A little more than 43 years ago, President Jimmy Carter first declared an Asian/Pacific American Heritage Week in the US. The presidential proclamation, which you can read below, is a fitting tribute to the contributions Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have made to the US. It also touches on the discrimination they have faced throughout our history as as country.
The celebration was continued by subsequent Presidents Ronald Reagan and George HW Bush. In 1990, Bush extended the week to the entire month of May—and then in 1992, Congress permanently designated May as Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month.
Keep scrolling to read the original proclamation, which began this important recognition.
According to this timeline from History.com, May was chosen “in honor of the first official Japanese immigrant’s arrival in the U.S.” in May of 1843. May also marked the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869.
Here’s the presidential proclamation:
Proclamation 4650—Asian/Pacific American Heritage Week, 1979
March 28, 1979
By the President of the United States of America
America’s greatness—its ideals, its system of government, its economy, its people—derives from the contribution of peoples of many origins who come to our land seeking human liberties or economic opportunity. Asian-Americans have played a significant role in the creation of a dynamic and pluralistic America, with their enormous contributions to our science, arts, industry, government and commerce.
Unfortunately, we have not always fully appreciated the talents and the contributions which Asian-Americans have brought to the United States. Until recently, our immigration and naturalization laws discriminated against them. They were also subjected to discrimination in education, housing, and employment. And during World War II our Japanese-American citizens were treated with suspicion and fear.
Yet, Asians of diverse origins—from China, Japan, Korea, the Philippines, and Southeast Asia—continued to look to America as a land of hope, opportunity, and freedom.
At last their confidence in the United States has been justified. We have succeeded in removing the barriers to full participation in American life, and we welcome the newest Asian immigrants to our shores?refugees from Indochina displaced by political, and social upheavals. Their successful integration into American society and their positive and active participation in our national life demonstrates the soundness of America’s policy of continued openness to peoples from Asia and the Pacific.
The Ninety-fifth Congress has requested the President by House Joint Resolution 1007, approved October 5, 1978, to designate the seven-day period beginning on May 4, 1979, as “Asian/Pacific American Heritage Week.”
Now, Therefore, I, Jimmy Carter, President of the United States of America, declare the week beginning on May 4, 1979, as Asian/Pacific American Heritage Week. I call upon the people of the United States, especially the educational community, to observe this week with appropriate ceremonies and activities.
In Witness Whereof, I have hereunto set my hand this twenty-eighth day of March, in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred seventy-nine, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and third.
Source: The American Presidency Project
Explore and Learn
If you’re interested in learning more about Asian American and Pacific Islander heritage, History.com has some great resources for getting started.
Click this link for stories of how these individuals helped shape our country. Or check out this article from the National Park Service on how Asian American and Pacific Islanders have helped build and shape the US.