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Why the U.S. celebrates Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month in May

May was chosen to commemorate the immigration of the first Japanese to the U.S. in May 1843 and to mark the transcontinental railroad's completion in May 1869.

CONNECTICUT, USA — The month of May marks the beginning of Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, also known as AAPI.

It is a time to celebrate, and in some cases, mourn the stories of resilience, pain, and persistence of those hailing from across the Asian continent and the Pacific Islands.

The month of May was chosen to commemorate the immigration of the first Japanese to the U.S. 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.

Four women sat down with FOX61's Carmen Chau to share their stories and they all had one thing in common - they have been portrayed as villains at one point in their lives. 

"There’s the idea we are invisible," said Naomi Gorero, who handles public relations for Quinnipiac University's Asian Student Alliance. 

Since the 1800s, Asians in the United States have endured xenophobia, racism, bias, and violence, and that hate re-emerged three years ago. 

"Especially after COVID-19, there was an anti-Chinese sentiment," said Xi Chen, Quinnipiac University Department Chair of Sociology and Anthropology.

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Then came the Asian hate crimes with AAPI people of all ages and cultures being verbally and physically harassed in cities across the United States. 

According to the FBI, hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders reported to the agency have nearly doubled from 2020 to 2021. 

Jennifer Heikkila Diaz, with the UConn Asian-American Studies Institute, is a biracial Korean-American and she said the name-calling is too familiar.

"Americans across racial groups who think it’s okay to call the COVID-19 virus Wuhan Virus, Kung Flu, and all these other names that are clearly disparaging," said Diaz. 

Since the pandemic, AAPI coalitions gradually formed and became a way for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders to stick together and not stay quiet. 

For decades, Asian Americans have been assumed as timid and bashful but that has been far from the truth. 

Actress Michelle Yeoh stole the spotlight as Best Actress by winning the Academy Award for her role in the movie, 'Everything Everywhere All At Once.' 

Yeoh was the first Asian actress to win the award. 

Gorero, a junior at Quinnipiac University who identifies as Filipino, called that moment historical.

"Those types of people … they give us some sort of ‘I can do this’ or that ‘I can be seen as well," added Gorero. 

Being seen took years for Gorero as she fought hateful words as a child from fellow classmates. 

"I have small eyes and that I eat dogs," added Gorero. 

The list goes on.

"Especially as an Asian woman, more dragon lady, Geisha sexualized type of stereotypes against me," said Christine Kim of AAPI New Haven. 

Kim, a Korean American, spoke from frustration on the assumption that all Asians are the same. 

"We range from people in Sri Lanka to Mongolia. We don’t speak the same language. We don’t eat the same foods. We don’t all necessarily use chopsticks," added Kim. 

Whether you use chopsticks or a fork, the choice of utensils is synonymous with your identity - it should not matter. 

"We need to respect each other. That is critical. Skin color or gender should be secondary," added Chen.

Carmen Chau is an anchor and reporter at FOX61 News. She can be reached at cchau@fox61.com. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.


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