Celebrating Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders
May 4, 2011
By Louise Fenner and Lauren Monsen
Washington — “I feel very fortunate to have two sets of cultures to enjoy — American and Vietnamese. Rather than divide my identity in half, these two sets of experience double my understanding, appreciation and enjoyment of the world around me.”
Writing these words on his website, which he has titled “Asian Nation,” Vietnamese-born C.N. Le adds that he sees Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, which is celebrated in the United States every May, as an opportunity “to share in the accomplishments of all Asian Americans before me.” Le is a professor of sociology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
Asian Americans include the well-known, such as actor Bruce Lee, the infantrymen of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team who fought in World War II and author Maxine Hong Kingston, Le says, as well as those who are not famous “but whose accomplishments are no less impressive and inspiring.” He cites the Chinese workers on the transcontinental railroad, the Japanese Americans interned during World War II and “everyday Asian immigrant families who work tirelessly to improve their lives and build a future for their children.”
President Obama praised the achievements of Asian Americans “in all facets of American life,” citing a wide-ranging group that includes “athletes and public servants, entrepreneurs and artists” and also “proud members of the United States Armed Forces.”
“From our earliest days, intrepid men and women from the Asia-Pacific region have forged enduring links between America and other nations as they moved across the Pacific,” Obama said in an April 29, 2011, proclamation. “In today’s globalized world, these bonds remain critical, reminding the United States of our rich shared history and integrated future with the dynamic Asia-Pacific region.”
In recognition of “the millions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders whose talents and contributions strengthen our economy, protect our security, and enliven our country every day,” the president said, “I call upon all Americans to visit www.AsianPacificHeritage.gov to learn more about the history of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and to observe this month with appropriate programs and activities.”
In 2008, President George W. Bush singled out the veterans of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, a segregated Army unit that was composed mostly of volunteers recruited from U.S. internment camps during World War II. Despite the racial and cultural prejudice they faced, these soldiers “served America with distinction in eight battle campaigns in Europe,” Bush said, adding that the unit was “one of the most highly decorated in U.S. military history.” (See soldiers’ stories from the Library of Congress Veterans History Project.)
Asians are the third-largest minority group — and the second-fastest-growing group — in the United States, according to the Census Bureau, which predicts that Asians will increase from 5 percent to 9 percent of the population by 2050.
The largest population of Asians is in California, with 5.6 million, followed by New York, Texas and Hawaii.