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Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month

May is Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month. So, we want to break down who is included in that community, some brief history, and why it is important to celebrate.

Gallery Talk acknowledges the theft of the Hawaiian Islands by the American government in 1893 from Queen Lili`uokalani and the Kingdom of Hawai`i (pronounced hav-ey-[*break*]-ee). And in acknowledging such, we also acknowledge the sovereignty of the Native Hawaiian people on the islands. We stand with those who are continually fighting for Mauna Kea and protecting sacred sites.

We also have not forgotten the treatment of Asian Americans throughout United States history and in current events. Despite recent sentiments, the United States is a racist nation and it is up to the younger generations to continue learning and educating about histories that have been swept under the rug. We stand with the Asian American, Pacific Islander, and Native Hawaiian communities, as we celebrate the rich heritage, traditions, and cultures that are being highlighted this month—as they should be every month.

Let’s break it down—who are we talking about?

The terms Asian American and Pacific Islander are very broad, over-arching demographics. When speaking about those within the Asian American community, we’re talking about those who have immigrated or whose parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, etc. moved to the United States from the continent of Asia. It means the same thing as saying that I am European American, although, we don’t usually specify that for white or white-passing individuals. There are 48 countries in Asia, spanning as far east as Turkey to the Philippines.

“Pacific Islander” more or less picks up where Asian American leaves off, geographically speaking. The term is used for individuals whose ancestry or birthplace is within Polynesia, Micronesia, and Melanesia. Within these geographic locations, we have Native Hawaiian, Samoan, Tahitian, Guamanian, Fijian, and Papua New Guinean peoples. This list is by no means a finished one; it is solely meant to give a geographic visual aid to those who need it.

And this doesn’t even get into the idea of the diasporas throughout the world.

Ok, cool, but why is there a heritage month?

HISTORY! Specifically, I’m talking the late 1890s: overthrowing the Kingdom of Hawai`i and the Spanish-American war. In 1893, the United States government took control of the Hawaiian Islands (took being the key term there) as a very strategic military move: to gain a footing in the Pacific Ocean. Their control of the Pacific Ocean increased when the U.S. declared war on Spain in 1898, ending in Spain relinquishing control over Cuba and Puerto Rico, as well as Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the Philippines, the Federated States of Micronesia, and the Republic of Palau.

Heritage months are meant to be times when we educate, celebrate, and embrace the diversity within American society. However, they often become the only times during the year that we talk about these specific groups of people, when in reality they should be part of conversations throughout the year. So, if we’re going to talk about them—LET’S TALK.

We’ll be sharing Instagram accounts (I know, shocker), online resources, texts, and more that will teach you, inspire you, and help you to understand contemporary life for the Asian American & Pacific Islander communities. We’ll be sharing stories of the fighters, peacemakers, and badass people who are challenging the State to serve their community and continue to fight oppression.

We stand with them. And we hope you do, too.

Sarah Hixson (she/her/hers) is an emerging art museum curator and educator. If you have any questions for her, please reach out at and she'll get back to you as soon as she can.

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