Celebrating Asian American/Pacific Islander Culture at Work During AAPI Heritage Month

It’s AAPI Heritage Month! Here are some creative and engaging ways to celebrate the history, cultures, and contributions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in your workplace.

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Celebrating the Asian American/Pacific Islander Culture at Work During AAPI Heritage Month

Here's what you need to know:

  • The AAPI group represents multiple cultures from the entire Asian continent that span East, Southeast, and South Asia, along with Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia
  • Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders currently make up about 7.3% of the total U.S. population
  • ERGs, book clubs, and trivia challenges are some of the ways to celebrate AAPI Heritage Month in your workplace

America is traditionally known as the “great melting pot” because we are an amalgamation of many different cultures, backgrounds, and ethnicities. The Asian American/Pacific Islander (AAPI) group of cultures is an excellent example of this diversity.

This people group represents multiple cultures from the entire Asian continent that span East, Southeast, and South Asia and branches across Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia.

In fact, the 2020 U.S. Census found that of the approximately 3.3 billion people in the United States, only about 24 million of them are Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Although a Pew Research survey indicates the population is growing, it currently equates to only about 7.3% of the total U.S. population.

The history of AAPI heritage month

The history of Asian American Pacific Islander heritage month is long and storied. Let’s look at an overall timeline:

  • May 1843 – The first Japanese immigrant arrived in the U.S.
  • May 1869 – The backbreaking work of more than 20,000 Chinese immigrants led to the completion of the transcontinental railroad.
  • 1977-1992 – The legislative process was enacted to recognize the valuable contributions of citizens of Asian American/Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander descent. What started as a House resolution in 1977 moved to a bill signed into law by President Jimmy Carter in 1978, designating the first 10 days of May as Asian/Pacific American Heritage Week. In 1990 congress began legislation changing the observation to be the entire month of May, and President George H.W. Bush signed it into law in 1992.
  • 2009 – President Barack Obama signed Proclamation 8369 and renamed Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month to AAPI Heritage Month.
  • 1843 – Present – Asian Americans have suffered (and, unfortunately, continue to this day) at the hands of people full of ignorance, hatred, and discriminatory practices. They have experienced everything from being forbidden to immigrate to the U.S., being ferociously rounded up and thrown in internment camps, to being blamed for economic downturns and, most recently, the pandemic.

Appreciating and having education about various cultures is a gift we give ourselves. Let’s talk about how you can celebrate and promote AAPI Heritage Month at your office.

Appreciating and having education about various cultures is a gift we give ourselves.

7 ways to celebrate AAPI Heritage Month at work

If you are looking for some creative and engaging ways to celebrate Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month at your office, look no further than this list.

ERGs

If your company doesn’t already have an employee resource group (ERG) specific to the Asian American/Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders who work there, start one. ERGs are a non-threatening place where people of like interests and backgrounds can meet and support one another.

Traditions and attire

Have a weekly event that highlights various observed traditions and the traditional clothing worn by the different AAPI cultures that are represented at your company.

Cuisines

With so many cultures represented within the Asian American/Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander people group, there are many different opportunities to experience a variety of dishes specific to each. Consider hosting a company luncheon featuring the tastes that reflect your company’s AAPI employees.

Art and antiquities

With each culture comes, well … culture. Consider displaying different types of art and antiquities from the various regions reflected by the AAPI members of your staff. Providing an explanation of the significance of the art’s time period and the medium used to create it will give a greater appreciation for different parts of the world.

It’s understandable if people aren’t comfortable bringing in personal art or family antiquities. In that case, perhaps you could consider hosting a virtual museum tour like some experiences offered by the Smithsonian’s Asian Pacific American Center.

Book club discussion group(s)

Having a series of book club discussions gives people a chance to read the same text together. It also helps them learn how various people read the same thing differently based on their history, experiences, and cultural backgrounds. Some titles written specifically by those of AAPI descent include:

Participate in an AAPI Charity

Larger communities have charities that focus specifically on the AAPI community. Consider scheduling specific times that employees can volunteer at a local charity to give back to those who need help.

Host an AAPI trivia challenge

Gather facts about the Asian American/Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander cultures that are educational and fun. Then, host some trivia challenge games that encourage a good time. At the same time, people get to learn more about these fascinating cultures.

Why celebrating AAPI Heritage Month matters

Celebrating AAPI heritage month also allows those of Asian American/Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander descent to be placed in an intentional, safe spotlight.

There are some who feel that highlighting our differences encourages division. While that is true in hateful situations when the goal is to educate, learn, and celebrate, it couldn’t be further from the truth.

One reason people travel is to expand their knowledge of different parts of the world.

Since many don’t have the opportunity to go to distant areas to experience those cultures, celebrating various heritages that are different from what we experience on a daily basis brings color and excitement into our otherwise predictable lives.

Celebrating AAPI heritage month also allows those of Asian American/Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander descent to be placed in an intentional, safe spotlight — allowing each culture to shine in its own right and your employees to be rightfully recognized.

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