Asian American Pacific Heritage Month, observed in May, is a celebration of the contributions, achievements, and rich cultural heritage of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) in the U.S. It recognizes the diverse cultures, languages, traditions, and histories of AAPI communities and their impact on American society.
Today, there are about 20.6 million people in the U.S. who identify as Asian, Native Hawaiian, or Pacific Islander (U.S. Census Bureau). The first official commemoration took place in 1979 when President Carter proclaimed the first week of May as “AAPI Heritage Week,” which was honored every year until Congress passed an expanded observance in 1990, making it Asian American Pacific Heritage Month. In addition, this legislation acknowledged the importance of specific dates in the Asian/Pacific American history: May 7, 1843, marks the arrival of the first Japanese immigrants, and May 10, 1869, honors the completion of the first transcontinental railroad in the U.S., with notable contributions from Chinese pioneers.
Why Your Business Should Celebrate AAPI Month
The celebration of AAPI Heritage Month can contribute to a company’s overall success in several ways starting with DE&I. Recognizing AAPI heritage demonstrates a commitment to fostering an inclusive workplace. This can attract and retain a diverse talent pool, leading to a broader range of perspectives, ideas, and experiences within the company. Inclusive environments have been shown to enhance creativity, innovation, and problem-solving.
Celebrating AAPI heritage also can boost employee engagement and morale. When employees feel valued and their cultural identities are acknowledged, they’re more likely to feel a sense of belonging and loyalty to the company. This can lead to increased productivity, teamwork, and overall job satisfaction.
Companies that actively celebrate and promote diversity and inclusion are more likely to attract and retain top talent. AAPI individuals, as well as individuals from other diverse backgrounds, are more likely to be drawn to a workplace that demonstrate a commitment to inclusivity and cultural appreciation.
Also, by recognizing this heritage, companies can build stronger relationships with AAPI customers and clients, as well as with diverse communities at large. Being socially responsible can enhance your reputation and brand image which can attract customers, clients, and partners who align with these values.
Overall, celebrating AAPI heritage contributes to a company’s overall success by fostering an inclusive and diverse workplace, enhancing employee engagement and morale, promoting cultural competence, attracting and retaining top talent, improving customer and client relations, and driving innovation and market insights.
AAPI Month Celebration Ideas
Remember, it’s essential to involve AAPI employees in the planning and implementation of any initiatives to ensure their perspectives and voices are heard and respected. Here are eight ways to celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month in the workplace:
- Organize educational sessions or workshops to increase awareness and understanding of AAPI cultures, histories, and contributions. Invite guest speakers or host panel discussions to share personal experiences and insights.
- Encourage employees to share their heritage through food, music, art, or traditional clothing. Organize cultural showcases or exhibitions where employees can display and share their traditions.
- Highlight the achievements and contributions of AAPI employees through internal newsletters, social media posts, or company-wide announcements. Recognize their accomplishments and share their stories to inspire others.
- Host lunchtime sessions where employees can learn about AAPI history, traditions, or contemporary issues. Invite guest speakers or provide resources for self-guided learning.
- Organize film screenings featuring movies or documentaries that explore AAPI experiences, history, or cultural themes. This can be followed by open discussions to facilitate understanding.
- Encourage employees to participate in volunteer activities that support AAPI communities or organizations. This can include mentoring programs, language assistance, or cultural exchange initiatives.
- Establish or support AAPI-focused ERGs within the workplace. These groups can provide a platform for networking, support, and advocacy for AAPI employees.
- Offer diversity and inclusion training programs that address unconscious bias, cultural sensitivity, and fostering an inclusive work environment.
A Wide Spectrum of Challenges
Asian American Pacific Heritage Month also serves as a platform to address issues such as discrimination, stereotypes, and the need for inclusivity and equality. It’s hard to ignore what’s happening around the country. The most recent data shows hate crimes against Asian Americans increased by 339% in 2021(Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism). California, home to the largest population of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the nation, lead with more than 4,000 reported incidents. New York and Washington state follow close behind.
And while the heinous hate crimes and discrimination are happening on one end of the spectrum, there are many, perhaps private, additional trials facing this community on a daily basis including:
- Language and cultural barriers: This can hinder access to education, employment, healthcare, and other essential services. Stereotypes can also create challenges in navigating and integrating into mainstream society.
- Immigration issues: AAPI communities include a significant number of immigrants, and they may face challenges related to immigration policies, visa restrictions, family separation, and the complex process of obtaining citizenship or legal status.
- Socioeconomic disparities: Some AAPI groups experience higher poverty rates, limited access to quality education, and lower median incomes influenced by factors such as language barriers, discrimination, and limited opportunities.
- Underrepresentation: AAPI communities are often underrepresented in media, politics, and leadership positions. Stereotypes and misrepresentation can perpetuate biases and hinder opportunities for individuals.
AAPI Myths and Misconceptions You Might Find in the Workplace
Despite our best efforts to combat misconceptions about AAPIs, they can still creep into any organization. One that’s quite common is AAPI individuals excel academically or professionally solely due to cultural factors or innate abilities. This overlooks the systemic barriers and challenges they may face and undermines individual efforts and achievements.
Another stereotype is perceiving them as perpetual foreigners, even if they’re born and raised in the U.S. This can lead to assumptions about their language proficiency, cultural assimilation, and loyalty to the country. Or making the wrong assumption that they all have similar backgrounds and share the same culture, language, or experiences. In reality, the AAPI community is incredibly diverse, encompassing various ethnicities, languages, religions, and cultural traditions.
Addressing these misconceptions requires HR and people leaders to promote awareness, education, and open dialogue. It’s important to recognize and appreciate the individuality and unique contributions of AAPI individuals while challenging stereotypes and biases in the workplace and elsewhere. Use the month of May as an opportunity to celebrate the traditions and diverse experiences of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, while also promoting unity, understanding, and appreciation among all communities.
Respectful and supportive communication is a continuous process of learning and growth. By approaching interactions with empathy, respect, and a willingness to understand, you can create a more inclusive and supportive workplace environment. Learn how Perspectives+ by Paycor empowers you with the tools to champion diversity and promote a workplace where everyone’s identity is valued. And take our DE&I product tour to discover solutions to help you with DE&I benchmarking, recruiting, and measurement.