May is Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, and we’re excited to celebrate. The last few years have been full of difficult conversations and opportunities for growth and unity among the AAPI community and our allies, as we’ve been faced with racial injustice and a global pandemic, among many other external events. My hope is that we can use this special month to recognize the struggles we’ve overcome, celebrate our unique backgrounds and heritage, and continue to foster a safe space to speak out and heal.
Before we look to the future, it’s important to honor our past, so here’s a quick history lesson:
Observance of Asian American and Pacific Island Heritage Month started in the U.S. in 1978. May was chosen to commemorate the first immigrants from Japan to the U.S. on May 7, 1843, and to mark the anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869. A majority of the workers who laid the tracks were of Chinese descent and were often mistreated, paid a fraction of the wages received by other workers, and systematically discriminated against by the government at the time and many in the public at-large. In 2011, the U.S. Senate issued a resolution apologizing for the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and for the mistreatment and discrimination against Chinese immigrants. Immigration from Asia and the Pacific Islands to the U.S. was virtually impossible until the Immigration Act of 1965 abolished the discriminatory “national origins” policy.
Canada has also celebrated Asian Heritage Month since the 1990s. The history of Asian immigration in Canada can be traced back more than 150 years when Chinese workers arrived to help build the Pacific Railway. Chinese people entering Canada were racially targeted and forced to pay a large fixed fee, commonly known as the “Chinese head tax”, due to the Chinese Immigration Act of 1885. That was replaced by the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1923, which banned the vast majority of immigrants from China and other Asian countries until the 1960s. In 2001, the first appointed Senator in Canada of Asian descent, Vivienne Poy, proposed a motion to acknowledge the unique history of Asian Canadians and to celebrate their contributions. In 2002, Canada’s parliament signed a declaration designating May as Asian Heritage Month.
The month is often recognized as, “Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month”, “AAPI Heritage Month”, and “Asian Heritage Month”. The struggle to settle on one name exists because the month celebrates experiences of a broad range of people and cultures. (Did you know that about 60% of the world’s population is in Asia and is home to more than 2,300 unique languages?). Regardless of what you call this month, it’s important to acknowledge that each person of AAPI heritage has a unique background and experiences that should be celebrated for the color they bring to the wonderfully intricate tapestry of America, Canada, and our communities.
So, what is RSM doing to support our AAPI communities this month?
- All month long, we’re inviting our people to donate to a Racial Understanding campaign, where the RSM US Foundation will match donations up to $200,000. Funds raised will help the Pan-Asian leaders of tomorrow and support organizations such as Student Relief Fund, Ascend and Global Emergency Response and Assistance – GERA.
- Our InspirAsian employee network group (ENG), hosted an interactive discussion featuring Philip Wang, co-founder and executive producer of Wong Fu Productions.
- Our InspirAsian leaders have led regional and local celebrations for Eid, which marks the end of Ramadan. There are about 1.3 billion Muslims in Asia which comprises over 60% of the world’s Muslim community.
- Our InspirAsian ENG is also hosting an internal townhall to dig deeper into the meaning of this special month for our communities and celebrate our successes.
Before you go, be sure to check out our InspirAsian ENG’s “Inclusion Starts with I” video, where our Managing Partner and CEO Joe Adams has candid conversations with a few of our group’s leaders about issues affecting the Asian community.
Here at RSM, we celebrate the uniqueness of our people every day. On behalf of our InspirAsian ENG and the rest of our 13,000+ people in the U.S. and Canada, I’d like to wish you a happy and prosperous Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.
John Lee, Partner and National InspirAsian Employee Network Group Leader
RSM is committed to inclusion, and we value perspectives, journeys, milestones and progress that enrich us all.