Celebrating Asian Pacific American Heritage Month
Washington, May 13, 2020
Tags: Native Hawaiians
Our country has officially observed each May since 1992 as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, recognizing the extraordinary contributions of our Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) community to the rich fabric and history of our nation.
May is especially important to me as the proud Representative of Hawaii’s First Congressional District with the largest population of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders of any district in our country. For over a century and continuing through the present and into tomorrow, Hawai‘i has produced repeated accomplished AANHPI “firsts” in government who have left a lasting impact on our state and country, including Territorial Delegate Jonah Kūhiō Kalaniana‘ole, Senator Hiram Fong, Senator Daniel Inouye, Senator Daniel Akaka, Congresswoman Patsy Mink, Governors John Waihe‘e, Ben Cayetano and George Ariyoshi, as well as my current colleagues Senator Mazie Hirono and Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard. I am also proud to have served as a young staffer on Capitol Hill for my own mentor, the late Senator Spark Matsunaga.
But the accomplishments of Hawaii’s Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander community extend well beyond the realm of politics and government into all areas of our society including science, law, sports, business, music, arts and culture and more. We are so proud to remember individuals like astronaut Ellison Onizuka, Judge Herbert Choy, entrepreneur Robert Taira, singer Don Ho, Olympic swimmer Duke Kahanamoku, golfer Michelle Wie, Native Hawaiian navigator Nainoa Thompson, boxer Brian Viloria, actor Jason Momoa, singer and songwriter Bruno Mars and so many more.
The year 2020 also marks the 120th anniversary of Okinawan immigration to Hawai‘i. On January 8, 1900, twenty-six men from Okinawa arrived in Honolulu as part of the first group of contract laborers. Like so many other AANHPI communities, Okinawan immigrants initially faced discrimination but through their own hard work and sacrifice, our Okinawan community has contributed deeply to the economic achievements and cultural richness of our state. Today, persons of Okinawan descent are deeply integrated into Hawaii’s political, economic and social life, and I am proud to serve as their Representative here in Congress.
In Hawai‘i and across America, AANHPI communities are as diverse as they are accomplished. But while our country has made significant progress in increasing visibility and expanding opportunities for all Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, there is much work still to be done. Disparities in economic opportunity, education, health care and more between AANHPI and other communities and within subgroups of our AANHPI community persist.
These disparities have become all the more apparent amidst this COVID-19 pandemic. Across our country, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities have been especially hard hit, reporting infection rates up to three times higher than the rest of the population. At the same time, across the country, Americans of Asian, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander descent are working on the front lines to care for their fellow Americans and keep our country going. Their strength and resilience alongside our fellow Americans are truly inspiring. As a member of executive board of our Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, I will continue to work to protect the health and wellbeing of our entire AANHPI community both in Hawai‘i and across the country during this difficult time.
During this Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, while we celebrate the accomplishments of Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities in my district, in Hawai‘i and across America, we must also rededicate ourselves to continuing to empower and uplift all Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities and individuals.