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man making art on a sand mandala

updated on April 12, 2021

May is Asian & Pacific American Heritage Month, during which we celebrate the Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders whose rich heritage has shaped the history of the United States while having their lives dramatically influenced by moments in its history.

At UNC, we traditionally celebrate APAHM in April while most of our faculty, staff and students are present. The Asian American Center will hold numerous events throughout the month, including panel discussions, workshops, an open house and more. The Carolina Asia Center will host “Asia Week” (April 19-25) with Southeast Asian language workshops, a panel discussion and a talent show.

Asian/Pacific is a broad term that encompasses all of the Asian continent (though focusing on East and Southeast Asia) and the Pacific islands of Melanesia. This commemorative month originated in 1977 as a resolution to create Pacific/Asian American Heritage Week, which was not passed in Congress. However, in 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed a joint resolution between the House and the Senate to proclaim “the seven day period beginning on May 4, 1979, as ‘Asian/Pacific American Heritage Week.” Subsequent presidents passed annual proclamations for a week-long commemoration until 1990 when Congress passed a public law to expand the observance for a month. In 1992, Public Law 102-450 annually designed May as Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month.

The month of May was chosen to commemorate the immigration of the first Japanese people to the United States on May 7, 1843, and to mark the anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869. The majority of the workers who laid the tracks were Chinese immigrants.

See also April 13, 2021 UNC The Well feature story “Carolina celebrates Asian Pacific American Heritage Month”
The celebration is led by the UNC Asian American Center, founded in 2020 to cultivate a critical understanding of Asian American peoples, cultures and histories.