AAPI History Is American History – And We Deserve More Than One Month To Honor That

by Virginia Duan
Originally Published: 
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I know, I know. Like, May is over already, why am I still harping about AAPI heritage and history? It’s JULY for fuck’s sake. We should be deep into celebrating white man’s independence day and having backyard BBQs and camping or whatever it is people do on the outside while the sun’s out. (You know: seems fun, can’t relate.) Well, one, I have had a severe case of writer’s block on anything not fan fiction related because I love self-sabotage and two, just like Black history is American history, every month is a good time to learn about AAPI history.

AAPI Heritage Month is great and all, but last I checked, I’m Asian American every fucking day — not just in May. And whether it’s outright violence or microaggressions or something in between, I never get to forget that I’m Asian in America. White folks never let a bitch forget.

With all the anti-Asian hate of late, I think we could all do with a little bit more knowledge about the long and varied history of Asians and Pacific Islanders in American history — as well as in the lands from whence our ancestors (or ourselves) hailed. (But let’s be real, is the hate really that new? Amirite or amirite?)

AAPI history is American history

I’m a firm believer that where we come from informs where we go — and so many of us, of AAPI descent or otherwise — do not know where we come from and thus, do not know where we’re going. Because of this huge gap in our knowledge — we (and I mean in the broadest sense of most people in the U.S.) have a false narrative of America, who gets to be American, and who deserves a good life in America. (Spoiler alert: it’s generally white people. POC can occasionally get the American Dream — but only if it plays into the appropriate trope so that white Americans can feel good about themselves.)

Fun fact: the first Filipinos landed in 1587 near Morro Bay, California with the Spaniards 33 years prior to the first Pilgrim invading Plymouth Rock. Also, did you know that in 1763, some Filipinos imprisoned aboard a Spanish galleon escaped in New Orleans and fled to the bayous and became the first recorded settlement of Filipinos in America?

Why is AAPI heritage important?

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The reason it’s so important for us to see AAPIs as part of American history is twofold. Not only is it important because it’s factual and true, it’s vital because Asian Americans are seen as perpetually foreign — as if we’re interlopers versus an integral part of American history and used by white people as a means to fuck over Black folks from the very jump. (No, seriously. After the emancipation of enslaved Black people, the South imported Chinese laborers fleeing famine in China as cheap labor instead of paying Black folks proper wages on their plantations and companies.)

Asian Americans are invisible, used as a wedge to oppress other people of color, and often ignorant of the U.S.’s intensely racist and violent treatment of our forebears. Not only that, we don’t realize how much U.S. and European militarization and foreign policy shaped the Asian immigration experiences — as well as the damage wrought on Pacific Islanders by colonization and occupation.

You may know of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 which banned all people of a specific ethnic or national group from immigrating to the U.S. — which incidentally, tore apart families, ruined businesses, and drastically decreased the number of Chinese people in the U.S. But do you know of all the massacres (plural), lynchings, and riots that happened in the late 1800s to Chinese and Filipino communities in California? Are you aware that the CIA fucked over the Hmong during the Vietnam War in Laos, forcing them to flee after using the Hmong as spies? Of course, the Hmong were only a part of the Southeast Asian refugees resettling in America thanks to our military involvement in the Vietnam War.

We have bought the lie of the Model Minority sold to us by white supremacy. We are so caught up in respectability politics or assimilating — all survival tactics of an oppressed people — that we are used as pawns. We are easy prey for the powers that be to keep minorities fighting amongst each other instead of toppling the stranglehold white supremacy has upon our country’s systems, laws, and beliefs.

Where should we start?

Look, I get it. It’s super overwhelming. After all, there are 45 countries in the broad umbrella of AAPI — I can’t even recall all 50 states. (I mean, does the middle part even matter? Especially all those I states?)

But also, I don’t buy it. I call bullshit.

If you can find out how to make artisanal sourdough bread by collecting your family’s own yeast particles in the air of your home, you can learn about AAPI history and their contributions.

Google exists. Wikipedia exists — I mean, who hasn’t gone there to look up a quick fact and then got sucked into a Wikipedia crawl for the next three days? Even a cursory search for “Asian American History” would provide enough information for you to be marginally less ignorant.

But since I’m a giving sort (don’t ever say I didn’t do anything for you!), here are some great starting points:

The Making of Asian America: A History by Erika Lee

For a wide-lens view of Asian American history spanning centuries and oceans, Erika Lee’s book about the history of Asian America is like taking a sip from a firehose. Prepare to consume it in bits and pieces because it’s a lot — and most of it will make you angry. Why? Because America really fucked with a lot of peoples — of which AAPIs are a subset.

Asian Americans (PBS, 2020)

If you’re less of a reader and learn more by watching programming, then “Asian Americans,” the 5-hour PBS documentary film, provides a quick and dirty history of Asian Americans in the states. Not only is this good for you, it’s accessible for the whole family.

A People’s History of Asian America (CAAM, PBS Digital Studios, 2021)

The Center for Asian American Media (CAAM) partnered with PBS Digital Studios in response to the rise in anti-Asian hate and violence to make “A People’s History of Asian America.” The four part mini-series can be viewed online and addresses some issues like the origin of the Asian fetish.

In addition, look for local or online panels and talks presented by AAPIs or even look for various activities you can do to learn more about AAPI cultures, countries, and history in America. If that’s too cerebral for you, consume art and food and all the amazing creations by the AAPI diaspora.

So many of us do not realize how white supremacy and revisionist history have played AAPIs and POCs to the detriment of all people — white folks included. Until we are seen as people — as contributors not only to America but also as civil rights activists — AAPIs will continually be erased, and that is a future I refuse to accept.

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