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2024 Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) Heritage Month

 Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

During Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) Heritage Month, we honor the vibrant cultures, resilient spirit and immeasurable contributions of AANHPI individuals, as well as their overall influence on shaping the history and future direction of this country.

Paying homage to history

This annual observance celebrates the many AANHPI visionaries who have left an indelible mark on our nation’s history.

In 1992, Congress established May as Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month to coincide with two key milestones: the arrival of the nation’s first Japanese immigrants (May 7, 1843) and Chinese workers’ pivotal role in building the transcontinental railroad (completed May 10, 1869). In 2021, a presidential proclamation expanded this to include Native Hawaiians.

Industry leaders

Throughout history, AANHPI leaders have defied convention and blazed trails in various fields. In the realm of business and economics, AANHPI leaders have made significant contributions to America’s prosperity. From building successful enterprises to revolutionizing industries, their entrepreneurial vision has reshaped the economic landscape and inspired future generations.

Even as far back as the American gold rush era, there were entrepreneurs like Chinese immigrant Chun Afong. He recognized the growing demand for goods and services among miners and settlers in California, and eventually constructed a successful business empire focused on importing and trading commodities such as tea, rice and textiles. He also laid the foundations for future Asian American entrepreneurs and became known as Hawaii’s first millionaire.

Innovative changemakers

The AANHPI community has been at the forefront of innovation, including such pioneers as Kalpana Chawla, an American astronaut and aerospace engineer who was also the first Indian-born woman to go into space. Despite her untimely demise aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia in 1997, her work as an astronaut inspired countless individuals, particularly women and people of Indian descent, to pursue careers in STEM fields.

From advocacy for civil rights to representation in government, AANHPI leaders have been instrumental in driving social and political change. Their activism and leadership have helped overcome systemic barriers and paved the way for a more inclusive and equitable society.

This includes changemakers like Patsy Mink, the first woman of color and the first Asian American elected to Congress. Mink co-authored and advocated for the passage of the Title IX Amendment of the Higher Education Act, advocating for gender equality in federally funded higher education.

Military and federal leaders

From the Civil War to today, AANHPI leaders’ bravery and sacrifice have been integral to the defense of our nation and the preservation of freedom around the world; they continue to play pivotal roles on and beyond the battlefield, and in federal service, contributing their expertise and vision to the mission.

Despite facing significant cultural and systemic obstacles, AANHPI individuals have a long and storied history of military service and federal leadership.

Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq War Veteran and Purple Heart recipient, served as a U.S. Army helicopter pilot. After losing both legs in combat, Duckworth continued her public service, first as an Assistant Secretary for the Department of Veterans Affairs, and later becoming a U.S. Senator for Illinois. Duckworth is known for her advocacy on behalf of Veterans and her barrier-breaking role as the first Thai American woman elected to Congress.

Harry Harris Jr., of Japanese and Filipino descent, served as the commander of the United States Pacific Command (USPACOM) and later as the U.S. ambassador to South Korea, shaping U.S. military strategy in the Indo-Pacific region. Admiral Harris was the highest-ranking American of Japanese descent in U.S. Navy history during his time as commander.

Daniel K. Inouye—who served as a U.S. senator from Hawaii for nearly half a century—demonstrated outstanding heroism and valor as a member of the Army’s 442nd Regimental Combat Team during World War II, earning the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroic actions in Italy.

Focus on the future

National AANHPI Heritage Month provides an opportunity to reflect on the achievements of past leaders as well as to inspire future generations to follow in their legacy of innovation and leadership. Through mentorship, education, and community empowerment, we can cultivate the next generation of AANHPI leaders who will drive progress and shape the future of our nation.

Their contributions remind us that diversity is not only a strength but a catalyst for progress. Let us continue to champion diversity, equity, and inclusion as we work to forge a brighter and more inclusive future for all.