Asian Pacific American Heritage Month yields opportunity to highlight perspectives, contributions of API community

May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, and faculty activists are engaging in events, honoring the achievements and contributions of their colleagues, and highlighting issues that continue to impact the API community.

Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, which celebrates the history, culture, and traditions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the U.S., commemorates the immigration of the first Japanese to the United States on May 7,1843, and marks the anniversary (May 10, 1869) of the completion of the transcontinental railroad, which was primarily built by Chinese immigrants.

Honoring Asian heritage also affords an opportunity to tell an often-neglected story in labor history—that of Asian involvement in the labor movement, said Dr. Russell Jeung, chair of the Asian American Studies Department at San Francisco State University, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary, and is the first and largest department of its kind in the U.S.

Though they made up the majority of those building the railroad, the estimated 20,000 Chinese workers were paid a third less than Irish workers. It is noteworthy that in 1867, they held the largest strike in that era’s history. There can be no doubt that Asian Americans have made vital contributions to our nation’s labor traditions, Jeung said.

“If you don’t celebrate Asian Heritage Month, you miss out on the gifts and skills and voices that add to the fabric of California and this country,” Jeung said. “We can use this opportunity to improve our organizational history and literacy, and honor the Asian traditions that benefit us all.”

Jeung and members of CFA’s Asian Pacific Islander Caucus were among those who attended an event on May 13 honoring trailblazers who have enriched California’s cultural heritage and history.

The awards gala, for which CFA was a sponsor, was hosted by the Joint Asian & Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus. Three members of that caucus authored CFA bills this year—Senator Dr. Richard Pan (SB 660), Assemblymember Todd Gloria (AB 930), and Assemblymember Ash Kalra (AB 418). Caucus Assemblymembers Evan Low (AB 716) and Rob Bonta (AB 1038) also have authored CFA-sponsored legislation in recent years.

The number of Asian Pacific Islander students and faculty in the CSU has been steadily increasing in recent years. Since 1985, the number of API faculty by headcount has tripled (330%), and the number of API students has increased by 102%, according to research included in CFA’s 2018 Equity Report. Additionally, 14 of 23 CSU campuses meet the criteria to be Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institutions.

As the CSU includes more API students and faculty, our union also benefits from their perspectives and contributions, and is able to better address issues facing API faculty colleagues. As incoming CFA Associate Vice President South Darel Engen noted in a reflection to a Radio Free CSU podcast, our union encourages conversations about race, and is actively addressing API concerns within those conversations.

“Dialogue is a key step toward collective action, and it is collective action that will create the better world we all desire and deserve,” Dr. Engen, Professor of History at CSU San Marcos said.