) | Relational Social Power Old and new members of Asian 4 Black Lives will give a presentation on their experiences: how A4BL structures challenges and disrupts anti-blackness + white supremacy within ourselves, our organization, and beyond. | This is an event for BIPOC only.


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