Oops, I did it again. May is almost over and I forgot to feel special. It’s Asian Pacific American Heritage month, and I have nothing to show for it. I didn’t learn to wear a kimono or cook pad thai or read Amy Tan.
Public television and libraries are just bursting with Chinese memoirs and Filipino writers and Japanese origami demonstrations. Growing up in Calcutta, I was just Calcuttan. But with every boarding pass I received on my way to the United States, my identity ballooned — Calcuttan, Indian, South Asian and, finally, Asian. Now I get a whole month, and I’m at a loss as to what to do with it.
Asian Pacific American Heritage (APA) month, Black History Month and Hispanic Heritage Month are well-meaning attempts at promoting diversity and multiculturalism. But in a San Francisco that’s one-third Asian, celebrating APA month seems a bit like carrying rice to China.
True, San Francisco is a city where Asian political power is nowhere close to representative of the city’s Asian population. Only one Asian remains on the Board of Supervisors, while another high-profile Asian city official, the assessor, recently handed in her papers.
Well I feel like after reading that I should find out for myself what Asian Pacific American Heritage month is all about, so I googled it and found this site.
In May 1990, the holiday was expanded further when President George H. W. Bush designated May to be Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. May was chosen to commemorate the immigration of the first Japanese to the United States 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.
Asian Pacific American Heritage Month is celebrated with community festivals, government-sponsored activities, and educational activities for students. This year’s theme is “Freedom for AllÂ—A Nation We Call Our Own.”
Ahhh, but there were also Indian Americans who laid the railroad track as well. While on the APA website I also learned the history of the fortune cookie. Unfortunately it could not explain why my cookie is always empty and fortuneless (much like my weekends).
Roy continues with his diatribe:
This flavor-of-the-month style multiculturalism makes being Asian all about saris and noodles and distracts from tougher, more vexing questions of multiculturalism and assimilation. Why are Asian neighborhoods in beacons of diversity like San Francisco becoming more and more Asian, while white neighborhoods turn whiter? Have all these designated “your month in the sun” celebrations shifted the notion of what it means to be American at all? Last time I checked, soy sauce and tempura were still jostling for space in the segregated “ethnic or foreign food” aisle of my local supermarket.
This photo-op diversity might make the foreign a little more familiar, but it usually remains limited to food and crafts. Foreigners themselves remain just as suspect in the new America, perhaps even more so. I doubt the Minutemen will announce a Hispanic Heritage Hiatus from their vigilantism on the U.S.-Mexico border come September.
Once upon a time, special months helped remind others of who we were. But now the “other” is no longer out there somewhere. The other is us. We go to school with Kims and Garcias, our astronauts have names like Chawla, our doctor is probably a Reddy and the Patriot Act was authored by a Dinh.
By the way, I strongly urge you to check out the 13 Feng Shui tips on the APA Heritage month website written by one “David Johnson” that I found. Two words. Life changing.