In 1977, Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii introduced a resolution [S.J.Res.72] in the U.S. Senate that proposed the idea of celebrating “Pacific/Asian American Heritage Week” during the first 10 days of May. A similar resolution [H.J.Res.540] was also introduced by Congressman Frank Horton of New York in the House of Representatives.
Both resolutions did not pass, but a year later a new joint resolution [H.J.Res.1007] went through the U.S. Congress successfully and was signed by President Jimmy Carter into law [Public Law 94-419]. The 1978 law authorized and requested that the President proclaim the 7-day period beginning on May 4, 1979, as “Asian/Pacific American Heritage Week.”
The week celebration later expanded to the full month of May after a series of legislations that culminated in 1992 when President Bill Clinton and the US Congress formalized the yearly, month-long celebration [Public Law 102-450]. Citing the month of May to commemorate the first Japanese immigrants in 1843 and the Chinese railroad workers who helped build the first trans-continental railroad in the U.S., Asian/Pacific Heritage Month commemorates the experience of all “Asian and Pacific Americans [who] have contributed significantly to the development of the arts, sciences, government, military, commerce, and education in the United States.”
Senator Inouye was one of those Asian Pacific Americans whose contributions to the United States spanned decades: as a son of immigrants who served in the Japanese-American 442nd Regimental Combat Team during World War II, as a U.S. Congress representative when Hawaii gained statehood, and as a distinguished U.S. Senator who demonstrated exceptional leadership through the crises of Watergate and the Iran/Contra hearings.
- [White House] Presidential Proclamation — Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, 2016: “Our Nation’s story would be incomplete without the voices of countless Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders who have called the land we all love home.” Read more
- [U.S. Government] Asian Pacific Heritage Month: “The Library of Congress, National Archives and Records Administration, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum join in paying tribute to the generations of Asian and Pacific Islanders who have enriched America’s history and are instrumental in its future success.” Read more
- [Library of Congress] Asian Pacific Heritage Month: “Pursuant to Pub. L. 102-450 Presidents Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama have annually issued proclamations designating May as “Asian/Pacific American Heritage Heritage Month.” Read more
- [History Channel] Remembering Senator Daniel Inouye (1924-2012): “A high-school student at the time of the Pearl Harbor attack, Daniel [Inouye] enlisted in the U.S. Army’s 442nd Regimental Combat Team in late 1942, a segregated unit created after the Army lifted its ban on Japanese-Americans. His dreams of being a surgeon were dashed in April 1945, when he led an assault near San Terenzo, Italy, managing to destroy two German emplacements with grenades before enemy fire hit his right arm, nearly severing it. Despite his injury, Inouye was able to pry the grenade from his right hand and destroy another German bunker.” Read more
Photo credit: Daniel Inouye, official Senate photo portrait, 2008, US Congress, Public Domain