BLOG: Celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage in Pennsylvania

By: Tiffany Chang Lawson, Executive Director of the Governor’s Advisory Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs

May 02, 2016

May marks the nationwide celebration of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month in the United States. The national theme for this year’s observance of AAPI Heritage Month is “Walk Together, Embrace Differences, Build Legacies.”


The origins of AAPI Heritage Month began in 1977, when Representatives Frank Horton of New York and Norman Y. Mineta of California introduced a House Resolution that called upon President Jimmy Carter to proclaim the first ten days of May as Asian-Pacific Heritage Week. Senators Daniel Inouye and Spark Matsunaga of Hawaii introduced a similar bill in the Senate the following month. On October 5, 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed a Joint Resolution designating the annual observance. Twelve years later, President George H.W. Bush signed an extension making the week-long celebration into a month-long celebration.

The month of May was chosen to commemorate the immigration of the first Japanese to the United States on May 7, 1843. It also marked the anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869. To honor the Chinese immigrants whose labor was integral to the construction of the railroad and helped pave the way to the American West.

This month, Governor Tom Wolf signed a proclamation recognizing May as Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in Pennsylvania. In recognition of the diverse Asian Pacific American communities which provide a vital dimension of the Commonwealth’s diverse ethnic and social fabric. Their languages, cultures, and religious beliefs have truly enriched Pennsylvania’s communities all across the state.

Did you know that Pennsylvania is home to more than 435,000 citizens who trace their roots to Asia and the Pacific Islands? In addition, according to the Pew Research Center, Asian Americans are the fastest growing racial group in the United States.

Because of these growing, diverse communities, Governor Rendell created the first ever Governor’s Advisory Commission on Asian American Affairs in 2004, and it has been sustained ever since. Governor Wolf re-established the Commission in 2015 and changed the name of the Commission to include Pacific in reflection of the diverse AAPI communities who reside in the Commonwealth.

Among the many notable Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders who call Pennsylvania their home are:

  • M. Night Shyamalan, acclaimed writer, director, and producer, of Greater Philadelphia
  • Grayce Uyehara, nee Kaneda, a Japanese-American social worker and activist who led the campaign for a formal government apology for Japanese-American incarceration during World War II. Uyehara, along with her husband Hiroshi Uyehara, organized the Philadelphia Chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL). She became one of the group’s first women leaders nationwide.
  • Richard Verma, United States Ambassador to India, of Johnstown, PA.
  • Cecilia Moy Yep, a 2006 Distinguished Daughter of Pennsylvania honoree, whose grassroots advocacy in 1966 mitigated the impact of urban renewal on the Chinatown community and helped to found the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation.

The Commonwealth is proud to honor the history and contributions of AAPIs in our state and throughout the nation, and will hold a celebration in honor of AAPI Heritage Month on Wednesday, May 25th, 2016 at the State Museum Auditorium from 12pm-1pm.

The Wolf Administration is encouraging all Pennsylvanian to celebrate this important observance and to continue to work toward the goal of liberty and justice for all.

Facebook share button
Twitter share button

Like Governor Tom Wolf on Facebook:

SHARE Email Facebook Twitter