As the world continues to feel the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are seeing an emboldened anti-Asian sentiment sweep throughout the country, despite the fact that Asian Americans are overrepresented on the front lines fighting COVID-19. This story, unfortunately, isn’t new, but it’s a reminder of the importance of learning about and celebrating the historical contributions of ADPI communities, both this month and all throughout the year. During this watershed moment in American history, Asian, Desi, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month takes on even more importance.
ADPI Heritage Month is celebrated during the month of May. The observation started as a week-long celebration under the President Jimmy Carter Administration in 1978. It was extended to a month under President George H.W. Bush in 1990. In addition to celebrating historical contributions, it’s an opportunity to engage with the different cultures within the ADPI community and reflect on current issues.
This moment in time has put a spotlight on the ADPI community’s undeniable influence on American politics. For the first time in history, three ADPI candidates made significant runs during the Democratic Party primaries with Andrew Yang emerging as the most successful Asian American presidential candidate in US history. With the primaries now over, news stories are proliferating about the power of ADPI voters, a notable course correction after decades of media treating these communities as an afterthought.
Beyond electoral politics, this moment in time has brought a number of necessary conversations to the forefront. One of the most prominent is the deconstruction of the model minority myth, which characterizes Asian Americans, particularly people of East Asian descent, as innately more intelligent and hardworking than other communities of color. This stereotype also emphasizes a notion that Asian Americans are more obedient and ultimately seeks to create a wedge between them and others, both within and outside the ADPI community (for example, by erasing the experiences of Pacific Islanders who face similar systemic disparities as Black, Latinx, and indigenous communities). Among other things, the rise of anti-Asian racism in response to COVID-19 has exposed the model minority myth for what it truly is, a divide and conquer tool that ultimately promotes white supremacy. Despite being framed as a compliment, it robs ADPI people of their agency and erases discussions of the overt racism and systemic inequity they face.
During ADPI Heritage Month, the University of Oregon is not just celebrating historical figures and contributions, but also creating space for these culturally relevant conversations. For example, on May 18 we will be hosting a webinar titled “Addressing Anti-Asian microaggressions and hatred during the pandemic.” In addition to educating attendees about these issues, the event also seeks to provide participants with tools for self-affirmation and self-empowerment.
This is just one of a number of events and activities the UO will be hosting throughout the month to give our campus and surrounding communities the opportunity to explore the ADPI experience through education and social justice. Make sure to visit the UO Division of Equity and Inclusion website for all the latest news and updates.