Office of the President

May 19, 2021

AAPI Heritage Month is a celebration of impact then and now

Ana Mari Cauce

Each May, our nation celebrates Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month – an opportunity to learn about and pay tribute to the enormous and diverse contributions that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have made throughout American history. Here on the West Coast, where the nation’s first group of Chinese immigrants arrived in 1849, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have played an especially important role in shaping our history and culture.

At the same time, we must reckon with the fact that in our nation’s history, virulent and explicitly racist policies and practices have been directed at Asians and Asian Americans. And that disgrace echoes today as we continue to confront anti-Asian hate and bigotry. Here at the University of Washington, historians, scholars and students are among those leading efforts to more honestly assess and understand the history and lived experiences of AAPI people. And throughout the UW, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are making history right now as leaders and learners, educators and innovators.

Our University is home to the Seattle Civil Rights & Labor Project, an extraordinary collaboration between faculty, students and community groups that explores our city’s civil rights history, including the pivotal role of AAPI activists. It’s fascinating to read about Seattle’s Asian American Movement in the 1960s and 70s, and how diverse communities of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, including many UW students, united in a multi-ethnic coalition that instigated profound change. More recently, UW English professor Shawn Wong sought to redress a historical wrong when he led the successful effort to return the publishing rights of No-No Boy, a novel about the aftermath of Japanese American incarceration during World War II, to the family of the author, John Okada, a UW alumnus. And right now, four UW alumnae, Betti Fujikado, Maya Mendoza-Exstrom, Mari Horita and Katherine Cheng, are among the founders of Our Stories Are Your Stories, a campaign to highlight local AAPI voices and leaders through video storytelling, sponsored by the Wing Luke Museum. These are just a few examples of the outstanding and crucial scholarship and activism that have helped bring greater awareness of the stories of Asian American and Pacific Islanders who have helped shape our University, state and region

Across the UW, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, as well as international students, faculty and staff of Asian descent, are vital and vibrant members of our community of learning and discovery. Within the UW’s senior leadership, AAPI men and women serve in a multitude of leadership roles, including four deans and the chancellor of UW Bothell – their expertise and experience is a reminder of why representation matters in every discipline. And Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders together make up more than a third of the UW student body, where they reflect the variability of the Husky Experience. More than four dozen registered student organizations at the UW speak to the richly diverse experiences, pursuits, passions and identities of students of Asian and Pacific Islander heritage.

Like all days and months designated to honor a certain group, we should not think of AAPI Heritage Month as the end of learning about and celebrating the contributions of AAPI people, but as a doorway to greater inclusion of the stories and lives that have been too often overlooked or elided. Let’s use this AAPI Heritage Month to commit to the work of ensuring that our community is a welcoming and inclusive place, and to learning more about the amazing stories and impact of the AAPI people, past and present, who have helped make our community what it is.