Friday, May 28, 2021
By Dean Scott Ryan
School of Social Work
As we close out Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we must remain vigilant in fighting hate and racism against Asian, Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. We must continue to learn and appreciate the contributions and rich heritage Asian and Pacific Islanders have given and continue to give to this country.
In 1978, after two previous resolutions in 1977 failed, Congress passed, and President Jimmy Carter signed a House and Senate Joint Resolution establishing Asian Pacific American Heritage Week beginning in May 1979. In 1990, Congress passed, and President George H.W. Bush signed a bill extending Asian American Heritage Week to a month. Two years later, May was officially designated as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. In 2009, the name changed from Asian Pacific American Heritage Month to Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.
According to the Library of Congress, May was chosen because it recognized the first significant migration of Japanese to the United States in May 1843. Although, Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders history in America pre-dates the country as far back as the 16th and 17th Century. The month of May was also chosen because it recognizes the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad on May 10, 1869. Most of the workers who laid and built the railroad tracks were Chinese immigrants. The month recognizes Asians and Pacific Islanders for building – literally - a stronger United States of America.
Earlier this month, as a country, we were united in celebrating the 152nd anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad. Asian American and Pacific Islanders have contributed so much to the building of the United States such as in the arts, science, education, music, food, and culture.
However, we must be equally united in ending racism, hatred, bigotry, and all forms of injustice. Unfortunately, as I mentioned in my statement in March Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have been the target of hate, racism, and discrimination for hundreds of years. The recent resurgence of anti-Asian racism and violence has been directly linked to the increase in rhetoric from some elected leaders and others attempting to falsely blame and mislabel COVID-19 on the Asian community.
Just as we recognized the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad and that success story, we must also be aware of the untold human suffering of the more than 15,000 Chinese migrants who were exploited, with many being injured and killed in the dangerous manual labor of laying the tracks and literally building this country in the 19th Century.
As Social Workers, we must remain committed to learning the history and recognizing the contributions of Asian American and Pacific Islanders to this country, but we must be equally aware and knowledgeable of the social, racial, health and economic challenges for these same communities.
As we close out this recognition month, we must acknowledge the injustices perpetrated against those of Asian and Pacific descent; and we must challenge ourselves to create a path forward that is inclusive of everyone.
Denouncing hate and being committed to active allyship is just the beginning. We must be committed to academic scholarship, discovery, research, and education in the classroom, and in our personal and professional lives.
Scott D. Ryan
Dean and Professor
School of Social Work
The University of Texas at Arlington