Tuesday, May 01, 2007

A Reflection on 'Our Month'

This post should probably be about immigration rallies. But in addition to being the right occasion for such demonstrations, today is the start of APA Heritage Month, and I thought we ought to acknowledge that fact on this site. So I'm recycling an article I wrote on the subject--partially out of laziness, and partially because I doubt anybody read it when it first got published (in a community newsletter). The only other context I think I need to provide is that it dates back to June of 2004...

As you might already know, May was Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. Perhaps you even attended an event meant to celebrate this fact. There were plenty you could have chosen from, sponsored by various community organizations, area universities and government offices. And even if you missed out on the festivities, I bet you nonetheless appreciate the widespread effort that was made to honor our legacy.

I for one certainly appreciate it, but in all honesty, I have mixed feelings about the matter. Recognizing the richness of APA history, culture and achievement is vitally important, but reserving a specific period of time for this purpose strikes me as a little odd. It makes me feel just the slightest bit uncomfortable, having our experience squeezed into this assigned space on the calendar like the way in which our history is relegated to the sidebars of social studies textbooks. I mean, APAs are APAs year-round; we don’t just put on our Asian-ness when we feel like it. Yet here we are being asked to parade our kimonos out into the spotlight for a moment before being ushered off to make way for the next token celebration of an underrepresented group. “Hey, those Asian folks were swell, huh? I wonder who’s up for June?”

But I guess I shouldn’t complain. I mean, with 365 days in a year, getting the 31 in May means we have over 8% of the nation’s time—that’s double the percentage of our proportion of the population! I’m sure glad we didn’t get February… Black people must feel pretty sore about having their history jammed into just 28 days.

Okay, I’m being overly cynical, and perhaps sarcasm isn’t the best way to approach such a weighty issue. Because we do have to honestly and seriously consider what we can reasonably demand or expect from this country, considering we make up such a small part of it. It’s difficult to determine how big a slice of the national pie we deserve; there’s no formula for figuring out to what extent a minority group’s showing in the census, along with consideration of the particular disadvantages it faces, entitle it to representation, recognition and resources. If there were such a formula, questions about affirmative action, federal funding and public policy wouldn’t be so hard to answer, or so vigorously disputed.

I am resigned to the fact that there is no easy way to sort all of this out. However, I can tell you that, regardless of what is officially sanctioned as our time, APA heritage can and should be honored at all times. We should be grateful that the powers that be have given us May, but we need to remain diligent in ensuring that we stay visible and active as a community for every month of the year. This means supporting APAs in their political, educational, professional and artistic endeavors. It means doing what we can to quash ignorance and injustice, and helping the nation understand the character and concerns of Asian Pacific Americans as fully as possible. Let’s show thanks for being granted our month by pushing it beyond the confines of the calendar.



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