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Please join us for our observance of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month throughout May! We will be sharing blog posts throughout the month on Asian Pacific Islander Desi Americans (APIDAs) in Virginia, exploring topics such as the history of the Virginia-Asian Advisory Board, a Chinese American student at John Marshall High School, and the experiences of the Universal Leaf Tobacco Company in China.  Look for an exhibit and “Random Reference” blog post on some of the Asian language lessons that are found in the Library of Virginia’s collections.

This year, 2021, marks the 42nd federal and 19th Virginia observances of a time set apart for the observance of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage. On 11 June 1978, Rep. Frank Jefferson Horton (R-NY) and co-sponsor Rep. Norman Yoshio Mineta (D-CA) introduced a bill “Authorizing the President to proclaim a week, which is to include the seventh and tenth of the month, during the first ten days of May of 1979 as ‘Asian/Pacific American Heritage Week.’” These dates were chosen to include the date of the arrival of the first Japanese immigrant to the United States (7 May 1843) and the completion of the Trans-Continental Railroad (10 May 1869), which relied heavily on Chinese labor. Beginning in 1990, the federal observance was to last for the entire month. On 9 January 2002, Del. L. Scott Lingamfelter (R-31) and co-sponsor Del. Michele B. McQuigg (R-51) filed House Joint Resolution 18, which designated May as Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month in Virginia. The bill was passed on 4 March 2002. In 2009, at the federal level, the month took on its current name: Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. You can read more about the history of the month in a 2020 UncommonWealth blog post.

Who are Asian Pacific Islander Desi Americans (APIDAs)? They are from the tremendously diverse continent of Asia, which comprises more than 40 countries and even more ethnicities. They are generally grouped by geographic regions, although we recognize that some of these groupings can be politically controversial.

  • Central Asians: Afghani, Armenian, Azerbaijani, Georgians, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Mongolian, Tajik, Turkmen, Uzbek
  • East Asians: Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Okinawan, Taiwanese, Tibetan
  • Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders: (in the United States Jurisdictions & Territories) Carolinian, Chamorro, Chuukese, Fijian, Guamanian, Hawaiian, Kosraean, Marshallese, Native Hawaiian, Niuean, Palauan, Pohnpeian, Samoan, Tokelauan, Tongan, Yapese
  • Southeast Asians: Bruneian, Burmese, Cambodian, Filipino, Hmong, Indonesian, Laotian, Malaysian, Mien, Papua New Guinean, Singaporean, Timorese, Thai, Vietnamese
  • South Asians: Bangladeshi, Bhutanese, Indian, Maldivians, Nepali, Pakistani, Sri Lankan
  • West Asians: This is a contested term, most people from the region do not self-identify as such. West Asia is typically referred to as the Middle East; and geographically includes the countries of Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey (straddles Europe and Asia) United Arab Emirates and Yemen

The history of APIDAs is an important part of the American experience. Their stories encompass a rich legacy of achievements, along with hardships and sacrifices that deserve to be explored. Although May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, the mark made by APIDAs on history is something that should always be remembered. The stories and experiences of Asian Pacific Islander Desi Americans are important, yet often overlooked, especially in the South. Materials in the Library of Virginia’s holdings document some of the first APIDAs to arrive in Virginia, as well as some of the most recent arrivals. Their histories and stories are integral to understanding a fuller history of Virginia.

During this month, please also take the opportunity to explore our APIDA resource page, which includes guides that are specific to the Library of Virginia’s resources, such as the Asian Pacific Islander Desi American (APIDA) Research at the Library of Virginia guide, as well as a selected bibliography on APIDA materials at the Library. Also included on the resource page are images and stories from the Library’s holdings. Read about our recent work in the Library of Virginia’s magazine, Broadside (2021, no.1). Research to locate APIDA resources is ongoing, so please note that the website and guides are evolving, and many ethnic groups and populations are not yet represented.

–Cara Griggs, Reference Archivist, and Emma Ito, Education & Programs Specialist

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