May 1 marked the beginning of this year’s Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month
“Asian Americans” includes every U.S. resident that shares recent ancestry with a country in Asia. This includes countries in the Middle East, such as Qatar (which will be hosting this year’s World Cup) and Palestine; Central Asia, which includes countries such as Tajikistan and Uzbekistan; East Asia, which accounts for countries like China, Japan and the Koreas; South Asia, that includes countries such as India, Nepal and Pakistan; and Southeast Asia, which accounts for countries such as Vietnam and the Philippines.
“Pacific Islander” accounts for the U.S. residents who share ancestry with people native to the Polynesian, Melanesian, and Micronesian islands in the Pacific Ocean. Historically the term has also been used to account for people of Native Hawaiian heritage, who are also celebrated in the AAPIHM; however, there has been a movement to identify the Native Hawaiian identity as an ethnicity separate from “Pacific Islander.”
“As some of the fastest-growing racial and ethnic groups in the Nation, [Asian Americans] and [Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander] communities represent a multitude of ethnicities, languages, and experiences that enrich America and strengthen our Union,” President Joe Biden said.
The AANHPIHM was first celebrated in 1977 when U.S. Reps. Frank Horton [R-N.Y.] and Norman Mineta [D-Calif.] proposed establishing the first 10 days of May as Asian-Pacific Heritage Week. It was later expanded onto a whole month in 1990 when former President George H.W. Bush signed a bill that legalized the expansion. Its purpose is to honor and celebrate the achievements of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders over the years.
As put by President Biden, Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders (AANHPI) have long played an essential role in writing the American story, and the last few years have been an example of that.
Evidence of this essential influence is the expansion in the representation of AANHPI in the entertainment industry.
In 2021, Riz Ahmed became the first Muslim person to be nominated for Best Actor in the Academy Awards for his performance in “The Sound of Metal” (2019). Although he did not win that year, he did eventually earn his first Academy Award this year for his work in “The Long Goodbye” (2020). His animated documentary “Flee” (2021), which was named the Best Animated Film of 2021 by The Penn, was also nominated in this edition.
Additionally, last year, Chloé Zhao made history as the first woman of color to win the Best Director award for her work in “Nomadland” (2020). Her worked in the film has also earned her the “Best Picture” award; marking the second year in the row in which a person of Asian heritage won both awards, as Bong Joon Ho did so in 2020 for his work in “Parasite” (2021).
Simu Liu, who last year became the first Asian lead in a blockbuster Marvel film, believes that this rise in representation will teach children that they are capable of achieving anything they hope for, despite hearing otherwise from “bigoted” people.
“I loved comics as a kid, I loved superheroes, but I really didn’t see myself represented in that space,” Liu said in an interview. “I really hope with this movie, kids who are like me, who grew up similarly, can have that.”
“That’s really the power of representation: seeing yourself on screen and feeling like you’re a part of this world, which for Asian children who have grown up in the West hasn’t always been the case,” Liu added.
AANHPI impact in the entertainment industry is not limited to film. This year’s Grammys showcased a historical moment for AANHPI in music, as three awards out of the four main categories were granted to people who identify as part of the AANHPI community.
Grammy veteran Bruno Mars, of Native Hawaiian and Filipino origin, and his musical partner Anderson Paak, of Korean heritage, took home both Song of the Year and Record of the Year awards for their hit single “Leave the Door Open” (2020). The song also earned two additional Grammys for Best R&B Song and Best R&B Performance.
Additionally, Filipino-American singer Olivia Rodrigo, who dominated the charts last year with her hit songs “Driver’s License” (2021) and “Good 4 U” (2021), won the “Best New Artist” award. Rodrigo also took home the Best Pop Solo Performance for her song “Driver’s License,” and Best Pop Vocal Album for “Sour” (2021).
Like Liu, Rodrigo has expressed how she hopes her presence in media will inspire younger AANHPI people to follow their dreams.
“I sometimes get DMs from little girls being like, ‘I’ve never seen someone who looked like me in your position,’” Rodrigo said in an interview. “I feel like I grew up never seeing that. It was always like, [the word] ‘Popstar,’ [always meant] a white girl.”
As the influence of AANHPI becomes more and more evident in our daily culture, The Penn wishes all students, faculty and staff who identify as part of the demographic a happy AANHPI Heritage Month.