May is Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month – a celebration of Asians and Pacific Islanders in the United States. A rather broad term, 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).
The month of 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.
Like most commemorative months, Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month originated with Congress. In June 1978, Rep. Frank Horton of New York introduced House Joint Resolution 1007, which proposed that the President should “proclaim a week, which is to include the seventh and tenth of the month, during the first ten days in May of 1979 as ‘Asian/Pacific American Heritage Week.’” This joint resolution was passed by the House and Senate and was signed by President Jimmy Carter on October 5, 1978 to become Public Law 95-419 (PDF, 158kb). During the next decade, presidents passed annual proclamations for Asian/Pacific American Heritage Week until 1990 when Congress passed Public Law 101-283 (PDF, 166kb) which expanded the observance to a month for 1990. Then in 1992, Congress passed Public Law 102-450 (PDF, 285kb) which annually designated May as Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month. Watch this to learn more about the history of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.
API Heritage Month - known as Asian Pacific American Heritage month until 2009 - recognizes the 22.2 million Asians and 1.6 million Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander communities in the United States.
In 1992, New York Congressmen Frank Hortin introduced the bill that called for the month of May to officially be designated Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month. The idea for the month originated with Jeanie F. Jew, a staff person on Capitol Hill at the time and a board member of the Organization of Chinese Americans. With celebrations for Black History Month and Hispanic Heritage month already in place, Jeanie F. Jew was concerned about the lack of recognition given to Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
The month of May was selected for two reasons: first, to commemorate the arrival of the first known Japanese immigrant to the U.S. on May 7, 1843; second, to honor the completion of the transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869, which upwards of 20,000 Chinese workers helped to construct. The month pays tribute to the generations of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders who have enriched United States history and are instrumental in its future success.
From "Key Facts about Asian Americans, a Diverse and Growing Population;" Pew Research Center, 2021