News | May 10, 2022

Observing Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

By William Landau 316th Wing Historian

May is Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. This emphasis on heritage awareness provides an opportunity to learn about and celebrate the contributions that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have made to American history.

In 1978, the United States Congress first passed legislation proclaiming the first 10 days in May as “Asian-Pacific Heritage Week.” Ms. Jeanie Jew, a congressional staffer, observed Bi-Centennial celebrations across the country two years earlier and saw a lack of representation afforded to Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders during events. Jew sought a way to highlight such contributions and to do so in a manner similar to the celebrations of Black history and Hispanic heritage months.

The legislation lacked language that specified Asian-Pacific Heritage Week as an annual celebration. In 1979, President Jimmy Carter issued Proclamation 4650, the first presidential proclamation, for Asian/Pacific American Heritage Week. Once President Carter signed into law a joint resolution to establish the annual event, the bill could only be reauthorized if requests were submitted annually to Congress. In May 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed a law that turned Asian-Pacific Heritage Week into Asian Pacific American Heritage Month; in 1992, Congress passed the legislation. May was chosen to highlight two very important dates in American history. May 7, 1843, marks the first known arrival of a Japanese immigrant to the United States and on May 10, 1869, the transcontinental railroad was completed.

More than 10,000 workers of Chinese origin helped build the transcontinental railroad, an initiative of profound national importance.

For May 2022, the Federal Asian Pacific American Council designated its theme as, "Advancing Leaders Through Collaboration.” This theme has been adopted by the JBA Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month committee and falls in line with an effort to advance leaders in Federal government.

Retired Maj. Gen Sharon K. G. Dunbar, of Korean descent, has demonstrated the ability to advance leaders' skills through collaboration. She served as the commander of the Air Force District of Washington and the 320th Air Expeditionary Wing from July 2012 to July 2014.

Dunbar was a member of one of the first graduating classes at the United States Air Force Academy that included women. She went on to serve for 32 years and retired as one of the highest ranking Asian Americans in the United States Air Force.

Today, the United States is home to roughly 22 million Americans of Asian descent and roughly 1.5 million Americans of Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander descent. The men and women of Joint Base Andrews salute them as we say “Thank you” for the contributions they’ve made and continue to make to our country.

Mr. William Landau is the 316th Wing historian at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland.