May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month! This month serves as a time to celebrate the culture, history, and achievements of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) in New York City and across the country.
The recognition of AAPI Heritage on a federal level began in 1978, when President Jimmy Carter signed a resolution into law that had been introduced by Representative Frank Horton of Rochester, New York which established Asian/Pacific American Heritage Week to take place in early May. The dates were chosen to commemorate the arrival of the first Japanese immigrant to the United States on May 7, 1843, and to mark the anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869, in recognition of the Chinese immigrants who made up a majority of laborers completing the work on the project. From then on, it was celebrated for one week in May every year until 1990, when a new law was passed to expand the observance to a month. In 1992, Representative Horton made the push to make this month-long celebration permanent. At that time, Horton credited Jeanie Jew with the original idea for such a recognition, back in the mid-1970s. Jew first approached Horton about celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander heritage because she was disappointed that these communities had been largely ignored during the nation’s bicentennial celebrations in 1976, and she was also inspired by the memory of her grandfather, who was one of the laborers working on the railroad before he was tragically killed in an act of anti-Chinese violence. Congress officially passed the law designating May as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, and it has been celebrated in the United States ever since.
The communities celebrated during AAPI Heritage Month have origins in the many countries that the Asia-Pacific region encompasses, which includes the entirety of the Asian continent, as well as 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). Coming from such a wide geographical area, the Asian American and Pacific Islander community has a rich and varied history and culture to learn more about all month long.
Especially with the recent increase in harassment and violence against Asian Americans in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is also important that to take time throughout the month to acknowledge the discrimination that AAPI individuals and communities have faced throughout U.S. history — from harsh quotas that prohibited Asian immigrants from entering the country that lasted until the 20th century, to the detention of Japanese Americans living in New York and across the country during World War II. Learning this history is an important part of stopping racial discrimination and creating a more accepting future.
Throughout May, and all year long, we hope you will join us in appreciating Asian American and Pacific Islanders rich and diverse history. This month is an excellent time to learn and teach more about AAPI cultures and individuals, and we encourage you to do so by checking out the resources below, which include exhibitions, lesson plans, recommended reading, and more, for use both in and out of the classroom.
Events, Exhibitions, and Places to Visit
- Celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month with the New York Public Library! Check out their calendar for more information on events and programs for all ages happening near you, all month long.
- Join the Urban Park Rangers for fun activities and free history tours in celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, taking place throughout May in NYC Parks across the five boroughs.
- The National Park Service has a guide to the places across the country that have played an important role in Asian American and Pacific Islander history, including more information about New York City’s Chinatown, which also tells the story of suffragette Mabel Ping-Hua Lee, who lived and worked there.
- Visit chinatown.nyc for more information on upcoming events and programs happening in Chinatown.
- While you're exploring the neighborhood, check out the free Family Association app — an immersive “soundwalk,” spotlighted in NPR, that features music and oral histories connected to the places you’ll see on a walk through Chinatown.
- The Asia Society of New York has a number of events and exhibitions that explore many cultural identities and backgrounds, taking place not just this month, but all year long. For even more events, check out the calendar for the Museum of Chinese in America, also located in New York City.
- The Village Preservation Society has assembled a guide to individuals, organizations, institutions, and events located in NYC that played an important role in the story of Asian Americans in our city and country — especially in relation to civil rights and the arts.
- “Righting a Wrong: Japanese Americans in World War II” is a digitized version of an exhibition that was on view at the National Museum of American History through July 2019. The art, artifacts, and information featured in the collection shed light on what life was like for Japanese Americans in the weeks following the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 that led the United States to enter World War II. In addition to exploring the realities of both citizens and non-citizens who were wrongfully incarcerated at the time, the exhibit also addresses what has been done to confront this history — and to make it right.
- Use the Smithsonian Learning Lab to explore their virtual exhibition, “Celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month,” inspired by an exhibition from the National Museum of American History on display at the White House in May 2021. The objects in this collection share diverse and inspiring stories of Asian Americans who have shaped United States history.
- Across many cultures, Asian American artists have had a profound influence, which is explored through the selected works presented digitally by the Smithsonian in their collection of Asian American art and artists.
- For more arts education resources, check out the Brooklyn Museum’s teaching toolkit, “Arts in China,” with lesson plans designed for third grade teachers and their students with the goal of enriching their exploration of Chinese art and culture, based on the Museum’s collection, as well as the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s page on Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage.
Throughout the month, and all year long, we encourage families, educators, and students to dive into a book about Asian American history, culture, and experiences. The suggestions below are just a few of our favorite titles, with works of fiction and non-fiction for every grade level that feature characters and perspectives that are often not reflected in other popular works. We hope you will enjoy reading and learning from these outstanding stories.
Early Readers (3-K–2)
- Eyes That Kiss in the Corners, by Joanna Ho; illustrated by Dung Ho
- The Fearless Flights of Hazel Ying Lee, by Julie Leung; illustrated by Julie Kwon
- Fly, Girl, Fly! Shaesta Waiz Soars Around the World, by Nancy Roe Pimm; illustrated by Alexandra Bye
- Home is In Between, by Mitali Perkins; illustrated by Lavanya Naidu
- Ho’onani: Hula Warrior, by Heather Gale; illustrated by Mika Song
- I Am Golden, by Eva Chen; illustrated by Sophie Diao
- It Began with a Page: How Gyo Fujikawa Drew the Way, by Kyo Maclear; illustrated by Julie Morstad
- Love in the Library, by Maggie Tokuda-Hall; illustrated by Yas Imamura
- Maryam’s Magic: The Story of Mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani, by Megan Reid; illustrated by Aaliya Jaleel
- My First Day, by Phùng Nguyên Quang and Huỳnh Kim Liên
- The Name Jar, by Yangsook Chaoi
- Queen of Physics: How Wu Chien Shiung Helped Unlock the Secrets of the Atom, by Teresa Robeson; illustrated by Rebecca Huang
- Saffron Ice Cream, by Rashin Kheiriyeh
- Song of the Old City, by Anna Pellicioli; illustrated by Merve Atilgan
- Wishes, by Mượn Thị Văn; illustrated by Victo Ngai
Elementary (Grades 3–5)
- Any Day with You, by Mae Respicio
- Aru Shah and the End of Time, by Roshani Chokshi
- Barbed Wire Baseball, by Marissa Moss; illustrated by Yuko Shimizu
- Bronze and Sunflower, by Cao Wenxuan
- Drawn Together, by Minh Lê; illustrated by Dan Santat
- Fred Korematsu Speaks Up, by Laura Atkins and Stan Yogi; illustrated by Yutaka Houlette
- The Girl and the Ghost, by Hanna Alkaf
- Front Desk, by Kelly Yang
- Lia Park and the Missing Jewel, by Jenna Yoon
- Maizy Chen’s Last Chance, by Lisa Yee
- Malala: My Story of Standing Up for Girls’ Rights, by Malala Yousafzai
- Mangoes, Mischief, and Tales of Friendship: Stories from India, by Chitra Soundar; illustrated by Uma Krishnaswamy
- Marshmallow & Jordan, by Alina Chau
- Maya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and Lines, by Jeanne Walker-Harvey; illustrated by Dow Phumiruk
- A Thousand Questions, by Saadia Faruqi
Middle Grade (Grades 6–8)
- Amal Unbound, by Aisha Saeed
- Amina’s Voice, by Hena Khan
- The Bamboo Sword, by Margi Preus
- The Best at It, by Maulik Pancholy
- Everything Sad is Untrue, by Daniel Nayeri
- It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel, by Firoozeh Dumas
- The Legend of Auntie Po, by Shing Yin Khor
- Measuring Up, by Lily LaMotte; illustrated by Ann Xu
- The Night Diary, by Veera Hiranandani
- Pashmina, by Nidhi Chanani
- Stand Up, Yumi Chung!, by Jessica Kim
- Troublemaker, by John Cho and Sarah Suk
- The Tryout: A Graphic Novel, by Christina Soontornvat and Joanna Cacao
- We Belong, by Cookie Hiponia
- When You Trap a Tiger, by Tae Keller
Young Adult (Grades 9–12)
- After the Shot Drops, by Randy Ribay
- All My Rage, by Sabaa Tahir
- Almost American Girl, by Robin Ha
- The Astonishing Color of After, by Emily X.R. Pan
- Butterfly Yellow, by Thanhhà Lại
- Dare to Disappoint: Growing Up in Turkey, by Özge Samancı
- Darius the Great is Not Okay, by Adib Khorram
- From a Whisper to a Rallying Cry: The Killing of Vincent Chin and the Trial that Galvanized the Asian American Movement, by Paula Yoo
- Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating, by Adiba Jaigirdar
- Himawari House, by Harmony Becker
- Last Night at the Telegraph Club, by Malinda Lo
- The Magic Fish, by Trung Le Nguyen
- This Time Will Be Different, by Misa Sugiura
- A Very Large Expanse of Sea, by Tahereh Mafi
- We Are Not Free, by Traci Chee
Many of these books are readily available through the citywide Digital Library on Sora, which provides free access to hundreds of digital e-books and audiobooks for our students, including the Asian American/Pacific Islanders Collection which features over 400 titles. Fore even more recommendations, check out the New York Public Library’s Asian American and Pacific Islander Reading List for Kids and for Teens, as well as the National Education Association’s list of Recommended Titles for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage.
Video and Audio Resources
- The PBS docuseries “Asian Americans” tells the history of identity, contributions, and challenges experienced by Asian Americans. Told through intimate personal stories, the series will cast a new lens on U.S. history and the ongoing role that Asian Americans have played. Additional resources connected to the documentary are available on the #DOCUHISTORY: Asian Americans page.
- Order 9066 is a podcast From American Public Media that chronicles the history of Japanese incarceration in the months and years following the bombing of Pearl Harbor through vivid, first-person accounts from the people who lived through it. Named after the executive order signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt that authorized the creation of these “relocation” camps, the series explores how this came to pass, and it legacy in the present.
- The HistoryTime series from the National Museum of American History tells the stories of important Americans who helped shape the country’s history; for this month, videos that may be of particular interest include one on Alice Tetsuko Kono, a member of the Women’s Army Corps in World War II, and another on Dr. Mabel Ping-Hua Lee, who advocated for women’s suffrage even knowing she wouldn’t be able to benefit from it at the time, as a Chinese immigrant who was prohibited from becoming a citizen. Each video has an accompanying lesson plan and student activities, best suited for elementary school students.
- As part of Asia Society's Asian Americans Building America, the Center for Global Education has created a collection of video biographies that spotlight inspiring Asian Pacific Americans and exploring their specific contributions to life in America in order to spark the curiosity of young learners by helping them to build a more inclusive understanding of American history.
- The New York City Department of Education has a variety of resources that teachers can use in their classrooms this May:
- Our AAPI Heritage Month Resource Guide compiles resources to support classroom discussions throughout the month.
- The Hidden Voices initiative, which began as a collaboration between the DOE and the Museum of the City of New York, helps NYC students learn about and honor the innumerable people, often “hidden” from the traditional historical record, who have shaped and continue to share out history and identity. This month, profiles of particular interest include those of activist Wong Chin Foo in our Untold Stories of New York City History curriculum and artist Martin Wong in our LGBTQ+ Stories in the United States curriculum.
- The Asian American Education Project, a curriculum resources created as a collaboration between UCLA Asian American Studies Center, Stanford University SPICE, and PBS LearningMedia to bring the history, contributions, challenges, and triumphs of Asian Americans to students of all grade levels across the country. Their site contains a wealth of lesson plans, professional development materials, classroom activities, and untold histories that are a valuable resource all year round.
- The National Education Association has a comprehensive list of resources that teachers can use during Asian American Heritage Month for grades K–12.
- The Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month resources from Smithsonian's History Explorer site allows students to examine collections of the Museum's key resources on major themes in American history and social studies.
- The National Endowment for the Humanities’ AAPI Virtual Bookshelf highlights NEH-supported projects on the Asian-American and Pacific Islander experience.
- Learn more about Asian American and Pacific Islander history from the National Archives’ resource collections.
- Mission US: Prisoner in My Homeland is an immersive history simulation game from WNET that allows students to explore the challenges faced by a Japanese American teenager forced to move to a prison camp during World War II. Yuri a group dedicated to producing educational materials through an Asian American lens, created supporting educational resources to use in conjunction with the game.
- For more resources related to the forced removal of Japanese Americans during World War II, the Fred Korematsu Institute and PBS Learning Media have put together standards-aligned lesson plans, available for students of all ages, that explore topics such as Japanese American resistance to the incarceration and the U.S. government’s misleading use of language and euphemisms. Each lesson plan integrates a documentary film clip and includes background information, focus questions, objectives, historical thinking skills, detailed activities, and supplementary materials.
- In addition, check out the digital education resources from the Japanese American National Museum, which contains curriculum materials related to They Called Us Enemy, by George Takei, discussions around appropriate terminology to use regarding the camps, lessons related to primary sources and first-hand accounts from the people who experienced the camps, and much more.
- The New York Times Learning Network also put together a lesson plan that helps students learn about this era with primary sources that spotlight Japanese American stories from the time. The lesson includes articles, videos, and photographs from the 1940s through today, all with a focus on the first-hand experiences of those who were forced into internment camps.
- Learn even more about Japanese history and culture with “About Japan: A Teacher’s Resource.” Whether you’re interested in the military or manga, sports or science, food or fashion, or anything of the many other topics and themes that the collection has to offer, this collection of learning materials from the Japan Society is a useful database of resources for educators to use in their classrooms.
- The Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project created the Duty to Country curriculum to explore the history of U.S. imperialism in the Philippines, World War II, immigration and the civil rights movement in a new way. These resources, which includes their digital exhibition “Under One Flag,” will help students understand the experience of colonization and war from the perspective of Filipinos, and brings to life the story of the brave and determined veterans who fought for nearly 70 years for the benefits and recognition they had earned.
- The exhibit “Chinese American: Exclusion/Inclusion” was on view at the New-York Historical Society through 2015, however, digital resources related to the exhibition remain available online, including classroom materials that encourage students to explore the question “What does it mean to be an American?”
- The Museum of Chinese in America, located in New York City, regularly publishes “MOCA Heroes,” a series of free digital, non-fiction magazines that explore the lives of Chinese American trailblazers, in addition to their other digitally available learning materials.
- Facing History and Ourselves shares curricular and professional development resources for educators eager to explore the complexities of Asian and Pacific Islander American (AAPI) histories and contemporary experiences with students.
Hidden Voices began as a collaboration with the Museum of the City of New York that was initiated to help City students learn about the countless individuals who are often "hidden" from traditional historical records. Each of the people highlighted in the series has made a positive impact on their communities while serving as outstanding examples of leadership, advocacy, and community service.
During Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, check out our profiles on:
- Mabel Ping-Hua Lee, who came to the United States from China in the early 20th Century and went on to play an instrumental role in the growth of New York’s Chinatown and the universal suffrage movement that advanced voting rights for women.
You can find more of our profiles throughout the year on our Hidden Voices webpage.