Asian American History

May is Asian Pacific American (APA) Heritage Month—a celebration of Asians and Pacific Islanders in the United States. Much like Black History and Women's History celebrations, APA Heritage Month originated in a congressional bill. American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month is a celebration of the culture, traditions, and history of Asians Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States. Congress passed a joint Congressional Resolution in 1978 to commemorate Asian American Heritage Week during the first week of May. This date was chosen because two important anniversaries occurred during this time: the arrival of the first Japanese immigrants in America on May 7, 1843 and the completion of the transcontinental railroad (by many Chinese laborers) on May 10, 1869.
Congressional Bills Establish Celebration

In June 1977, Representatives Frank Horton of New York and Norman Y. Mineta of California introduced a House resolution that called upon the president to proclaim the first ten days of May as Asian/Pacific Heritage Week. The following month, Senators Daniel Inouye and Spark Matsunaga from Hawaii introduced a similar bill in the Senate. Both were passed.
On October 5, 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed a Joint Resolution designating the annual celebration.

APA Becomes Month-long Celebration
In May 1990, the holiday was expanded further when President George H. W. Bush designated May to be Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. May was chosen to commemorate the immigration of the first Japanese to the United States on May 7, 1843, and to mark the anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869. The majority of the workers who laid the tracks were Chinese immigrants.

Asian Pacific American Heritage Month is celebrated with community festivals, government-sponsored activities, and educational activities for students. 

Good Rush Boom
The Chinese were the first Asians to arrive in large numbers. By the 1830s Chinese were selling goods in New York City and toiling in Hawaiian sugarcane fields.
Gold was discovered in California in 1848, eventually attracting thousands of Chinese miners and contract laborers. In 1850, just over 1,000 Asian immigrants entered the United States, but ten years later, the figure had jumped to nearly 37,000, mostly Chinese

History of the San Francisco's Chinese New Year Parade
In 1847 San Francisco was a sleepy little village known as Yerba Buena with a population of 459.  With the discovery of gold and the ensuing California Gold Rush, by 1849, over 50,000 people had come to San Francisco to seek their fortune or just a better way of life.  Among those were many Chinese, who had come to work in the gold mines and on the railroad.  By the 1860's, the Chinese were eager to share their culture with those who were unfamiliar with it.  They chose to showcase their culture by using a favorite American tradition – the Parade.  Nothing like it had ever been done in their native China.  They invited a variety of other groups from the city to participate, and they marched down what today are Grant Avenue and Kearny Street carrying colorful flags, banners, lanterns, and drums and firecrackers to drive away evil spirits.

Since 1958, the Parade has been under the direction of the San Francisco Chinese Chamber of Commerce.   Today, the San Francisco Chinese New Year Festival and Parade is the largest celebration outside of Asia. The parade still welcomes a variety of other groups to join in the march, and still hopes to educate, enrich and entertain its audience with the colorful pageantry of Chinese culture and tradition.    Please visit www.chineseparade.com for more information.

Famous First Chinese- Americans

Government:

  • U.S. senator: Hiram Fong, 1959, one of Hawaii's first two senators.
  • Federal court judge: Herbert Choy, 1971, appointed to the U.S. court of appeals for the ninth circuit.
  • U.S. ambassador: Julia Chang Bloch, 1989, appointed ambassador to the Kingdom of Nepal.
  • State legislator: Wing F. Ong, 1946, elected to the Arizona House of Representatives.
  • Governor:  Gary Locke, elected governor of Washington in 1996.
  • Member of presidential cabinet . The first female Asian-American cabinet member was Elaine Chao, appointed secretary of labor in 2001.

Aviation

  • Female aviator: Katherine Sui Fun Cheung, licensed in 1932.  

Science and Medicine

  • Invented pulse transfer controlling device leading to magnetic core memory: An Wang, 1949.
  • Cloned the AIDS virus: Flossie Wong-Staal, 1984.

Film and Television

  • Movie star: Anna May Wong who starred in the 1921 film Bits of Life and many other movies.  
  • Host of own network TV series: Anna May Wong, 1951, The Gallery of Madame Liu Tsong

News Reporting

  • First network news reporters:  Connie Chung, 1974. In 1993, Chung became the first Asian American to be a nightly news anchor for a major network (CBS).

Military/Sports

  • First to command a combat battalion: Young Oak Kim, of the 100th Infantry Battalion, 1943.
  • First selected in the first round of NFL draft: Eugene Chung, 1992, selected by New England.


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