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May is Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month

By Candace Fisher, SPHR, Director, Organizational Development/Certified Coach
Published May 21, 2024

According to NBC News, in the past year, almost one-third of Asian Americans say they have been called a racial or ethnic slur or have been physically threatened with violence due to their race, ethnicity or religion. 

Many experts believe hate against Asian Americans persists because of ignorance about Asian American history. For example, a questionnaire asking Americans to name influential Asian Americans reveals how overlooked this group of people can be. Most Americans either could not answer this question or named Jackie Chan (who is not American) or Bruce Lee (who died more than 50 years ago) and missed the opportunity to note so many other distinguished Asian Americans, such as Vice President Kamala Harris, musician Yo-Yo Ma, astronaut Kalpana Chawla, author Amy Tan, journalist Ann Curry, actor Mindy Kaling, director Ang Lee, and public health expert David Ho. 

To combat this ignorance and hate, why not take time to acknowledge and celebrate Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month? Also referred to as Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month, it’s an opportunity to recognize the contributions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) to our shared history and the cultural, social, and economic fabric of the United States. 

AAPI is a broad pan-ethnic classification that includes people from the Far East, Southeast Asia, the Indian Subcontinent, and the Pacific Islands. Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month is celebrated in May and originated to honor the arrival of the first Japanese immigrants to the United States on May 7, 1843, and to commemorate the completion of the transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869, largely built by Chinese laborers.

As with other opportunities throughout the year, this month presents an opportunity for employers to foster diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) in their workplaces. HR and organizational leaders can play a pivotal role, starting with acknowledging and educating employees about the significance of AAPI Heritage Month. This can be accomplished through various educational resources such as workshops, webinars, and discussions featuring speakers and leaders who can share their experiences and insights. Providing books, articles, and documentaries about AAPI history and contributions and encouraging employees to learn about influential AAPI individuals and their impact on society can also promote a deeper understanding.

Encouraging or organizing cultural events can enhance appreciation and respect for traditions and customs. These can include food tastings, cultural performances, art displays, or highlighting AAPI-owned businesses and artists. These events not only educate employees, but they also celebrate diversity and create a platform for employees to share their own heritage and stories, fostering a sense of belonging and inclusion. We should encourage employees to participate and learn from one another. 

It's important to foster an inclusive workplace where all employees feel valued and heard. Encourage dialogue and active listening. Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) can provide opportunities for employees to connect and share their experiences. It’s also critical that organizations take steps to address stereotypes and biases directly. This means training managers and employees to recognize and challenge unconscious biases and ensure fair treatment in hiring, promotions, and managing employees. Your organization should monitor and regularly assess progress in promoting inclusion and all DE&I efforts. Collect feedback from employees and adjust your initiatives as appropriate. Celebrate your successes and address any challenges. 

AAPI Heritage Month provides a specific opportunity to celebrate diversity, foster inclusion, and create a workplace where everyone feels valued and respected. If you would like additional ideas about how to further DE&I in your organization, visit our DE&I webpage or contact us through the HR Hotline Online or at 800-448-4584.